Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Not nearly enough

Recently, one of my favorite radio programs was in the midst of its annual fund drive for its listener sponsored radio station. Every day for the last two weeks, one of the host’s of the show would devote the last fifteen minutes encouraging listeners to give generously in order that the station could continue on with it’s radical, investigative journalism.

Now, before I say more, I have to say that this particular host is one of the most passionate fundraisers I have ever heard. He often gets quite emotional about the mainstream media’s lack of concern for uncovering the truth about the stories that they report on. Often he sites stories that he and his co-host report about that the mainstream media won’t or can’t touch.

Just the other day, as he was wrapping up the broadcast, he spoke of the recent visit of Prime Minister. Ehud Olmert. His voice began to rise as he told of the joint session of Congress that Olmert addressed, while all the while Israel was continuing with it’s extra-judicial killings of Palestinians.

As the host of the show told this story, something he said struck me full force: “How many Palestinians have to die before the World takes notice, 20, 40, 100, how many?”

When he said this I thought back to my time in South Africa during the early 90s. At this point, Mandela was released; peace agreements between the South African Government and The African Nationalist Congress (ANC) were halted, because of the Governments refusal to compromise. The World began to watch, but it seemed only with mild amusement. I wasn’t surprised at this. You see the World really never paid attention to South Africa for many years. Most people that I know couldn’t even find it on a map.

But something that did take me by surprise was the number of deaths that began to multiply during this time. This was one of the most turbulent times for South Africa. It was a time of uncertainty as never before. Blacks in the Country knew they had an edge and were not about to relinquish it. The Whites also knew it, and it terrified them. So the Whites did what was their normal, knee-jerk reaction to do; they began killing us.

When I say they killed us I don’t mean them directly. They would often pit one group against each other. A tactic they employed with precision during the 70s and 80s. It wasn’t unusual to find out on the news in the evening that 30 people who were supporters of the ANC were killed in Khayelitsha Township at the hands of Inkatha Freedom Party supporters, 52 who called themselves staunch Inkatha Freedom Party members were hacked to death by ANC supporters in Gugulethu Township.

The numbers rose as time went on and no one from the outside media reported it! No one seemed to care about our suffering. As I sat at home each night seeing the news broadcasts, I thought to myself the same thing that the radio host asked; “What’s it gonna take for people to take notice of our suffering? How many more have to die?”

Finally. I got my answer. I recall being at work: I worked as a field worker for a human rights group. The phone rang and I answered. The voice on the other end had just informed me that a busload of school children had been ambushed. All the children were dead. The body count was over fifty.

That did it.

Suddenly, I began to see more coverage on the international news about the stalled peace talks between the Government and the ANC. Journalists from all over the World seemed to descend upon South Africa, eager to cover the major story of all race elections, but also the smaller stories of those who had fought against apartheid.

All, at least it appears to me, because the wide spread killings had taken the lives of so many innocent children. Not because women had died. Not because innocent and not so innocent men perished. But because a school bus filled with bright young minds turned into a bloody morgue on one summer’s day.

I can still hear the plea from the radio host now; “How many lives will it take for the World to wake up and do something about the tragedy that is unfolding in Palestine?”

How many? I don’t know. But if South Africa is any indication, we’ve got a long way to go my friends.


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