We must never forget

A very short letter changed the trajectory of the world.

That was back on November 2, 1917. The letter was from Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in the UK and scion of a family that more or less runs the world’s financial system up to today.

Balfour wrote: “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

It reminds me of another short letter almost 80 years later to the day: again by a UK minister and again with colonial import in its tone.

That one was by Claire Short – the UK’s Overseas Development Minister – to the government in Zimbabwe back on November 5, 1997.

In a few paragraphs, Short repudiated any responsibility for her government’s kith and kin settled on stolen farms in Zimbabwe. Claire Short’s letter firmly placed Zimbabwe on the road to the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme just three years later.

Balfour’s letter took longer to have an impact. That impact was to come in 1948 with the establishment of a Jewish homeland called Israel in Palestine. And the results of Balfour’s letter are there for all to see today.

The year 1948 was a bad one for the world. It is the same year that apartheid was officialised in South Africa and it quickly spread to present-day Namibia and had major ramifications on the peoples of Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well. Like many people, I loathe apartheid, which is also why I detest the Zionism that Balfour’s letter spawned and the cocky empire state of mind that Short’s letter reeked of.

But there is an object lesson for Africa to learn from the way in which apartheid perpetuated itself (and still does today if you consider the structure of South Africa and Namibia’s economies), and the manner in which Zionism continues to pollute this planet.

The Jews and the settlers understand the importance of solidarity.

Just look at how apartheid has been able to project itself into the economy of the Rainbow Nation and how sympathy for the Holocaust has allowed Israel to get away with the murder of countless non-Jews. None of this can be achieved without a profound sense of group identity. Take for instance the Wiesenthal Centre, which spearheads the global prosecution of Nazi war criminals. The centre recently ran the “Operation Last Chance II” poster campaign in Germany, offering rewards of up to US$33 080 for information that could help prosecute Nazi war criminals.

The first campaign was in 2002, and since then the centre has been able to follow up on 660 suspected Nazi criminals. The centre estimates that 98 percent of Nazi criminals are probably dead, and it will do its damned best to catch the surviving two percent.

Efraim Zuroff, who runs the centre, says, “There's no reason to ignore them (the surviving Nazis), just because their passport says they were born in 1917 or ‘18, or ‘20, or ‘22 or ‘23 or ‘24.”

The other week I came across the story of the death of Laszlo Csatary, a Hungarian who had been convicted by Slovakia for aiding the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps and who was awaiting trial in his home country.

He was 98-years-old and yet there was a strong push for him to face up to his crimes of some 60 years ago.

Among his sins was that in 1944 he was a policeman in charge of 12 000 Jewish detainees. He would beat them with a dog leash, and at one point he herded 80 of them into windowless train wagons for deportation to Nazi death camps.

When it comes to the Holocaust, we are always told that “we must never forget”. And what of Africa and Africans? How quickly we forget!

Caroline Elkins, a professor at Harvard, detailed the UK’s colonial crimes in her book titled “Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya”.

We are usefully reminded by Prof Elkins that the same proponents of democracy and human rights are the same merchants of terror who detained not 80 000 Kikuyu as the official histories maintain, but almost the entire population of one-and-a-half-million in camps and fortified villages.

We will never know how many thousands – including children – were beaten to death or died of starvation and diseases in those camps.

One account of the British gulag goes thus: “Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions.

“A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted.

“The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.”

George Monbiot says, “Yet the myth of the civilising mission remains untroubled by the evidence.”

No we should never forget.

Nor should we forget the Nyadzonya and Chimoio massacres of thousands of mostly Zimbabwean women and children in Mozambique by Rhodesia’s Western-backed regime during the liberation struggle.

No, like the Jews remember the Holocaust, we must never forget the Setif massacre by the French of thousands of unarmed Algerians in 1945.

We cannot forget how these same French massacred tens of thousands of Malagasy between 1947 and 1948 just because they demanded their right to self-determination.

And we will certainly not forget how between 1904 and 1908 Lothar von Trotha wiped out three-quarters of the Herero and Nama peoples of Namibia so that Germany could occupy that country. Shall we go on to detail what the Portuguese did? What the Belgians did? Or the Spanish and the Italians?

Like the Jews, we should never forget. Israel has harnessed power from the shared grief of the Jews. They have no real natural resources to talk of, they are very small in number. But damn they understand power!

With our numbers, our resources, and our common grief and aspirations we surely can build a better Africa.

August 2013
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