Nobody is perfect. But if the world ever needed a hero to look up to, Nelson Mandela comes pretty close to being a perfect one. A great politician, tactician, leader – we have heard all these accolades used to describe him. But most of all, he was a great human being. He spoke with his words and showed with his actions and his life, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation. He gave South Africans a better future than anyone could have imagined coming out of the chaos of apartheid.
Yesterday, he passed away at the age of 95 and it was a loss felt around the world. Yet as I watched the news on the television, I am taken up by the fact that South Africans are gathering together, singing and dancing in the streets. They are celebrating the wonderful life of a wonderful man and the wonderful legacy he has left his country and the world. Tony Blair said that Mandela “made racism seem somehow stupid”. One of my heroes has passed on but I join everyone else in celebrating him. May he be resting in peace with his creator.
Below is the song “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Specials. The lyrics include these lines;
Free Nelson Mandela
21 years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
You’re so blind that you cannot see
George Clooney is very popular with the ladies. He has a boyish charm and handsome features. And he is extremely popular with the ladies. That alone is sufficient reason for me to dislike him.
But I have to say that I was impressed when I heard the news that he was arrested yesterday while protesting outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C. Maybe “Gorgeous George” is more than a pretty face.
One of Mr. Clooney’s more forgettable performances on the silver screen was as Batman in the 1997 movie, “Batman and Robin“. But it would seem some of the mystique and persona of the Dark Knight of Gotham has rubbed off on him. Like the Dark Knight, George does not hesitate to stand against the darkness and to stand up for what is right.
George Clooney was protesting against the actions of the Sudanese government carrying out attacks and killing their own people in the southern regions of the country and also preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile Regions. The government appears to be trying to intimidate the local populations, which are of different ethnic and religious backgrounds from the ruling northern elite, into abandoning the oil rich areas.
While the world is appalled by what is happening in Syria and is focused there, and rightly so, unfortunately the criminal actions against humanity in Southern Sudan has fallen from view. Yet the tragedy there is already far greater than what is happening in Syria and is only expected to get worse. The UN estimates 300,000 killed and 2.7 million displaced since 2003.
The world needs to do more for the people of Sudan in providing aid and to pressure the government in Khartoum to stop their savage and inhumane actions against its own citizens.
And George Clooney’s interest and activism on behalf of the people of Sudan is no flash in the pan or celebrity whim. He really understands the situation and has invested much to the cause over a long period of time and has even made clandestine visits to the region and has even witnessed an attack.
George, thank you for standing up and doing what you can. Thank you for doing so when it could be so convenient and easy to just forget it all and enjoy your fame and fortune. Thank you for being a good man. I might even get over the fact of your popularity with the ladies. I’m not sure if that is possible but I’ll try.
George also spoke to President Obama about the Sudan situation a day before his arrest. If you are moved by the plight of the poor and persecuted in southern Sudan, follow George Clooney’s example and pressure your government through your representatives to not let the killing continue unchallenged.
I had earlier joked about how a tough year this was going to be with the evil Rabbits in charge (Beware the Year of the Rabbit). But the humor seems very flat as the year has indeed turned out to be a tumultuous one thus far and it’s not even the end of February yet. In an earlier post, “Feeling Flat“, I wondered about the unprecedented floods in Queensland, the uber powerful cyclone Yasi, the drought in New South Wales, the flooding in Victoria and the forest fires around Perth. Australia was reeling under the combination punches. There was also the political turmoil, starting with the ouster of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and then the “who would have thought possible” ouster of President Mubarak of Egypt by popular uprisings. That chain of events is not over yet with the on-going protests in Libya, Yeman, Bahrain, Iran etc. There was also the issue of religious freedom and oppression which I covered in “Say no to Intolerance“. Did I say that it isn’t even the end of February yet?
