Those Haunted Eyes are Fighting Back
By lute wa lutengano
The last piece I wrote in this third rate column was my utter shock on my arrival from the glittering lights of Sandton City in Johannesburg, which happens to also be one of the most luxurious shopping centers in the world and the richest square mile in Africa, to the pitch dark streets of Arusha courtesy of Tanesco. The contrast is indeed astronomical.
However, much as I would like to carry on with my normal toils in this dusty city straddling the panoramic Mount Meru, I still get some haunting memories in my mind. You see it was on the last day of my visit to South Africa when I decided to revisit the magnificent Sandton shopping centre. My driver collected me from downtown Johannesburg and drove me there. We were now approaching this glittering spectacle of modern concrete buildings forming part of Sandton complex when we were caught in a traffic jam.
As we sneaked our way into the complex I saw these young men. They were about six of them. They were sitting under one of the modern flyovers. They were in tattered clothes and looked sleepy, tired and famished and their haunted eyes were fixed on some distant imagery beyond us who were comfortably sloshed in our luxurious cars.
What was in their minds? I wondered. What was going on in their minds? Were they wondering as to what had gone wrong with the dream of a new South Africa? A dream of a bright future in that land of Mandela! To me they seemed to have lost all hopes. They were nothing and had nothing in this world to live for or hope for.
And this is the irony of modern South Africa. The few rich, who include a few black elites and corrupt politicians, are stinking rich and the majority, mostly blacks, are wallowing in squalor with their hopes of a new South Africa fading by the day. I still see those haunted eyes. Whenever I think of South Africa I see them. And my body shudders. Because those are eyes which represent the hopelessness facing the majority of the youth in Africa. This is indeed a ticking time bomb.
A few days after I arrived back in Arusha I could not fail to read with some interest Jenerali Ulimwengu’s piece in The East African, which coincidentally highlighted the same predicament afflicting South Africa. Titled ‘Welcome to South Africa, Where the Thieves Will Give you a Good Education’ the piece delved on the mounting cases of muggings targeting new arrivals at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg courtesy of this hopelessness.
“So, the thieves monitor the incoming flights, decide which one to target and watch as the passengers clear Customs and get into their cars and drive off; they trail the car out of OR and onto the highway leading to Johannesburg, Pretoria or any of the smaller towns in the vicinity…..
Last week, a group of young men and women from three African countries got a little taste of this Gauteng treatment when they arrived for a UN-sponsored conference. Their car was stopped on the highway and they were relieved of their cash and (from the girls) jewelery.
Now, that was pretty standard for this kind of heist. But these hoodlums were a tad different. For one thing, they did not grab wallets or handbags; they just told their victims, without even brandishing weapons, to please oblige and hand over all the cash they had on them, no doubt trusting in their victims’ honesty.
They did not tear the necklaces and rings from the persons of the ladies but requested them to kindly remove them and (as it were) donate them to the robbers. Hey, they did not even bother to ask for their mobile phones!
They then asked the passengers where they came from, and these latter obliged… Ethiopia, Uganda, Mali… Upon which, according to the victims, one of the gangsters proceeded to do some civic education:
“We know you all out there revere Mandela, you think he is a some kind of hero or something. Now, let me tell you something. I was a guerrilla fighter, a militant who supported Mandela and the struggle waged by the African National Congress…
“But after liberation what happened? Mandela and his group got all the plum jobs, they live in luxury homes in gated compounds, drive exotic cars, and get all the girls. And what do I get? Nothing, nothing, you hear? No job, no house, no money, no education, nothing.”
The seminar done, our colleagues were allowed to continue on their way, thoroughly shaken and nonplussed. They had had an experience like very few had ever had, and they could not explain why their civic educators had been so selective in their choice of loot.”
I am happy to announce that I came back without any such civic lecture or encounter. But one thing I now know is that those haunted eyes are now on war path! They are fighting back! And with a vengeance!