The West and the East marked seventy years since the end of world war two last week. Military parades were the order of the day on the 8th in the West and on the 11th in the East. The loudest cheers, as usual went to the veterans who, still plucky and brave, marched in memory of their friends, their own thoughts and that terrible war.
We have to remember. During a break on a visit to Cape Town, I took the opportunity to visit Slave Lodge. It is just outside company gardens, next door to parliament in the central business district. Sometimes we forget. Especially in Africa and I have written about this before, how other continents actively keep memory going, especially outside museums, of their history and significant historical events. In the West, political differences are put aside (except when there is a spat with Russia) and different politicians come together to mourn loved ones, celebrate their heroes and reinforce the notion of the greatness of their ideals.
I would like to see more of this in African countries. Events in stadia are not as engaging as a grand parade on the Champs Elysee in Paris or at Red Square in Moscow. There was a Congolese lady with her young children in tow. Carefree, they ran around quite a bit while she called them to order several times and explained parts of the exhibitions to them. I even pitched in when she struggled to correctly interpret the English explanation to her French speaking children. I was glad to see this but I also wondered how much they would remember. Later on that afternoon, I listened to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshegka deliver her budget vote speech. In it, she dwelt for some length on her plan to introduce a compulsory history syllabus for all South African children and I was happy to hear this.
Now, I know that we are all busy with the politics of survival. We get up in the morning, get the children ready for school as we prepare to go to work, slide in to the traffic, deal with the rat race, have a couple at the local, watch a sitcom and some news, then retire to bed to start all over the next day. So we do not have time for “these things” that Albert and a few others keep harping on about. “Chief, just have another beer, it’s been a long day!” So we focus on bond payments, school fees and football rivalries and bragging rights. Little by little, we are diminished as a continent.
The greatness of a people lies in their ability to remember where they have come from. The arms race started in earnest after World War two because the mutually suspicious Soviet Union and the West said they would never again allow themselves to be punished in the way that they were during the war. Whether it was Pearl Harbour, Paris or Lenningrad, everyone lost heavily. So, in a sense the memory of that pain led to a great leap forward in the kind of technological development that would make future enemies think twice about any bad intentions. The memory of the Spanish plague led to huge advances in medicine and so it goes on.
Does Africa remember slavery? Does Africa remember colonialism and apartheid as teachable moments? There is a difference between ranting and raving about the injustices of the past and remembering them as a spur for future development that will not allow the recurrence of said events. How best can we turn adversity, which all societies go through, in to triumph?
If our societies are not actively remembering these things, we cannot create a film industry that turns Vietnam from a defeat in to an orgy of American heroes fighting to hoist their flag on a hill far away in East Asia. We are unable to create television series that depict a heroic “Kunta Kinte”, Mansa Kankan Musa, Menelik at the battle of Adwa, Tongogara, Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral and so on. Our biggest movie industry instead gives us tales of witchcraft and bickering spouses while Hollywood gives us pitiful tales of slavery. A society that does not remember cannot create its heroes, nor can it celebrate them. Our memories, therefore, become those of pity instead of the heroic resistance of our people. This must change.
We must keep memory alive. Our children will be inspired by our history to create, develop, invent in such a way as to guarantee our people a future that does not involve the return to painful memories. We can inspire children to be the global leaders in medical research and product, to be on the cutting edge for climate change technology solutions, sharp minded entrepreneurs running continent wide conglomerations, authors, musicians and teachers. The answer lies in how we remember. We are busy in “the thick of thin things” as Steven Covey would say and we have forgotten about building up a free people, mentally free and determined to forge a new future. There are think tanks actively working to this purpose while the best we can do is cry for UN Security Council reform. They “won” the war. That is why they veto us. We have to win a different kind of war to bring parity and that war is first in our minds and secondly in the global economic market.