I have been studying a poem written by a man called Pastor Martin Niemöller. In his poem “First they came…” He talks about the circumstances surrounding the Nazi’s rise to power. The poem focuses on the issues of persecution, empathy and the collective responsibility to act for justice. It depicts the persecution of different groups of people such as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists and Communists in different seasons and the lack of empathy by non persecuted social groups leading to their inability to take responsible actions to eradicate any form of injustice. The poem was written in different forms for different people but the message that I got from it is one and the same. It speaks of the need for solidarity. The poem reads
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Reading this piece put me into deep thought and reflection about the way we behave as a people (Zimbabweans). I realised from face value that predominantly the way we operate is influenced by a shona idiom that says “Nhamo yeumwe hairambirwi sadza”. ‘Umwe’ which refers to the ‘other’ stands for anyone whom we do not consider as part of us based on their gender, faith, political affiliation, ethnicity, language and many other socio-economic and cultural aspects that define us. We fail to speak up for each other because of these differences. What we fail to realise is that even though we have these differences we are not very different, we have a common characteristic of being human and at the end of the day we are all equal seeking to fulfill the same needs.
We are all guilty of this and we do it in the spaces that we occupy, be it in the home, work, church or national spaces. We do not see it so I will share two examples of the same behavior.
An acquaintance of mine recently posted on her face book page that a hooligan took off her shades in broad day light on the crowded streets of Harare. No one around her was bothered by this event and had it not been for her brave decision to chase after the guy and get back her shades she would have lost them. She was shocked, after getting them back, when the same people who had witnessed this incident started passing comments which confirmed that even though they recognized this unjust act they chose not to act in defense of her.
This may seem like a mundane but it is a true reflection of our behaviour when bigger challenges prevail in our society. However I hope this other example will be closer to your reality.
A wife and her husband are fighting in the next room. You can clearly hear her pain and shouts for help. The children’s teary screams, a plea to their father to stop, are deafening your ears BUT you sit in your room hoping it will go away. The next morning you dread going out because you do not want to face the pain in the battered woman’s eyes. You manage to avoid this issue until the next beating.
If we do speak up against ‘small’ injustices that we think do not matter let us not think that it will be easier to speak up against bigger injustices when they arise in our society. Lets not imagine that we will have the moral courage to stand up against such ills as gender based violence, political violence, corruption and all forms of lawlessness and injustice?
If you are privy to any form of injustice then you have a responsibility to do something. Ending it should not be your most critical goal because after all a journey of a million miles begins with one step. Your small contribution will go a long way. You need to SPEAK UP for ‘OTHERS’ when they are attacked and stripped of their dignity. If you do not ‘NO ONE’ will be there to speak up for you when ‘THEY‘ come for you.
They are coming for all of us!
Thankfully in our culture all hope is not lost so we should remember that in Shona we say “Mbudzi kuzvarira pavanhu hunzi nditandirwe imbwa”
There is hope!