“Good Fences Make Good Neighbours…”

John Churu

The past Friday was as eerie as it comes especially for some of us who have come to accommodate traditions and cultures that were borrowed from some far-off lands.
Friday the 13th it was and there was, some degree of uneasiness and panic from people of all ages, race and creed all over the city. I hear in the USA alone, Friday the 13th is revered and feared by not less than 20 million people and it is the most feared date on the calendar in that country.  To make matters worse, so I read further, there will be two Friday the 13th in each year till 2020 and thereafter, one each till 2022. Friday the 13th is said to be a very unlucky day for those who believe and I pray not many people were affected in Botswana and Africa by the evil spell of this malevolent date.
For many of us in the continent of Africa, we have this date upon us every day of our lives and we have become accustomed to the bad taste that it brings. Most African leaders and other rogue ones, have been, it seems the agents or the angels that work together with the forces of evil that created this date, Friday the 13th. You just look around and listen to the news you hear sordid tales of how the citizens of the continent are living differently from other nations all over the world, except of course for other perennial war mongering countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and small pockets of belligerent nations of the bible that can’t stop squabbling over one issue for many years. Many of these countries at war have been neighbours and many are still neighbours fighting over a morsel of parched piece of God’s land or fighting over some obscure doctrine that they cannot reach a common agreement on. Will these world wars ever end, one musician asked!
When you think this time the world is gravitating towards peace, no sooner you hear that country so and so is saying this and that about spoiling for war. It happens every day and the western media seem to take lots of pleasure in covering such issues. This brings me to an issue which one CNN anchor brought up. He was asked by some university students if it was true that the media was the one responsible for fanning animosities amongst political parties and amongst nations.
Ai WeiWei, the-world acclaimed post-modernist artist and film maker now based in New York has released a documentary called “Good fences make good neighbours…” Ai WeiWei is currently labelled a dissident by the authorities back in his country. However, the title of this new project invoked in me a lot of sentiments in as far as good neighbourliness all over the world, let alone between countries in the sub-Saharan Africa. In most instances, neighbours in Africa do not appeal to each other in a way that our western counterparts would demonstrate. Not that we are warmongering tribalists, but because our masters of yore had created a template of how we should treat each other as neighbours and we have failed to muster proper and separate views that would make us better neighbours. Albeit, some of the sins we commit against each other may not be intentional but because we have no other option at the time.
Good fences I would definitely agree, account for the many sweet relations that have come out of the many peaceful nations the world over. Of course some fences, like the one proposed by the new regime in the US of A against its neighbour Mexico is not the kind that result in good neighborliness. Already, the sour taste of the said fence is being swallowed by those affected, on both sides.
This past week during a bi-national meeting in South Africa, one comrade Robert Mugabe who is the president on the other side of the fence to both Botswana and South Africa, said things that irked those who were sitting on the other side of the fence and were not part of this bi-national dialogue.
What we don’t know is whether it was after a hot cup of cappuccino or some grape-laced-drink offered by his host that made the dear old man to say saddening things, but the point is; he should have just ‘let bygones be bygones.’ On the other side of the fence, sane enough, the people who were subject of these two gentlemen’s afternoon high tea prattle, seeing who the speaker of the offending words was, decided to say nothing but just continued mending their part of the fence. The relevant authorities just added that because of Mugabe’s advanced age, ‘they could not say anything as a way of retaliation or reply.’
The theme of Robert Mugabe’s after tea comment was the African Union and why a certain person from the other side of the fence did not get a coveted post. I will not help the senile leader in any way but let me look at the African Union itself and extract one of its objectives. The AU objective for being there is “To promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance…” Superman Mugabe can’t be said to meeting the demands of just the first five words of those AU objectives let alone the last two. So why does he stand by the fence and waffle a lot of un- pleasantries to sleeping neighbours. For many years, these neighbours have housed, clothed and fed his offsprings after they ran away from lack of the same on his side of the fence. Good governance is an unheard of word in the corridors of power and democratic principles are French to the many people that have dared say anything that ZANU PF does not approve.
I wonder what he contributes at these many AU meetings each time he is there, or is it an opportunity, as always for sightseeing and maybe talking about other people on the other side of your common fence while forgetting your duties as an elected leader in your home soil. I doubt whether by now he still remembers what he was in South Africa for and what agreements the two nations entered into on that day of the intoxicating cup of cappuccino or a glass of crushed Western Cape grapes. So when that so called Chinese dissident thought of good fences making good neighbours, he also meant that the choice of words a neighbour uses should be well thought. A Facebook post I saw recently said ‘a tongue has no bones but it can break a heart;’ Mugabe had really provoked the indignation of his allies from the other side of the fence with his comments. Let those who have ears to hear listen to this.
Still on matters on the other side of the Botswana fence, the past week was really a confirmation that Friday the 13th was real and permanent among many of us who are cursed to have been citizens of this other side and not that other one. A reshuffle by the dear leader made his cabinet look more like a war cabinet. The choice of ministers and other cabinet members in an impassionate last gasp cabinet reshuffle has seen most of Mugabe’s cronies with war credentials being elevated to posts that were once held mostly by civilians. We will keep updating on this latest development.
I was watching the so called pro-ISIS Television channel Al Jazeera and I chanced upon an interview, Talk to Al Jazeera, in which the former South African president Frederick De Klerk was on the hot seat. Truly speaking, as a deserving Co-Nobel Prize winner he accorded the interview all the respect it deserved and at no other time did he talk ill about people on the other side of the South African fence. Instead, he offered, though intermittently, some sagely advice on how to run a government and how not to. In one sentence he commented that “Affirmative action has led to bad service because unqualified people at times were assigned to posts in which they were not supposed to get.” Need I say more?
He ended his dialogue on a somber note when he recalled an incident in which his soldiers, acting on wrong intelligence information, attacked and killed youthful occupants of a house across the border. De Klerk did not mention which country it was but this was after it was revealed to him that a cach’e of arms of war was stashed there. The location was supposed to be some settlements called Ciskei and Transkei.  That was around ’92 he fumbled with dates. “People are still holding it against me and I greatly apologise for that action of that year,” said this noble fence-mender.
John Churu is a Journalist and Social Commentator