Myopic Reflections

This year, I had the opportunity to be one of the observers for the South African municipal elections. I was based in a more affluent area of Cape Town, and at this particular voting station, the Democratic Alliance, the “official opposition” thumped every party, having more than 7 times as many votes as the African National Congress which came in second place. It was interesting engaging in conversation with the observers from other parties. The observer from South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC mentioned to me: “In this area, the DA got a lot of votes, but just wait until we start counting the votes from Gugulethu and Khayelitsha”. Not sure what kind of spirit this was said in, especially due to the loss in comparison to the DA, but his statement was a reflection of many other conversation I’ve had regarding political parties. Gugulethu and Khayelitsha have a predominantly black demographic, and it was expected that these areas were loyal to the ANC. The affluent area that I was in within the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town had a predominantly white demographic, and the expectation was for the majority of the population to favour the DA. Because of the historical context of South Africa, race is still a huge influence in political affairs, and political allegiances can easily be stereotyped based on the racial make-up of a grouping of people.

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Within the middle east, there is a rough area known as Kurdistan, home to the Kurdish people. This area covers a region within the borders of modern day Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Within these regions, the Kurd people tend to be oppressed by the modern states they inhabit. Though they have inhabited the area for centuries, they are a non-Arab Muslim group, different to the Arab Muslim groupings within the larger Middle Eastern region. They have been several revolts, attacks, and attempts at self-determination, but these efforts have all been thwarted by the governments and military of the nations in which they reside. These have been accompanied by mass killings, and “mysterious disappearances” of influential Kurds. Despite continued violence and more attempts at self-determination, they have still been oppressed, and are even not recognized as citizens in some of the countries in which they preside.

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The United States of America was a collection of a number of states throughout Northern America. In the 19th century, a number of Southern states wanted to secede from the Northern states and form the Confederate States of America. One of the main reasons for secession was over slavery. Northern states supported the abolition of the slave trade, while southern states wanted to continue in the practice of trading slaves, and treating a grouping as sub-human and lesser than themselves. This caused a dispute in the way the different population groups wanted their economies to function. In their attempt to secede from the North, the southern states attacked a U.S. military post, initiating the widely known American Civil War which was fought from 1861 to 1865. The war resulted in 1 030 000 casualties and destruction which took a number of years to rebuild.

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The now infamous Robert Mugabe was a hero to his people in the 1980s. He was a freedom fighter who had been part of the leadership in emancipating his country from the clutches of colonial rule, and turned the former Rhodesia  into the prosperous and potential-full Zimbabwe, the bread-basket of Africa. Like a true man with his people’s best interests at heart, he started reforms in the country, such as the educational reform that led Zimbabwe to be one of the most educated countries in the African continent. He stabilised the economy, and built a population, proud to wave the Zimbabwean flag in any corner of the globe. Even today, when speaking to a Zimbabwean, one is inspired by the love for their country, and the passion for its betterment. Yet, not all the people in his country were happy. Some of the Ndebele people in Matabeleland resorted to challenge the authority of the predominantly Shona government. In response to this, the Zimbabwean government launched military attacks, killing a large number of the Ndebele region, and displacing many more. Different Zimbabweans have a different version of the story, but the common consensus is the area of the Ndebele people still remains less developed than places like the capital city Harare, which is in Shona territory.

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In South Africa, there is a tendency for individuals to associate race to a party, and make the assumption that the party that represents their racial classification will cater best for their needs, and the party that represents the previous oppressors will react with further oppression. Yet, as has been seen from some of the stories above, human nature will find any reason for division, separation, and self-promotion. The examples above show that those who we call brothers today, could be standing at the opposite ends of the trenches tomorrow. The very people we identify could become our enemies through a change in their “interest group”.

Wars, divisions and sectarianism aren’t specific group vs. group phenomena, because the make-up of groups change while conflict, disagreement and prejudice remain. Throughout history, it has been shown that our corrupt human nature is the cause of division, conflict, prejudice and self-promotion. It would be shallow to see a conflict and prejudice as simply white vs black, or Nazi vs Jew, or Ndebele vs Shona. Within various societies, human nature outworks itself into new forms of prejudice despite the classification. It is unsafe to trust in shallow precepts of gender, race, tribe or sect to represent our interest group, because the interest group we find ourself in future may change, but the corrupt human nature will remain.

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