22 February 2007

20-month old baby girl raped

I feel sick to the stomach. Angry. Incredibly sad. Furious. I want to cry, I want to shout, scream, hurl, sob and curse until my lungs hurt. I feel like hitting someone. Yes, really hitting - not just tapping the person on the head. I feel like hitting the person who could not control himself and therefore ruined a small baby’s life. I feel like hitting all the people who have done, are doing and will be doing the same horrendous act.

She was only 20-months old when she was raped. Repeatedly, the entire night. At barely two years of age, this little girl from somewhere in the South Africa’s Eastern Cape province went trough what can be classified as one of the most horrendous experiences that can happen to a woman. And the perpetrator? According to today’s news papers, the person behind this horrific crime is a child himself, a 14-year old boy and a family member of his victim.

An overpowering combination of sadness and anger suffocates me, when I think about the fact that there are people walking around who are emotionally able to violate others in such way. Especially children. How on earth do some men have no problems with and even feel the urge to unzip their pants, to take it out and to rob our young generations from their dignity, their faith in people, their innocence, and from a physically, mentally and sexually healthy life?

And since when do kids rape kids? When I was fourteen, sex was the last thing on my mind, and rape was an unknown word to me. Of course, times have changed and kids these days are more sexually mature – or think they are more sexually mature – than children ten, fifteen years ago. But that is not – cannot – be an excuse.

As a society we need to stand up against what is now classified as a crime against humanity. We all need to make one big fist against rape. Men, but also women have a responsibility to prevent rape in our communities. And it is about time we only blame men, as we also need to look at ourselves and how we bring up our sons.

In many cultures across the world – not only in Africa – a son’s place in the family is usually different when compared to the position of his sister. In many cases, boys are treated as superior to and more precious than their female siblings, living a childhood life with more privileges, more freedom, and less rules.

I am not saying that all mothers are per definition to blame when their son turns out to be a rapist. Yet, I am saying that many rapists have – due to their upbringing – a skew view of the relation between men and women and about how both sexes should interact. Many see women as inferior, as submissive and maybe even as voiceless objects, simply because they were raised that with the idea that boys are better, stronger, and superior towards girls. We women – mothers and mothers to be – have a responsibility to raise our sons and daughters equally and to teach our sons to have the utmost respect for the opposite sex.

Hopefully, the little girl from the Eastern Cape will recover fully after her ordeal. Hopefully her physical and emotional scars will fade over the years.

Miriam Mannak, Africa in the News / Cape Town, South Africa

16 February 2007

Diamonds: Symbols of love or of war?

While sounds of gun shots, screaming children and crying women filled the cinema, she looked at her engagement ring. No longer did she see a sparkling symbol of eternal love. She saw blood, gore, violence, hatred, war and young boys being drugged and trained to shoot to kill. She saw the pain of women, losing their sons and their dignity, she saw young girls' legs being spread apart by grown men, possessed by an animal-like sexual force.

More than one out of ten purchasable diamonds can be classified as a Blood Diamonds, stones that are mined in a war zone, and sold in order to finance that particular war or uprising. The vast majority of blood diamonds or conflict diamonds are from Africa, from countries such as Angola, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here war lords have used and are using the profit of diamond mining and sales - worth billions of dollars – to fuel war and conflict by for instance buying arms.

While peace has descended upon Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia – after many decades of war, military terrorism and human suffering – the situation in the Democratic Republic remains one of despair and tragedy. Here, diamonds are a major engine that fuels a conflict that has claimed many hundreds of thousands of lives. The same story counts for Ivory Coast.

With 1,5 out of ten diamonds being blood tainted, the chance of buying a war stone is considerable. Those diamond lovers who refuse to be part of a conflict in a far away country have few options, of which the most important one is to insist that their jeweler or diamond dealer provides them with information that proves the stone is clean one.

Think again before swiping your credit card while a smiling diamond dealer wraps up your precious stone. Men should ask whether the engagement ring for their wife to be is war free, or if it was used to fuel conflict and war. Women wanting to treat themselves to a sparkly necklace should do the same. And diamond dealers should take responsibility too, by only offering clean diamonds and providing their customers with the necessary proof about the nature of the stone.

Myself, I refuse to wear diamonds. Because you never know what you gonna get, as most retailers cannot guarantee that the stone you laid eyes on is not a conflict diamond. And would you want to have a ring around your finger for which – possibly - a little boy has had his hand chopped off with a machete? For which a young girl was forced to open her legs for drunk militiamen? For which several countries were drawn into a spiral of conflict, violence and sorrow? I don’t think so.

Miriam Mannak - Africa in the News / Cape Town - South Africa

15 February 2007

Darfur: To Keep or break the promise

"Never again", the International Community – lead by the United States - said after World War II. "Never again", the International Community pledged in 1994, as a reaction to the Rwandan genocide which claimed 800 000 lives in a period of a 100 days. And again, the international community is breaking this promise her promise as for the last three years Darfur has been subjected to a cruel genocide which claimed at least 200 000 lives.

Twelve years have passed, since Rwanda was drenched in blood, gore and hatred after the signal was given for one of the bloodiest and horrific events in history: the genocide of 1994. While eight hundred thousand people were massacred, the international community closed its eyes to the atrocities and turned its back to Rwanda. It took a few months after the first Rwandan was hacked to death for the International Community to pledge to prevent future “Rwandas”.

