Years ago and thousands of kilometers away, a NCO led his section on patrol. They came to a clearing and a village within it. His men wanted to go in, but something told him to hold his troops back for a while. Kids were playing in front of them, people were going about their business. Later, as he was about to give the order to move in, he saw a boy aged around 10 get ready to plant a mine on their approach path. That’s a hostile act, the same as if the kid had fired on them. He got on the radio and officers in comfortable offices left it up to him. An order could’ve been given but this one was his, so he lined up the rear aperture with the front pillar, took a breath and then pulled the trigger. Just like that, the child dropped, his life over before his tiny body hit the dirt.
What followed was typical of such things- years’ worth of guilt and countless thousands spent on mind-numbing drinks.
There was another guy, who was declared dead multiple times before he even got to fight, then saw what “hard contact” meant and these days is steadily going deaf and blind, suffering from nightmares and consequences that are tearing him and his family apart.
The third was a warrior poet or perhaps poetic warrior, a killing machine who used to scare armed men with just a look, who fearlessly took on an entire army at once and consequently lost so badly that he died and never got to be. He waits every day for the phone to ring and a voice that finally asks “will you come to war with me?”, but the call never comes and a meaningful punctuation in a meaningless existence is but cruel hope that eternally torments.
“The men of always” is a name given to families of oligarchs who’ve dominated some countries in South America for over a century.
Things are slightly different in South Africa, in that those at the top of the business and government pile change, so what we get are mostly “the men of today”.
As for “the children of never”, they stare at fancy cars while begging at intersections, probably dreaming of the day when they can pick up a gun to get what they don’t have- a future free of poverty.
When you add to this mix a former president, a current one and a guy who likes to call himself Commander-In-Chief- three foolish politicians with their unhealthy doses of denialism, nearly genocidal racist rabble-rousing and xenophobia- what you get is people attacked because they’re foreigners and South Africans overseas whose lives are put at risk in retaliation, but about which the government can do next to nothing because the SANDF has no legs or teeth- though it will probably try.
Sure, the defence farce will try, but they won’t succeed if the government doesn’t address the problems caused by denials that South Africa has problems with xenophobia, constant attempts to divide and set citizens at each other’s throats while blaming foreign intelligence services for the country’s ills, and an opposition party leader whose nearly unceasing calls for nationalisation without compensation threaten locals as much as foreigners.
The consequences of their ill-considered utters are clear. Disunity is spreading across South Africa, immigrants and refugees are beginning to coalesce into defensive groups instead of integrating into society, the compatriots they left behind watch what’s going on and African hostility towards South Africa is increasing. This poses serious problems for any attempt to rescue South Africans who own businesses or work in Nigeria, because an evacuation will need to be two-pronged, from the air and from the sea. Given that South Africa lacks the naval assets (both military and civilian) as well as aerial capabilities like in-flight refueling, surveillance and communication, to say nothing of troop transports and fighter-bombers with the necessary range, the country will need the support of other nations if the threats to attack South Africans for what was done recently against Nigerian immigrants in Johannesburg and Pretoria become a reality.
But why should such support be given, when Mozambicans and Congolese have been targeted so many times, just like the Somalis and now Nigerians? There’s a lot of land between Pretoria and Lagos, and the seas aren’t all that friendly either. The lack of capability (last I heard, the SANDF had only three operational C130s, the Gripen fighter-bombers lack range and more critically, pilots, while the majority of the navy is in dry dock) and increasing anger towards South Africa for its government’s lack of action against xenophobia, mean that if establishing a logistical bridge was extremely difficult before, it may now prove to be impossible. The consequence of that is clear- innocent South Africans are going to die in Nigeria because of the stupidities happening at home.
*The murder of Mozambican citizen Emmanuel Sithole by a xenophobic South African. Photo taken by James Oatway and published by the South African Sunday Times newspaper.
The government announced it was putting together an anti-xenophobia strategy in the aftermath of Emmanuel Sithole’s murder. Two years and another xenophobic outburst later, nothing’s been done and now citizens living and working overseas face being targeted by thoroughly fed up people who’ve seen horror and brutality to the extent that killing is like buying a pack of gum to them. The choices are simple, though their execution is not- fix South Africa’s social, political and economic problems or send troops overseas on iffy rescue missions.
A holy man once spent forty days in the desert, railing at the injustices of the world and emptiness around him. In the end, all he saw was a pillar of fire, probably because he unwittingly decided to get warm on top of a gas pocket. A less than holy man has been shouting for twenty-five years in a country whose citizens are so deaf that he too might as well be ranting in the desert, but without any divine status. After all that time, he sees no pillar of fire, only fountains of blood rising. Think carefully, oh people of a land so full of anger, and choose wisely because the “men of today” like to give orders that turn good men into killers and kids into what they have to kill.