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I speak of freedom

Abigail George

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he divine meeting of the class system in South Africa, the failure of our curriculum, the failure for the 2016 matriculants, the fees must fall campaign that attempted to set wrong right.

So many failures. So little time. So little freedom, right? With freedom in Africa came the unity of the people, independence, a sovereign state, and a more humane humanity.

Those kinds of stereotypes, of racism, fighting affirmative action still speaks to all of us in significant ways, regardless of whether we are black or white.

The collective ‘us’ having a tribal enthusiasm for the establishment’s gravity that we worship at will will speak to us all forever whatever kind of folk we are.

We must now find our freedom in decolonising the mind. In the second African Renaissance. It is not up to us anymore and perhaps it is easier if we look to our artists. Say ‘it is up to our artists’. Our musicians, visual artists, writers, and poets.

Human lives are the stakeholders here. There is always talk of that most primitive war (revolution) when a country has no growth in unemployment. When the consciousness of the people is troubled.

When the political way is not there we must turn to distinctions and not moral ambiguity. I want to remain innocent in the face of speculation and not fear isolation.

Now we must cross gender boundaries effortlessly, and take corruption in our stride as if it has never happened before in history.

We must secretly develop our own solutions to war, to climate change, to the global recession, to the Trump dynasty that is playing itself out in the media. That we all are living vicariously through whether we want to or not.

I want to believe in a non-sexist Africa. A non-judgemental Africa but I did not know where to find this Africa. I was looking for a ‘free’

Africa but I am afraid that freedom comes with labels and a price tag.

It made me feel quite sick at one point in my life when I realised that people around me were more educated than me. Knew more about their own culture, heritage and traditions than I did.

Women were more articulate. Other mothers progeny had more profound dreams than I did when I was young but this is my happiness, this is my freedom.

That I had to discover that entering the life of a country (South

Africa) means something quite different than to inhabit a continent’s

(Africa) frail desire to be an emerging world power.

I want to be free. Free from the constraints of being a woman, thinking like a woman, talking like a woman, dressing like a woman.

Those are much more simple freedoms than just being a compatriot.

When I look over the lake near the stadium nearby where I live I am reminded that everything in life is temporary. Transitory. There is a change for every year, every season, every cadence in a troubling and harsh reality.

In the end, everything is relative. Everything is suffering. To suffer is to become like Buddha or Jesus Christ. To suffer is existential.

Freedom comes out of suffering. Certainty comes out of suffering.

With suffering comes the policy of fear. That misconception that can make you leap across a bridge or fall on the flat edge of normal.

We all want space. It is something that has a holistic meaning to all of us. It means ‘freedom’ in so many detailed ways. In a democratic South Africa we still believe that we are free from radicalised thinking.

We believe that we are free from an onslaught of racism at any given time. When our personal space is overshadowed, when we are given a glimpse into racist thinking, there is a paradigm shift. This is still home but it does not mean that we are free. Far from it.

Tribal alienation came first to Africa (or was it fear?).

Indoctrination came a close second. Mission schools with their missionaries. Religion. Church. Scriptures.

Did we have freedom as Khoi, San, Xhosa or did we barter for it with the Settlers? Here we are thinking that ‘freedom’ was a synonym for ‘safe’ in those bygone days.

The stigma was there too informed by behaviour, the language of alien nations. I speak of freedom now because (truth) I can. It has become important to me. I know of its power. That is its strangness.

I didn’t know of freedom as a child. I knew of shelter, abandonment issues, and loneliness. I spread my wings, fell in love, understood the stigma of chronic illness, disability early on in adolescence.

With that kind of stigma, came my own freedom.

Your ‘freedom’ might come differently. I don’t pretend to fully understand ‘freedom’ and her life choices. ‘Freedom’ came late to me in life. I was late to bloom but there was a reason for that.

Freedom should prepare us for all eventualities in South Africa because our freedom came at a price. We must be aware of this now more than ever. The wheel of hate is turning, turning, and turning.

It is not a comforting thought but an important one that we must take cognisance of. The success of our emotions or the success of art lies in the fact that we are able to traverse boundaries, have empathy with anyone that we choose, and that is where the cornerstone of the foundations of our democracy lies.

We must anticipate freedom before we are stuck in the foot traffic in everyone’s head! People have paid the price for our freedom with their lives. Steve Bantu Biko’s ‘Azania’ was meant for everyone.

Consciousness is consciousness.

We have challenges but we also have hope if we believe in freedom.

Every simple little thing needs breathing room to grow, to be processed, for us to follow its progress articulately.

The world keeps ending, the light at the end of the tunnel flickers (it comes and it goes) but freedom keeps showing up like a dance or a wedding reception in a church hall marking vows forever and forever.