In Malaysia too, the news has been less than encouraging and upbeat. In no particular order, here are a few. First, there has been a rash of very public suicides and murder-suicides (mother kills child and then commits suicide). This was followed by a recognition that Malaysian suicide rate per 1000 pax is at least as high as that of the USA and is most likely under-reported. Then, there is the continuing saga of the inquiry into the suspicious death of a political aide, Teoh Beng Hock, where justice still seems to be wanting. The latest is that the family and the state of Selangor has withdrawn from participating in a Commission of Inquiry after there objection to the fact that there is a conflict of interest had been rejected. The conflict arises as the officers of the commission were also officers of the Attorney General’s office and the AG’s office is currently making a court appeal to have Teoh’s death declared a suicide. How can officers of an organisation which is pursuing a particular judgment be also the impartial officers of a supposedly “independent” commission of inquiry? It is just the latest of a series of things that Teoh’s family has had to suffer. Meanwhile, there has been a rash of deaths of young people taking part in National Service Camps. In each case, the deaths were reported as sudden and mysterious onset of illnesses. I think it warrants an “independent inquiry” but I don’t have much faith in that either. This morning, I read that an “anti-establishment” student political group had all 33 of their student council delegates (both those who won and those who lost in recent student council elections) disqualified immediately after the election. This was based on one un-investigated complaint. After, student protests, the decision was rescinded. But instead of taking the University officials to task for trying to tamper with an election and for breach of protocol and procedure, the authorities are trying to appear magnanimous by saying that they do not intend to “punish their naughty children”, i.e. the students, for their protests. Well, now that I think about it, this sort of news in Malaysia isn’t unique to 2011. No, it’s same ol’, same old. It’s tiring and life sapping though.
But, the latest earth-shaking incident (literally), was the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand and the surrounding area at around 1 pm on Tuesday 22nd February. My condolences to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand. Every loss of life is a tragedy and there have been many lives lost in this incident. With the rest of the world, I await news of the rescue operations going on and celebrate with each news of someone pulled out alive. For many, their lives will have forever changed by injury or by loss of loved ones. I am glad to report that Marja of Dutchcorner is well as is her immediate family.
For now, the most important thing is still the on-going search for survivors but after that will come the task of cleaning and re-building. It will be a long and difficult task. I have heard that some survivors are experiencing severe mental stress especially as strong aftershocks are still occurring regularly but the trauma may extend deeper than that. Christchurch has always been a charming and small close-knit community. If I were to volunteer a couple of words of description, I would say “tranquil” and “safe”. Now something big and ugly has appeared to shatter that cocoon of safety and tranquility and the scars of fallen and damaged buildings will be around for a long time to remind them of this threat and vulnerability.
Still, New Zealanders are definitely tough and resolute people and I am sure that they will rise from this despite the difficulties. I had wanted for a long time to post on New Zealand and Christchurch which I had visited twice before, but I had procrastinated. Here below is a picture of Christchurch which typically exemplifies the safety and tranquility of the city. Here is a salute to a wonderful city and an inspiration to rebuild and to regain what has been damaged.
Both 2011 and the Year of the Rabbit have barely begun but doesn’t it seem like the world is somehow off-kilter. The public demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen in quick succession has already toppled the leader in one country and placed the remaining leaders in a precarious situation. Nature too seems to have gone extreme. The landslides in Brazil, the snowstorms in Europe and USA (extending all the way to Texas), the floods that led to the inland sea in Queensland, Australia has now been topped by the most powerful cyclone to have ever hit Australia (Cyclone Yasi). What phenomena has raised the blood pressure in the Middle-East and stirred up the weather systems around the world? Would that be the El Loco and the El Nino effects?
Like many, I have been following the drama in Egypt these last two weeks that has already claimed about 300 lives. I know little about the politics and the situation there in Egypt but happily, Malaysia has been able to evacuate some 10,000 Malaysian citizens and students out from that volatile situation. I am also glad that the Egyptian family of a friend are safe even though they are concerned about safety from mobs and are concerned about the food supply situation. I certainly hope that the Egyptians will be able to achieve a resolution to the situation without further violence and loss of life.
Meanwhile Australia has been hit by the combination right – left hook of massive state-wide flooding in Queensland and now by the monster storm Cyclone Yasi – the strongest and biggest storm ever to hit the country. The latest is that the remnants of Yasi is causing flooding in Victoria in the south. Yet New South Wales in the east is suffering from water shortage and there are forest fires near Perth in the west. The people and the businesses are reeling under the punches. Insurance companies are really having a bad time. Now will this become a regular and even possibly an annual occurrence due to climate change?
It’s enough to take the wind out of our sails.
Still, dear reader, let’s not get ourselves down yet. Let’s be hopeful that the year can only improve from this point. Every one think “bunnies” now.
It seems that Jo at A Majority of Two is in need of good cheer in the form of jokes. As a gentleman squirrel, I felt duty bound to respond.
Tonight, I would like to share with you a Zimbabwean joke which I recently learned from a Zimbabwean student friend which again features a particular problem in that country.
There is a city on the western mountains of Zimbabwe which is relatively prosperous but on one occassion, it had a terrible problem. All the monkeys from the surrounding mountains all came into the city and caused a great pandemonium. The Mayor called out the army and the police and they came out fully armed and bristling with guns, ready to cull the monkeys.
