The Red Fountain And The Desert

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.

 

Comments

Michael B. Added Mar 12, 2017 - 2:30pm
Mircea, it sounds to me like South Africa is well on the way to making it on the Failed States Index...I think the U.S. is also not too far behind them, in many ways.
mark henry smith Added Mar 12, 2017 - 3:42pm
We stand here in a desert of noise trying to raise our voice above the din. The promise of democracy is failing as it was always prone to do. Look at Athens where democracy was born. What happened after a few generations of democratic leadership? It died and gave way to a tyrant.
 
The problem of democracy is not in the idea of all men having a vote. It is in the choices they are presented with. There is no way to take all of those poor South Africans and make them not poor. It will never happen, but you can't tell them that. That's political suicide, or just plain suicide. We have the same problem here in the US, but we're affluent enough at this time, and inclusive enough to let the dogs of our society gnaw on a bone now and then. We can bring in immigrants who we've made promises to without any great destabilization in our standard of living, unlike South Africa. Our problem might be the opposite. Can we push the illegals out and still maintain our economy?
 
So people who want to fight, such as those in the West Bank, pick up stones, knives, drive their cars into crowds, and just like that little boy planting a mine, or the people who urged him to do it, they know their actions are basically symbolic. There is no way that stones will win over guns, or that disorganized bands will defeat an entrenched military structure. Not in this world. And organized bands make themselves easy targets. All a warrior can do, a real warrior who knows how flawed all sides are, are small acts of personal kindness and resistance knowing how small they are in the scheme of things. Knowing that story of a small man with big intentions, a leader of twelve, all of whom abandoned him when called, a nothing who became the leader of a movement that has changed the face of this world, strengthens our resolve.
 
In Athens, the wise Greeks who flirted with democracy, had the black ball available to remove one person who was thought to be a particularly noxious threat to the democratic state, the intent being to remove a potential dictator. But when it was time to choose a victim, they didn't choose the worst person they could find, they chose the best, because the worst are always the ones who sound harmless.
 
Trump is good for US. He is waking us up to the demons that plague us and we have the institutions to confront them. It doesn't sound as if South Africa has that freedom. Thanks
Mircea Negres Added Mar 12, 2017 - 4:20pm
Michael, I reckon you're right about South Africa. Its melting pot isn't quite melting, the economy is stuttering, corruption increasing, lies increasingly becoming accepted as truth, reality abandoned for the temporary yet deadly relief of living in denial. It's going to get worse and unless the systemic problems are solved, the country will become a failed state like so many others in Africa.
Mircea Negres Added Mar 12, 2017 - 4:39pm
Mark, that was very well put. We're conditioned from very early on to do big things, but as small individuals that's unlikely to happen. You're right, it's about small gestures and I hope they get repeated in large enough numbers to become a gigantic wave, but hope is about all there is left. Athenian democracy became the nightmare many feared and indeed it was the best of them who got it in the neck, to the eventual detriment of the city.
 
I've read Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle and Xenophon among many others. When asked why, I always say "the people who caused many of the problems we have today had a classical education. In reading the classics, we have a chance to understand what happened and why, and perhaps find the solution".
 
Yeshua bar Yosef was a smart man with plenty of integrity, but it was the cowards who followed him that spread his ideas and inherited the power. That's a frightening thing for those who want to make the world a better place to consider, but nobody ever said it's easy or cheap.
 
America has a number of advantages which hold the promise of righting wrongs when they happen, but by far the greatest are the people and their belief in the institutions and processes which guard democracy. That gives the nation a strength and resilience that are lacking in a South Africa which is slowly tearing itself apart.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 13, 2017 - 11:42am
I always enjoy reading your work, Mircea.  You have a distinct, captivating style and I always learn something.  Maybe some folks were born to write.
mark henry smith Added Mar 13, 2017 - 1:40pm
The whole of Africa is being torn apart, as is The Middle East, as is ...
We in the US are so lucky to have a system in place that limits the power of any one person or group. We still have the rule of law, but each day it becomes more and more tested, and people are becoming more and more testy. We blame everything in the US on the self, the individual, believing that we live in a grand land of opportunity, but then during every election we get many of the same people who normally promote this supposition railing against the impact of big government limiting their opportunities. Strange how some people can hold both beliefs at the same time. Or in South Africa, or Russia, where people want self-determination so they can vote for dictators. America of the near future? Very possible. Sometimes a majority of people don't want to have to choose. In the modern world we're being choiced to madness. Some people don't know what to believe and invariably those people are happy just to be told what to do since they have no belief system to stop them from being agreeable. 
Eileen de Bruin Added Mar 14, 2017 - 4:54am
Mircea, much depth, yes. Nelson Mandela had a broad appeal and he had huge dreams. The current ANC is not, necessarily, of his dreams. The wrestling of power from "the whites" is not the "answer" to SA's problems. That those who are now in power - by the simple definition of being black - are as bad, if not worse, than their predecessors tells us one truth. Nay, they are worse because they pretended to be ethical. Yes, a systemic issue indeed.  Whatever colour, race, national, religious orientation, sexual orientation we are, we are all capable of being selfish and corrupt. Without the social mechanisms of control, this law presides.
 
That many South Africans are poor - or left in a lowly social context - is due to the powers that be at the top and the familiar hierarchy. A social context whereby in all of its institutions including education, it is not about the education in itself, it is about the corruption which is so ingrained that one buys a teaching job. Never mind about whether one can teach.....  This seems to be the ethos of the ANC - the "grab what you can" which creates the deeply corrupted institutions which should be there for the overall good of the country.
 
It is only more developed nations - by this I mean whose cumulative national psychology has reached a higher level - wherein social infrastructure can be engineered for the good of the whole.
 
 
Mircea Negres Added Mar 18, 2017 - 8:17am
Apologies for the tardy reply, but I had run out of data on Monday and only managed to buy some today. Eileen, what you say makes a great deal of sense and proof can be found across South African society and its systems. Solutions are there and are possible, but it's the will to do anything that's lacking along with sufficient integrity to ensure actions and results do not become corrupted. We're circling the drain here and it's frightening. However, what is more frightening is what will emerge from the drain's outflow pipe further down the line...
mark henry smith Added Mar 20, 2017 - 12:20pm
Eileen, the grab what you can mentality is everywhere. Populist movements aren't about growing the pie so all can share in the peace. It's about protecting the pie for our particular group and letting the less fortunate fend for themselves. But it is a valid argument that citizens of a country deserve preferential treatment than noncitizens, or what is the value of citizenship?
 
There was much hope that electronic communication, this tool that allows us to go all over the world with the click of a mouse, sharing pictures and ideas, our souls with one another, would lead to more understanding and integration, but for the present it appears to be better at solidifying stereotypes of hatred than building bridges or trust.
 
Mandela had soul and his depth pulled people from all races and socio-economic backgrounds to him. We need more leaders with soulfulness. 
Shane Laing Added Mar 21, 2017 - 10:15am
If fear South Africa could become the new Zimbabwe. From being the Breadbasket of Africa to now being one of the poorest nations on earth. Dispossessing the farmers who knew how to grow crops and giving to the supporters of the fight for freedom, although an admirable idea, just lead to even greater poverty for the masses. Those with the power don't worry, their bellies are not empty.

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