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Intolerance based on religion, politics, tribe and race can only lead to animosity and violence without end, writes Thebe Ikalafeng.
Johannesburg - This past Heritage Day, I had the distinct privilege of visiting one of the surviving icons of African independence, the first president of Zambia HE Kenneth Kaunda, at his home – a deeply spiritual man – again.
What stands out most is not his immaculate singing voice. Nor his vivid memory of the African independence struggle and triumph.
Nor is it his sprightly step for an 89-year-old who has travelled the length and breadth of the world. Indeed, his critics will point to his mixed record leading Zambia.
But they can’t take away his legacy of peace symbolised by his ever present white handkerchief that he has carried since the day he was released from prison by colonial generals.
What stands out is what he shared with me as the foundation of his presidency – love and tolerance – in a nation with over 73 cultures and multiple religions. I
It is a Matthew 22:39 scripture lesson he says he learned from his beloved parents, an ordained Church of Scotland missionary and teacher, to love thy neighbour as you love thyself.
It was a timely and poignant reminder in the midst of the Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab’s attacks in Kenya that killed over 70 innocent multinational civilians, injured more than 200 and brought a stunned nation of 40 million still healing from the 2007 election violence to a standstill.
The reasons for the massacre seem to point to Kenya’s 2011 invasion of its northern neighbour Somalia to get rid of the militant al-Shabaab.
The killers themselves made it clear that no one was supposed to be spared, except Muslims. Christians, Jews, other believers and non-believers, foreigners were fair targets of their merciless rampage.
The Kenya Westgate Mall attacks are just another in a series of organised and orchestrated violence and conflict in the past 24 months, that has seen fellow African and world citizens decimate each other and destabilise nations:
* Boko Haram, an Islamist jihadist militant terrorist organisation based in the north-east of Nigeria, north Cameroon and Niger, which strongly opposes non-sharia legal systems and what they deem “Westernisation”, has threatened to destabilise Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s 150 to 200 million strong nation.
* The coups in Mali and Central African Republican, and disputed elections in Ivory Coast that have threatened the democratic progress in Africa.
* The Arab Spring that has rendered the once relatively peaceful benevolent dictatorships of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria ungovernable, and brought many others to the brink of civil war.
Elsewhere in the world, the US, once the magnet of opportunity and relative peace, has, since September 11, 2001 been turned into a suspicious nervous wreck, in a fear that has pitted the “Christian” America against the “Islamist” rest.
Israel and Palestine have been bludgeoning each other since the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, with no end in sight.
China’s opposition to Nobel Peace Prize laureate the Dalai Lama has meant he has not been welcome in his beloved Tibet – nor territories which favour a relationship with Africa’s biggest investor and friends, including South Africa, where diplomatic gatekeepers would not allow him to attend fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday.
These days, a person’s mere name – a shorthand to their identity and history – can spark rejection or acceptance depending on the balance and holder of power.
While the Roman Catholic’s Pope Francis is something of a welcome revelation, given two prior opportunities to elect the revered Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, much of the discussions around his candidacy had nothing to do with his spiritual competence or compass, but rather, whether the Catholic church was ready for a black pope.
Even in what should be a routine civil democratic right to elect a leader, the decision is filtered by division.
The recent elections in Kenya, like many in Africa, were decided not merely on ideology or service to fellow citizens, but on tribal affiliation. In a nation with 40 percent or so Kikuyu, as the now ruling coalition reminded their opponents during the elections, they had the numbers on their side.
So irrespective of an International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment hanging over his head for the ethnic violence that claimed some 1 300 in 2007, whether legitimately or justly so, the son of Kenya’s founding father, Uhuru Kenyatta, was destined to be the next president, unless Raila Odinga could rally the other fragmented tribes like he did – with Uhuru – in the disputed 2007.
Other than what was an indisputable intolerance of apartheid, since 2008, the new South Africa has been experiencing a series of xenophobic violence that has seen South Africans who are frustrated with a lack of jobs and opportunity, or merely being intolerant, rejecting and maiming or killing fellow Africans merely for being foreign – in the pretext that they’re taking away their privileges.
It’s the same intolerance that gave birth to the savage Marikana attacks on striking miners – who themselves were fighting territorial battles between rival unions.
Post Polokwane, there has been a rising fragmentation of the peace, harmony and hopefulness that Africa’s oldest liberation party used to represent, birthing rival splinter parties and a growing opposition – and intolerance to opposite views, at the risk of sacrificing the hard-fought democratic gains – for all – by a coalition of voices that sacrificed for all of South Africa, not the ANC, UDF, Cosatu, Nusas, Black Sash or Black Consciousness and many others not necessarily similar views – but a common vision for a united and fair South Africa.
In all these, the common denominator has been and remains, a territorial conflict over religion, politics, tribe and race.
The strong opposing views held by the fervent champions of either go against any common sense – or the common thread of humanity.
In the aftermath of much of this intolerance are displaced people and energies, conflict, animosity and no peace.
Religious and political intolerance is not a new phenomenon.
It is as old as history – the oldest reason for wars, secessions and broken relationships.
But religion and politics ought to be the glue that binds relationships between people and nations.
On the contrary, it is the reason – or vehicle – for the destruction in society today. They are used to influence and misguide rather than to inspire and serve.
Despite the professed tolerance for differences in what can only be argued to the imperfect organising thought under the guise of democracy, in practice, there is still no place for multi-partisan, multi-opinion, multi-fraternity and multi-religion in the world today – whether in a rising Africa or a declining West.
Opportunity for success and peace is judged not by the innocence or value of ideas, but by the source and affiliation thereof.
Intolerance led the late Zambian president who defeated Kaunda in the first multi-party elections in 1991, “that horrible man” as Kaunda described Frederick Chiluba, to briefly strip him of Zambian citizenship in 1999, although that decision – much like his incarceration, was overturned due to international pressure on Chiluba.
While the massacres in Syria seems to have no end in sight like the Palestine-Israel conflict, there is no doubt that Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya will survive and thrive again as east Africa’s leading nation.
Indeed, Tunisia and Egypt will find peace again. And even Palestine, Israel and Syria.
But as long as there are opposing views of the right supreme being to follow or paths to salvation, race and ideology, there will always be another conflict to rival these, and begin the cycle again.
There will always be an unending cycle of conflict and animosity. And a lack of peace.
Indeed, sadly, as has been post conflicts and around the clock news coverage that have placed nations’ brands at risk of losing investment, tourism and citizenship, after the calm comes amnesia.
As Africans, and fellow human beings, with a lifetime history of conflict it is perhaps worth noting Kaunda’s advice, to love one another or perish together as fools.
Otherwise, Africa will indeed rise, but in smoke.
* Thebe Ikalafeng is a global African adviser and author on branding and reputation leadership and founder of Brand Africa and Brand Leadership Group. @ThebeIkalafeng.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.