Freedom cannot exist without us. Our life choices. Our kind of artists. Our bodies. Our words.

Just remember that. We are all here because of spirit, burden, worry, care, need, spirituality, and of course ego, and ‘freedom’ too.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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Africa

Fuelling peace through dialogue over natural resources in Sudan’s West Kordofan

MD Staff

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In the past, residents of parts of West Kordofan walked for up to five hours to access the nearest water source. Photo by UN Environment

Niematian village in Al-Muglad area of West Kordofan State shares many similarities with other neighbouring villages and towns in the province, where crop-farming, grazing and small-scale trade are the mainstays of the local economy.

Pastoralists of West Kordofan were greatly affected by the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which hindered them from crossing the border as they had done previously in search of pasture and water for their herds.

This has led to concentration of livestock in the already fragile grazing areas in the state, overgrazing around permanent water points and potential conflict with farmers, spread of diseases and livestock death.

Niematian has also experienced a considerable population increase, arising mainly from displaced communities from the Hamar tribe, in the state’s North Babanusa area, and Dinka refugees from South Sudan and the disputed region of Abyei.

This rapid population growth, coupled with failing environmental governance structures, has fuelled environmental degradation. It has also spurred tensions and conflict over land, which on many occasions have resulted in violence.

Between June 2015 and August 2018, UN Environment, with funding from the European Union, implemented the Promoting Peace Over Natural Resources in Darfur and Kordofan project. The project aimed to improve the capacity to resolve resource-based conflicts and to manage natural resources more sustainably and equitably.

The 39-month project was implemented across five areas in West Darfur (Kerenik and Mornie), Central Darfur (Azum) and West Kordofan (Muglad and Babanusa). It was delivered in partnership with two national non-governmental organizations: the Darfur Development and Reconstruction Agency (DDRA) in West and Central Darfur, and SOS Sahel Sudan (SOS Sahel) in West Kordofan.

In 2016, there was an unprecedented situation in Niematian village after farmers expanded their agricultural fields and encroached agreed migratory routes, thus denying pastoralists access to water for themselves and their livestock.

However, thanks to a local reconciliation committee, the dispute was managed and the tension diffused in a thoughtful and reliable way.

“To prevent similar conflicts in future, a peace forum was held in Niematian village January 2017 with the support of SOS Sahel. Community and tribal leaders briefed communities on the forum’s objective and invited five members from each of the 18 sub-villages along the central migratory route to participate in the peace forum,” says Atila Uras, UN Environment’s Sudan Country Programme Manager.

The local administration brought together leaders of the tribes in conflict to not only jointly identify violations but to also explore ways to strengthen relations between them.

The Niematian reconciliation committee, which comprised local leaders from the Dinka, Hamar and Misseriya tribes, continues to resolve conflicts over land use in accordance with customary law.

Furthermore, through a seasonal agricultural committee, which is activated during the rainy season, the tribal leaders in Niematian have been implementing the taleg, traditional rules and customs, to allow free access to crop residue by pastoralists after the collection of harvest by farmers.

“As a result of the forum, and the consequent dialogue, we witnessed a 60 per cent reduction in conflict,” says Bashtanah Mohamed Salim, a local leader from the Misseriya tribe who played a key role in establishing the Niematian peace forum in 2017.

Thanks to the project, conflict resolution training was provided to both local government officials and tribal leaders in all the three states.

In West Kordofan State, the training was delivered in collaboration with the Peace and Development Studies Centre in the state capital Al Fula. It provided tailored guidance on conflict analysis, carrying out risk assessments to intervene prior to conflict, and communications and mediations skills.

In 2008, cognizant of the need to make resource scarcity and competition a platform for cooperation rather than conflict, UN Environment established its Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme. The initiative seeks to address critical knowledge gaps on the role of natural resources in identifying conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities.

Between 2009 and 2015, the programme co-generated 150 original peer-reviewed case studies by 225 experts and practitioners, covering 12 natural resource sectors across 60 conflict-affected countries. It also provided technical analysis and environmental diplomacy support to Western Sahara, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Sahel region, Sudan and Nigeria to address ongoing or potential resource disputes. In February 2015, the United Nations Department of Political Affairs and UN Environment jointly published Natural Resources and Conflict: A guide for mediation practitioners.

UN Environment has also, in collaboration with the Environmental Law Institute, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Duke University and the University of California at Irvine, developed a groundbreaking massive open online course on environmental security and sustaining peace.

UN Environment

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Russia wants to bolster economic ties with Lesotho

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In southern Russian city Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Lesego Makgothi, held wide-ranging diplomatic talks mid-February to understand deeply how to continue to build upon relations in numerous areas especially economic cooperation.

Makgothi, who has been Minister since 2017, made his first official trip to Moscow.

