My Life in Africa

#147notjustanumber: The Victims of Kenya + Why I’m Worried


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As a three-day period of national mourning ends in Kenya for the massacre of nearly 150 students at a university in the country’s east, a social media campaign has coalesced around the mounting outrage and grief to commemorate the individual victims.

People are using the hashtag #147notjustanumber #theyhavenames to join the discussion on social media about the massacre in Kenya. The death toll has since risen to 148. The students were murdered when four gunman from the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, stormed Garissa University College last Thursday. They were seeking out and killing the Christian students. Here is the university’s website.

I ask myself how the world has come to this? The campaign to humanize the victims is extremely potent. It’s a powerful effort, making it all too real for those outside Kenya to relate to the horror that occurred on its soil. Looking at the photos of the victims, I feel physically sick. They were innocent, helpless + killed at the whim of a militant group.

Will Rhodes Must Fall Turn Fatal?

I’m writing from the South African banks of #RhodesMustFall, where a well-intentioned protest started turning ugly this week. My view of the “revolution” (as it has been labeled by Twitter activists) has been tainted. With a statue in Uitenhage being set on fire, a monument in Pretoria being defaced + then the horse memorial in Port Elizabeth being vandalized by rebels, I dare say a similar horror could be broadcasting out from our soil next.   #RhodesMustFall is a story I’ve been following closely. It had its roots on a university campus in Cape Town where a group of students called for the removal of a colonial statue. But it’s taking an unexpected turn – militant, criminal action by politically-charged groups on the streets of the ‘real world’ off tertiary grounds. 

Who was Cecil John Rhodes?

Cecil John Rhodes was an English businessman + financier who founded the modern diamond industry + controlled the British South Africa Company, which acquired Rhodesia + Zambia as British territories. Unfortunately, he did so through the gross intimidation + oppression of black people. 

History has revealed Rhodes as power-hungry and greedy, using mercenaries and gangs to evict people from their land down the barrel of a gun. If that didn’t work, there was always bribery and corruption. When he died in 1902, Rhodes was one of the world’s wealthiest men. He had a vast mining empire and had seized more than 8.8 million square kilometres of land through the annexation of present-day Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. The students contend the statue represents everything Rhodes stood for: racism, plunder, white supremacy, colonialism, pillaging, dispossession and the oppression of black people.

I always supported the removal of the statue from the UCT grounds to a more appropriate place, such as a museum or dedicated park. But I never supported the violence. I knew it would have repurcussions for the less-educated who simply see pictures of black students rallying + defacing buildings on campus in their “campaign”, then perceive it as a purely black vs. white issue. As Steve Hofmeyer sums up, illiteracy is to blame. According to UNICEF, we have 5 million illiterate people in South Africa. We (the literate; educated) take for granted our ability to research, understand + educate ourselves with the deeper topic at hand; the reason they are protesting. We have the luxury of investigating the broader concern, reading up on history + reasonably looking at both sides of a very complex debate. But the majority walking the streets who have access to Twitter or Facebook don’t have such inclinations. They just see photos, read militant words + sum up such a complex issue to its basal form of “black vs. white”. With our already sensitive history, this hasty “revolution” was a dangerous + irresponsible call for the group who started this at UCT. Is murder on our cards next as a debate about colonialism/imperialism + *institutional racism* turns into just an ugly race war? Xolela Mangcu sums it up nicely in his article: My biggest fear is that we will find ourselves in a racial civil war

What the conversation is looking like on Twitter

 

Photos of the destroyed monuments

Uitenhage Statue on fire
War memorial in Uitenhage set on fire
horse memorial port elizabeth
Horse memorial in Port Elizabeth vandalized
Paul Kruger statue
Paul Kruger monument in Pretoria defaced

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