However, a staff of the National Wildlife Department intervened, saying that the monkeys were rare and endangered so they could not be shot. The Mayor did not know what to do, given those circumstance.
So the army and police were both milling around due to the lack of instructions when a man appeared, claiming he could talk to monkeys and could rid the city of the monkeys. The Mayor asked him to proceed.
The man went to the city centre and whistled and all the monkey gathered round him. He said something to them and the monkeys all turned to look at the police and army men and nodded their heads solemny. Then the monkeys began to disperse.
The man whistled and again the monkeys came round him. He said something else to the monkeys and this time the monkeys all broke up laughing until some were hysterically rolling on the floor. Once again, the monkey began to disperse.
The man whistled and gathered them a third time. This time he said something and all the monkeys fled the city and returned to the mountains.
The Mayor was pleased and rewarded the man handsomely. The police chief however, stopped the man and insisted that the man explain what he had said to the monkeys.
The man said, “the first time, I called the monkeys together and told them that all the men with guns were soldiers and police and that their job was to uphold justice in the land. The monkeys then nodded in silent respect.
The second time I called the monkeys, I told the monkeys how much you were being paid to be the noble defenders of the law and they laughed.
The third time, I merely said that you had come to recruit them to join the army and police and that is why they all ran away!
For a very, very long time, one of the things that Ive dreamed of doing is to go on safari amidst the huge animal herds and carnivores of the African plains. One such place that you might do that is at Kruger National Park in South Africa.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Durban, South Africa and I had hoped to make this dream come through. However, as it turned out, a trip to Kruger was a little too costly for my means nor did I have sufficient free time to make the trip.
Instead, I went with some others to one of the many independent and privately owned safari parks. These were essentially large areas of relatively open habitats but which were basically fenced off private property. The animals in these safari parks are ‘managed”, not free ranging and are often bought from other parks.
So really, they are more like open air zoos rather than truly natural habitats. The number of animals are usually quite low and they are often not prime specimens due to excessive in-breeding. So though I am grateful to have had the chance of even visiting a safari park, I still hope to do a real safari experience in Kruger National Park one day.
This is the jeep that we used to make our way around the park.
Most people come to see the big five which are the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape Buffalo. Well, I saw no lions or leopards (often missing from these safari parks as the predators are much harder to manage and costly to feed). Nor did I see any elephants but I did get to see the following; Cape Buffalo and the rhinocerous.
I also saw the giraffe. Now that is a big animal! I wonder why it is not listed as one of the top five.
I also saw a rather scruffy pack of ostriches.
But for me, the real jewel for my visit, was the glimpse of the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius). This bird was so named because it is said to resemble a pompous British Government Secretary from the late 18th Century. It is a diurnal raptor and is seen on the coat of arms of the Republic of South Africa.
The apparent fading stripes on the rump of this Zebra is a sign of excessive inbreeding within the Zebra herd in this particular safari park.
“Miriam Zenzi Makeba, singer and activist, born March 4 1932; died November 10 2008.”
I was thinking of a topic for a post when suddenly “The Click Song” came to mind. This song was made famous by Miriam Zensi Makeba the South African songbird. However when I started searching around for videos of the song, I discovered that this great artist, at the age of 76, collapsed and died just last month in Naples, Italy, while performing on stage at a concert in memory of six Ghanian immigrants killed apparently in a gang slaying.
So now the purpose of this post, is more than introducing an interesting song but to also mark the passing of a great woman. She was known as Mama Africa Makeba and loved not just for her songs but for being one of the most vocal and visible anti-apartheid champions. Shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Miriam heard that her mother had died, but her own South African passport had been revoked and she was prevented from returning home for the funeral. Thus began 30 years of exile.
She initially stayed in the USA and collaborated with Harry Belafonte on some projects and won a Grammy with him in 1966. Her first return to the continent of Africa came with a visit to Kenya in 1962. The following year she gave the first of several addresses to the UN special committee on apartheid, and South Africa reciprocated by banning her records. Shortly afterwards, she was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity.
She also became involved in the civil rights movement in America and was popular in many countries (she was given citizenship by 9 countries). However, some of her actions were also controversial and loss her some popular support. Nevertheless, she remained well known and loved and was called to sing in the concerts celebrating Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
The Click Song is the English name (“Qongqothwane” in Xhosa) because the song involves the “click” sound which is found in some southern african language but has no equivalent in English.
She also collaborated with Paul Simon in the Graceland album project and took part in a number of his African tour concerts.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels