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November 21, 2019

Lest We Forget September


Violence and terror are expected in Africa. Her people find it easier to debate the reasons for this aggression than to dispute the truth of it. It’s been that way for a long time, maybe even forever. There are times when peace does propagate for a while – then a massacre somewhere calls time and it all starts again. A seed of hope cracks open and life climbs towards the sun once more.

Tragedy and terror seem to have seeped from Africa and into the rest of the world. Acts of brutality against defenceless people going about their everyday lives are atrocities that we cannot fathom.

I don’t know what the future holds for people in these apocalyptic times. As I look, it seems as if the senseless violence of one continent has spilt over and infected the rest of the world. As I remember September in my own clumsy way, I’ll leave it to South African songwriter, Don Clarke, to express what I cannot. We should never forget the lives that were stolen from everyday people, by people and powers we cannot understand.

South Africans Remember 9/11

Don Clarke

Don Clarke on September 2001

On the afternoon of the 11th of September 2001, Wendy and I were in a meeting in a small office at Mokomazana at the base of the Sani Pass with two construction guys who were going to build dams for us on the property. Outside the sky was heavy, grey and threatening. In the middle of the meeting, the phone rang and Wendy answered it. It was her mother calling from Durban. I was a bit annoyed because this was an important meeting. When she finally put the phone down, she said something like: “My mother says that a plane has flown into a building in New York, and it’s on fire.” I snapped back: “Nonsense! Your mother is probably watching a soapie! Anyway, you know how she exaggerates; can we get on with the meeting please?!” About an hour later the construction guys left in weather that was freezing and about to explode, and Wendy and I went down to our little hut and switched on the TV. We huddled in our bed under blankets, and watched the twin towers of the Trade Centre burning, while through the window behind the TV set we could see a heavy snow had started to fall in the gathering dusk. That was the last thing we saw on television for a whole week because 5 minutes later the power went down. It was one of the heaviest snowfalls in history, and we were trapped on the property for more than 7 days with no power and no communications. But that’s another story. I wrote and recorded this song when the power finally came back. Although written for the anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, it is not only about the event. It is also about cause & effect, tolerance and forgiveness, and the destructive consequences of too much power, greed and possessiveness. Above all, it cautions against the irrational fear of that which is different and unknown.

Support South African Music – Don Clarke’s music is available for download for a small fee here

Other Septembers

That big, horrific event is seared into recent memory – Beyond human comprehension because of the scale of the terror and tragedy that ended so many lives and shattered so many more.

There are other Septembers. While nothing like the scale of the events of 2001, personal tragedy is always the worst for those who are directly affected by it. Seemingly smaller tragedies can be devastating because they lack the little bit of comfort that comes with solidarity.

September 1978, Africa

3 September 1978 Air Rhodesia Flight 825 was shot down by a group of Zipra guerrillas/freedom fighters/terrorists. The educated and the radicals still argue terminology in air-conditioned comfort, but it was civilian passengers who died that day. Most died in the crash. A handful survived the ordeal. The fittest went to find help for the injured. by the time they got back to the crash site, the others were massacred. Let that sink in.

The world was silent, but a nation (or part thereof) felt the anger, terror and hollowness of a loss that will neither be filled nor forgotten. Other parts of the same nation grieved other losses. Atrocities were notched up by all factions, some real, others fabricated and exaggerated. It was the age of propaganda. This (and another) civilian aircraft that was destroyed stand out from the carnage of war and the mess of righteous wrongs.

Civilian aircraft and the precious cargo of passengers in their bellies are innocent victims. There is no ambiguity. Innocent lives were taken by despicable acts of cowardice and cruelty. Africa understood September long before the rest of the world ever did.

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September 2017, London

Known as the Bucket bomb, this attack was the fifth in London in just a few months. There were no deaths, though 30 people were treated for injuries. The bomber, Ahmed Hassan, was an 18-year-old Iraqi refugee. A terrorist group claimed responsibility.

Thoughts

Terror and brutality seem to break out like cholera and other epidemics. There is a sense that the big rich/poor, east/west divides that have sheltered some populations from the worst in humankind are crumbling. People are divided. We need only look at the way Brexit is being dealt with in the UK, the radicalisation of youth in Europe, the situation in Hong Kong, ethnic cleansing and the growth of city gangs and it is clear that the days when half of the world could just sit back and watch the rest of the world slide by are over.

There is a general sense of confusion that is spreading throughout the world. People are tribal by nature, but globalisation and other factors mean that families are split by geography, ideas, religion and other values – So it’s easy to understand why nations are split. Indeed, the idea of belonging to a people or nation has become a passion many and a poison for others. Those who want to unite and work together are struggling to find a sense of where they belong. Try as they might, they instinctively feel the need to belong to a group, just as society is diversifying to the point of fragmenting. Families have become a loose and changeable group, and many younger people feel cast adrift. Not everyone has the personality type, confidence or the desire to be a loner – The world has never been more crowded, yet people have seldom felt so lonely. Almost all children or young people are diagnosed with some kind of medical, learning or emotional issue (I am basing this on a survey of my family and friends and their groups) – Few are talking about anything that really matters. Parley is more about bandying words about than trying to find any mutual understanding.

I have that odd sense of foreboding that African citizens know well. It’s that lull before the storm – that time when the scent of rain is heavy on the (emotional) wind and you just know that something is going to burst – soon.

Let’s hope our youth are better at finding balance than we think. They are the future.

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