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Essay: The Archives

By Rabhelani Mguni.

Whenever I sit down in the evenings and scroll through the internet, the news read almost like a Shakespeare play; same plot but different actors and dialogues here and there. The real difference and urgency of what we call news - online and on television - is akin to Julius Caesar acted out at a theatre in Dublin and the one here in Bulawayo; there isn't much except the people and how they say things. We have become numb and indifferent to the world we live in. To respond to what we see is our way of trying to prove we are not alienated to the rest of the human society. Nonetheless pain and suffering does not move us judging by the way we respond to what we call news.

It was an ordinary Saturday, a mix of sounds - notifications from my friends scrolling through Tiktok and an occasional snore from someone taking a deserved nap after an exhausting closing week for the university quarter. Then, almost quite suddenly, the evening saw changing trens all over our social media. At first I thought it’s just the usual Israel-Palestine news; bulldozers, rockets, the right wingers at the mosque, and Netanyahu saying something unbecoming and chilling about Palestinians. I was wrong. Hamas had attacked Israel and the world was now bracing itself for the response from Israel which, as it happens at the time of writing, is devastating and horrible. On Sunday morning, I realized that this was not one of those hashtags that would go away.

I, like many people, have struggled with my emotions and trying to understand the images and footage coming out of Israel and Palestine. I see many people trying to contextualize and put some logic into what wee seen and hear. But I wonder whether what we're seeing today deserve contextualization. Is this new? This collective punishment, the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and the silencing of voices from the oppressed?

How have we become people who are desensitised to other's pain? Are we people who take away truth's full meaning for it to be relevant to our political leanings?

I also reject the concept of the rules of war and concur with Toni Morrison in asking who these even benefit when carried out. Violence should be sickening to the human soul, and the fact that we even need rules of war is something we, as man, should be ashamed of. All throughout history violence has served the interest of the man who is not in the field nor the forefront. The beneficiary is not the innocent person whose life is ripped apart, the person whose story is changed into tragedy.

In her essay, The compass of mourning, Judith Butler holds on to the dream and hope of a future when life is cherished and valued, and non-violence is a pillar of a just and equal society. No matter how much we arm ourselves the problem is at our hearts, our sin of being inconsiderate and ignorant to the needs of our neighbours.

Warsan Shire's What they did yesterday afternoon, has resonated deeply with me as I grapple with the violence we are witnessing, and not just in Palestine. From Gaza, to the banks of the Nile in Sudan, the Darfur region, Tigray, and the forests of Amazonia, the world is hurting.

Why can we not hear it? Do we not hear the despairing screams of bleeding and orphaned children in our legal war zones?

Are our hearts devilishly uplifted in knowing we are safe from what others are experiencing? Why can we not find each other and form a calvary to march towards the hill where peace and justice have taken abode and settle there too? We watch the images and footage from these places being bayoneted by violence and to outweigh, justify, one form of violence while rejecting the other. It's hypocrisy, it's inhumane. These images must lead us to empathy, not political tribalism.

Political tribalism is the precise reason that some people do not known how birds tweet, but hear the difference between ammunition through speed and sound in the morning. Are not mornings supposed to bring replenishment and joy?

One thing will always guide us: the vast collection of art we have in this world we are destroying with violence. Judith Butler’s utterance in the same essay that, "refusing to believe that the structures that now exist will exist forever. For this, we need our poets and our dreamers, the untamed fools, the kind who know how to organise." One day I believe that the archives of stories from the past and present can change our hearts, and make us collectively fight this narrative of contexualizing war crimes and violence. One day, Adania Shibli is allowed to tell the story without being silenced by a voice whose only intention is to create hierarchies out of us, the very sole reason for violence.

We must go through the archives of the stories we have been gifted and look in the mirrors that they hold up to us. We must looked deeply into those reflections and ask ourselves if this wretched reality the best we can do and what we want. I dissent strongly with the belief and the mainstream that likes to say "we have become." No, we have not. We have been like this for a long time. This has always been the messy state of our relationships with ourselves as people. We have been immune and unimaginative about the pain of others for a while now. Songs, poetry, photography, sculpture, essays, and prose from the past and the present all attest to our lack of empathy.

But the gloomy art does not only mirror our inhuman humanity, where we lack respect for the sanctity of being. It also offers guidance for the way forward. From Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Nadine Gordimer, to Tsitsi Dangarembga, Christopher Mlalazi, Doris Lessing, Chinua Achebe, William Faulkner. We should sit down at the feet of these and other artists, and map how to move out of the mess that has led to these atrocities. The archives filled with the magical fruits of generations of storytellers' gift have never been more relevant to our redemption and salvation from our self-destructive normalisation and contextualisation of violence.


About the Writer:

Rabhelani Mguni is a writer and essayist. He lives in Bulawayo and spends time in Masvingo for school. The writer is undergraduate Gender Studies student at the Nehanda Center for Gender and Cultural Studies at the Great Zimbabwe University. His reading and writing is informed by his interests in social justice, liberation and social gospel theology, progressive liberalism, pacifism, romance, history and society. Some of his works have appeared in such publications like Lolwe, Novelty Fiction Gazette (Spring 2022 Issue), Kalahari Review, Olongo Africa and Odd Magazine.

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