According to the official media release, Lavrov and Makgothi exchanged views on important global and regional issues, including Russia’s participation in international efforts to resolve conflicts and crises in Africa and some ways to ensure sustainable socioeconomic development of the continent.

They noted a desire to expand these relations in all areas, beginning with the political dialogue and then cooperation within international organizations, as well as in trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian areas.

During the discussion, both noted geological prospecting, mining and the energy industry as promising areas. The economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining. Water and diamonds are its significant natural resources.

Both ministers also focused on cooperation in education exchanges. Russia has expanded the quota by five times for students from Lesotho. This will make it possible to meet the interests of Lesotho and to train specialists in healthcare, meteorology and mining starting next academic year, 2019/20.

There was also the possibility of sending law enforcement officers to study in advanced training courses at the educational institutions under the Russian Interior Ministry.

Lavrov informed that an inter-parliamentary Russian-African conference has been scheduled to take place later this year, and Russia would host a general meeting of the African Export-Import Bank’s shareholders.

Lavrov and Makgothi believed that this would make it possible to considerably raise the level of cooperation and to chart specific ways of further enriching Russia’s relations with Africa. He invited Makgothi to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for June.

In general, Lavrov and Makgothi advocated for greater cooperation between Russia and the African countries in all areas, primarily within the context of a proposal put forward by President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the BRICS summit in July 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Lesotho’s geographic location, the southernmost landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa, makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa.

Relations between the two countries were established soon after Lesotho gained independence in 1966. Lesotho, with about 2.5 million population, is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan

MD Staff

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The intensification of road patrols followed shocking incidents of rape and sexual assault, reported in the area in recent weeks. UNMISS/Isaac Billy

A surge in sexual violence in South Sudan’s Unity state targeting victims as young as eight years old, has prompted a call from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, for urgent Government measures to protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.

Despite the signing of a peace deal between belligerents last September, UN investigators found that at least 175 women and girls have been raped or suffered other sexual and physical violence between September and December 2018.

The actual level of violence is likely to be considerably higher, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

“Obviously (it is) not the whole picture, but they found 175, women and girls who had been either raped, gang-raped or sexually assaulted or physically harmed in other ways,” he said. “And 49 of those girls who were raped, were children.”

According to a joint report by OHCHR and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), attacks against women have decreased significantly since the peace accord was signed on 12 September.

Nonetheless, it warns that such incidents are “endemic” in northern Unity state, on the border with Sudan, creating a sense among communities that it is normal to be a victim of sexual violence.

Victim’s testimony recalls recurring attacks

Citing the testimony of one victim, Mr. Colville explained that many women are raped while fetching firewood, food or water – often more than once – as they lack any protection.

“She said, ‘If we go by the main road we are raped, if we go by the bush, we are raped. I was raped among others in the same area repeatedly on three separate occasions.”

The surge in conflict-related sexual violence is attributed to many factors including the breakdown in the rule of law, the destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement and food insecurity, after years of civil war.

Large numbers of armed young men, a ‘toxic mix’

But one of the main reasons is the large number of fighters in the area, who have yet to be reintegrated into the national army, according to the peace deal.

Most of the attacks are reported to have been carried out by youth militia groups and elements of the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, SPLA-IO (TD), as well as South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF).

In a few cases, attacks were perpetrated by members of the group affiliated with reinstated Vice President and peace deal participant, Riek Machar, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM), the UN report says.

“Particularly in this area, there are essentially three main groups who…are involved in these rapes, including the National Government force,” said Mr. Colville. “And a lot of these young men who are heavily armed, are just waiting around…This is a very toxic mix, and there are also youth militia which some of these official groups ally with and you don’t know exactly who they are; they’ve been heavily involved as well.”

Rule of law ‘just not applied’

A key challenge is tackling the prevailing impunity throughout Unity state, which is linked to the volatility of the situation across the country, OHCHR maintains.

“There’s been very little accountability in South Sudan for what is chronic, endemic problem of sexual violence against women and girls,” Mr. Colville said. “Virtually complete impunity over the years, as a result, very little disincentive for these men not to do what they’re doing. The rule of law has just not been applied.”

Mobile courts provide glimmer of hope for victims

Among the practical measures taken to a bid to help vulnerable communities in Unity state, UNMISS has cleared roadsides to prevent attackers from hiding from potential victims.

A mobile court system is also operational in towns, including Bentiu, which has had “some success” in bringing perpetrators to trial, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said, noting nonetheless that “this is just a drop in the ocean”.

“There are thousands and thousands of perpetrators, there are officers involved, there are commanders who’ve got command responsibility who instead of being investigated and brought to book…have been promoted, and are still in charge of groups operating in this area who are still raping women,” he concluded.

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