First published in 2009, I was drawn back to this piece from 2009 by the death this week of Delores O’Riordan of the Cranberries:
“But you see it’s not me, it’s not my family,” wrote and sang the Cranberries in Zombie, their searing reflection of human inhumanity to children.
“With their tanks and their bombs… another mother’s breaking heart is taking over… when the violence causes silence, we must be mistaken.”
A 10-point shock-meter has yet to be invented to record the effects of “quease”-inducing images flashed across the world. I have my own meter, the finger-on-the-TV-remote, which has been very active in recent weeks, switching channels in a nano-second as the horror becomes overwhelming. Jolting images of war and hatred, and their intended and unintended consequences.
I intended this week to write about plagiarism and such weighty matters of writing, but that must wait.
Because in reflecting on the problems raised by apparently aberrant, deceitful journalists whose lies seem to be exposed with stunning regularity, I am drawn again to Chinese journalist Liu Binyan’s account, Tell the World, of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Binyan quotes a student participating in the revolt which led to the deaths of at least 3 000 others: “You must tell the world what is happening, otherwise all this counts for nothing.”
I do wonder about those whom we trust to tell us the real stories, journalists who get caught on the wrong side of invention.
But I wonder too, again, about those of us who stay silent in the face of the most unbelievable and perhaps unforgiveable atrocities which are reported to us. Perhaps it is not the atrocity which is unforgiveable, but our silence. What is it that prevents us from talking out; what allows us to stay quiet about things that we know to be wrong in principle, or questionable or inappropriate?
Perhaps it’s because it’s not me or my family, but of course, there are the equally compelling words of German theologian Martin Niemoller who wrote about how he never spoke out when the Nazis came for the communists, Jews, trade unionists and Catholics; “then they came for me – and by that time no one was left to speak up”.
In a week when we take time out for celebrations before starting the earnest preparations needed to welcome the world in 2010, it’s best to bear in mind that we are wonderfully South African and resident in this country, but also painfully human and part of the world.
Because in one way or another, our own humanity and that of others who will try to draw us into the horror of their lives, will be exposed, and we may well live to regret our silence in respect of today’s atrocities.
But I am also jolted by the image of Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk, together in Parliament. I’m reminded that we have not been immune to the ravages of war and injustice and immorality. I remember writing an open letter to FW berating him for refusing to apologise for the inhumanity of apartheid. With the healing which time brings, I wonder if I was overly-harsh.
I watch the two old toppies leaving the national assembly; the towering yet hobbled giant Mr Mandela holding onto Mr De Klerk for support, see the muscles of both men’s arms taut in a united effort.
And I am humbled, and thankful, emotionally so, that we have something to tell the world. And it is fundamentally different to the story the Chinese student wanted told.