The atrocities in Darfur province of Sudan started in 2003, and despite the horrific images and heartbreaking testimonies, the west seemed and seems little or not interested in helping the Darfurians. And like when Rwandanns were subjected to genocide, lots of discussions revolve around Africa’s newest genocide but no action has been taken.

Who cares?

According to Romeo Dallaire, former commander in chief of the peacekeeping operation UNAMIR in Rwanda, the explanation is simple. "They're like Rwandans. There's no self-interest. Who cares about Darfurians? They're only sub-Saharan Africans," he said a Senate subcommittee.

Romeo Dallaire led UNAMIR from Late 1993 until after the genocide. Knowing that something bad was about to happen in Rwanda, he received no backing from the United Nations to prevent events which eventually lead to one of the bloodiest genocides in human history. Also during the genocide, Dallaire’s appeal to enforce UNAMIR were rejected as well as his pleads to change UNAMIR’s mandate and to get more equipment.

"Now that we have acknowledged for more than four years that this horror is happening on our watch, we must summon the courage and act to stop this carnage,” said Dallaire, since 2005 part of the Canadian Senate. Last year he was appointed as a panel member of the UN Committee for the Prevention of Genocide.

Shake hands with the devil

The Rwandan genocide has left a deep scar on Dallaire’s soul, a scar that hasn’t healed properly yet. A few years after the genocide and after recovering from alcoholism and psychological problems which led to various suicide attempts, Dallaire wrote one of the best and honest books about the Rwandan Genocide: Shake Hands with the Devil. IN Shake Hands with the Devil, Dallaire writes about his experiences, feelings, thoughts, and frustrations regarding the events as well as his love for Rwanda.

With Rwanda close at heart, Dallaire often tried to persuade the international community to take action in Darfur. In Looking at Darfur, Seeing Rwanda – published in the New York Times in 2004 – Dallaire reminds the west of what it promised twelve years ago, to prevent a second Rwanda. “What is happening in Darfur genocide and having vowed to stop it, it is time for the West to keep its word as well.”

Miriam Mannak - Africa in the News / Cape Town South Africa

06 February 2007

Extreme poverty hits SA's children

A new survey by the Children's Institute at University of Cape Town has brought to light that poverty in South Africa is rampant, with children as its prime victims. According to the South African Child Gauge 2006, which provides an insight into the lives of children in South Africa and is based on national data and analysis of this information, over half of South Africa’s children live in extreme poverty.

One in two children in South Africa live in households with monthly earnings of R800 or less. This figure is called the so-called breadline or the “ultra poverty line”, which comes down to approximately 85 euro or 100 dollars per month. According to the last national census of 2001, an average household in South Africa counts approximately 4 people.

According to the survey, in 2006 one in every two children in South Africa lived on or below that ultra poverty line. In total, 13,5 million children lived in household with an income of R2 500 (250 euro or 300 dollar) or less a month.

This is in sharp contrast with the 12 percent of all children in South Africa who live in households with monthly earnings of more than R6 000 (600 euro / 1000 dollar).

Rural vs Urban poverty

While poverty is often regarded as part of daily city life, poverty in South Africa – as in most countries - is more pervasive in rural areas. According to the FAO, the majority South Africa’s poor (65 %) live in rural areas. Additionally, 78% of the people in rural areas are living on or below the poverty line.

Take for instance rural Limpopo, famous for the Kruger National Park. Here, 74 % of the children are subjected to extreme poverty, living in households earning a monthly income of R800 or less. The Eastern Cape Province follows with 73 percent. The Free State and KwaZulu-Natal rank third with 60 percent, followed by the North West (58 percent), Mpumalanga (57 percent), Northern Cape (49 percent), Gauteng (29 percent) and the Western Cape (18 percent).

Complex nature

Poverty, due to its complex character, is amongst the most serious problems any country can face. First of all, it is an issue that is difficult to tackle as poverty is in many cases wide spread, chronic and is often hereditary and being passed on from generation to generation; as in many developing countries, most South Africans born in a poor household will often live their lives in poverty. Last but not least, poverty comes in many different disguises as poverty in community ‘a’ might not be of the same caliber as poverty in community ‘b’. There is for instance a big difference between rural and urban poverty, and both types of poverties need different strategies in order to be countered.

Secondly, poverty is a serious issue as it often leads to other problems, varying from health problems to low education and high illiteracy rates, which may lead to a life of unemployment, preventing people from escaping their situation. Social exclusion is another problem interlinked with poverty, just like high mortality rate, poor living conditions, environmental issues due to lack of infrastructure and service delivery, and let’s not forget crime as lack of money, the non-existence of a brighter future, and no means to survive may drive people into criminal corners they might not want to be in, in the first place. We are talking about drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, murder, hijacking, theft, robbery, and more.

The complex character of poverty makes the issue difficult to address, but that should not be a reason not to do something about it. It means a lot of determination, will power, dedication and walking to walk, and not only talking the talk. One – both the people as the authorities - should remember and realize that South Africa’s future lies in the hands of our children, and therefore we should do our best to give them all the chances in the world and the right basis to build, and strengthen this country.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town