In the last few days, we watched how Norway has chosen unity over partisan rage in its response to the recent terrorist attacks. In 1994, South Africa captured the reconciliation flag and managed, thanks to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, to hold on to it. But the tone of national discourse in the past few years suggests we may have forgotten the value of the conciliatory way here at the bottom of Africa. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Norway’s response to its worst massacre since World War II is instructive of its nature and the society in which its people want to live. Speaking five days after the 22 July attacks that have left 77 people dead, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.” Previously he had said, “I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22. But I hope and also believe the Norway we will see after will be a more open, more tolerant society than what we had before.”
On Friday 29 July the first victim of the attacks was buried on Nesodden, a small town 41km south of Oslo. The funeral was for 18-year-old Bano Rashid, a Kurd who had escaped from Iraq with her family to Norway. The ceremony encompassed both traditions of Christianity and Islam, with imam Ghulam Abbas and Lutheran priest Anne Marit Tronvik leading the gathered crowd in observances.
Abbas said at the funeral, “We are sending out a clear message that we want to be together – to share everything and have an even better and brighter future for our children.”
How far we’ve come from the polarising post-9/11 days? Reacting nine days after the al Qaeda attacks, US president George W Bush infamously said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”. His administration’s robust military and foreign strategies after the attacks brooked no criticism.There was no middle ground.
We’re experiencing that again here in South Africa these days. We’re re-racialising the public space. While the country continues to experience severe problems, the nonracialism that underpinned discussions in the 1990s has gone – replaced by a reversal to ugly racial caricatures.
Last week, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema was in Queenstown to attend the court hearing of Gerdus “Gerry” Greyvenstein who allegedly shot a Youth League supporter in an argument over the integrity of the ANCYL.
Speaking to the crowd outside the court, Malema described the shooter as a monkey who should not be released. “Our members don’t shoot people during political arguments,” he said. “He does not deserve to be released back into society and must rot in jail.”
He also made a rather unfortunate comment about Greyvenstein’s legal representation, saying, “Who would want to represent him? That lawyer will be jeopardising his name and reputation.”
Malema is completely right that the gun is no way to solve political difference, but he’s playing a dangerous game by inciting those who are sympathetic to his cause and tainting the suspect’s legal representation. We all deserve a fair hearing in a court of law, no matter how heinous our crime may seem. Malema knew he held a political grenade in his hands – a white man shooting a black man for his political views. It’s the sort of thing that can set the country ablaze and destroy years of progress. Yet, instead of leading his supporters away from demonising white people, he chose to polarise the community even further.
You’ll recall Malema’s own words in the run-up to the local elections, where he said, “They (whites) have turned our land into game farms. The willing-buyer, willing-seller system has failed. We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”
Not unlike Norway, South Africa has a tragedy of its own (though perhaps different in immediacy) to face. It involves merging conflicting interests and ideologies to build one future. It means bringing together people who have been conditioned to view each other with animosity. The process needs humanity, compassion, honesty and most importantly, empathy.
Norway has shown us that there’s a better way to deal with such things than partisan politicising. We used to be good at this. We’re being dragged back in the opposite direction now. Norway’s PM encouraged his fellow Norwegians to defeat the terrorist attacker by embracing the ideals he detested: democracy and openness. It’s a pity the lesson is being lost in the “Beloved Country”. DM