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A case of mistaken memory.

"A nation that forgets its history is a nation that has got problems"

--John Taylor, Archbishop of St Albans, 1992

The hullabaloo in South Africa about the government's refusal to detain the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, at the pleasure of the South African judiciary when Bashir attended the 25th AU Summit in Johannesburg in June, should open eyes in Africa to the danger that outsiders pose to the stability of the continent and its institutions. There are people in South Africa who actually want their government to disregard the collective voice of the continent so that some Westerners can rejoice.

Since 2009, when Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in the Darfur crisis, and the subsequent decision by the AU not to cooperate with the ICC on the Darfur matter because the UN Security Council would not defer the indictment so that Africans could find a home-grown solution to the crisis, Bashir has been able to attend AU summits in many African countries without any harassment. So what makes South Africa different?

To me, what makes South Africa different has disturbing echoes of the immortal words of one Ndebele induna in 1868 during the fracas that preceded the installation of King Lobengula. Francis Thompson, the Yorkshireman used by Cecil Rhodes to trick Lobengula to hand over his kingdom to the Perfidious Albion in 1888, records in his half-finished book (which his daughter completed and published in 1936; Thompson died in 1927) that the huge disagreement within the Ndebele royal family was about which of two candidates--Lobengula and Nkulumani, both sons of the recently deceased King Mzilikazi--should ascend the throne.

The whereabouts of the teenage Nkulumani was not known but he was generally suspected to be in South Africa where he had come under the influence of the European colonists. After a search party had failed to locate him, one of the pro-Lobengula indunas tried to break the obduracy of the anti-Lobengula faction with what, to me, deserves to go into the Guinness Book of Records for its sheer perspicacity: "Why bring him back [meaning Nkulumani]?", the induna asked. "Will a baboon reared in the domesticity of the white man ever be rid of the smell of the white man?", the induna added stridently.

Oh boy, what an induna! If he did not have yellow teeth, they should have imported some for him there and then. He deserved every tinge of yellow in his wizened mouth. Dear reader, allow me to repeat his eternal words: "Will a baboon reared in the domesticity of the white man ever be rid of the smell of the white man?" Methinks not.

Losing their sense of history

But if you think yes, just look at South Africa and see how "the smell of the white man" has been so long lasting that some people there have lost all their sense of history and proportion as to harass their government for not detaining President Bashir.

At the time of writing, the South African courts were still pursuing the government on the matter. According to reports, the judge who originally sat on the case had "angrily" said there "was reason to believe that the government had committed a crime by ignoring the court order". As the judge put it: "If the state ... does not abide by court orders, the democratic edifice will crumble stone by stone until it collapses."

Which encouraged one South African writer, Justice Malala, to hyperbolically assert that "something much greater than just South Africa's reputation as a human rights leader on the continent died" when the government let Bashir go. So what is this "something"? Let's listen to Malala: "When Bashir was allowed to escape the country in a private jet--in defiance of a domestic court order and international law--Nelson Mandela's democracy stood in solidarity with the Big Men of the African Union, who have declared the ICC a racist organisation that targets Africans for trial ... Allowing him to escape was a kick in the face of the 400,000 people who have died in the ongoing conflict--and the 2.5 million who have been displaced."

So Malala actually believes the dodgy figures peddled by people with an axe to grind on the Darfur matter. For me, his next paragraph is key. "Over the past few years," he wrote, "pressure from African leaders criticising the ICC has grown, with many claiming its cases target African leaders only ... This is in some sense true: since its establishment in 2002, the ICC has heard 22 cases and indicted 32 individuals. All of them are African."

So, if "it is true" that the ICC targets Africans, why are Malala and his ilk shouting themselves hoarse because their government chose to listen to the All rather than the ICC, a court once described by a British author as "a European court set up to try Africans".

Impunity is impunity

Which brings me to Dr Abiodun Williams, who was born in Sierra Leone, raised in the West, worked for Kofi Annan and Ban Kimoon at the UN, and is now the president of The Hague-based Institute for Global Justice. He had the amazing grace to say: "The failure of the South African government to arrest Bashir ... is a betrayal of Nelson Mandela's legacy". Well, we shall come to Mandela's legacy at the end of this piece.

But let me make myself dear: l don't support impunity for African leaders and I hold no candle for Omar Bashir. But if we live on the same planet, then impunity must mean impunity. Impunity cannot be reserved so as not to apply to one set of leaders who, by virtue of their pink skin and the weight of their countries in geopolitics, can send their troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and anywhere else that catches their fancy to kill or displace millions of people, or destroy other countries.

The bigger point though is this: The Guardian reports that when Dr Abiodun Williams is asked about the comparable "subject of Israel's failure to cooperate with the ICC over last summer's war in Gaza", he "performs diplomatic somersaults", saying: "I don't believe that a purely judicial recourse is going to resolve the crisis".

Aha! Isn't that the sum of the Alt's argument in the Bashir/Darfur case? "A purely judicial recourse is [not] going to resolve the crisis." For me, this is where the South Africans harassing their government over Bashir have lost it completely. Collective amnesia is a disease, otherwise how can any South African be so forgetful as not to see that when their country was faced with a much bigger human rights case than Darfur's, it did not go the legal route. It chose "reconciliation"--in the interest of national stability!

Mandela's legacy

And this is where Mandela's legacy comes in. How many millions of black people did White South Africa kill, maim, displace, or sentence to live forever in hovels and poverty in 50 years of racist rule? What did Rainbow South Africa under Mandela do about it? Did it drag even one of the guilty white leaders to court? Didn't South Africa feel the need to resolve the matter via reconciliation?

Why can't the same happen in Sudan and Darfur? Or are we saying the Darfur "victims" are more important than the "victims" of apartheid? Or is it merely a case of having acquired "the smell of the white man", some South Africans cannot shake it off their brains? Well, I have a word for them: In 1904, one of Lobengula's indunas encountered Francis Thompson, six years after the Perfidious Albion had taken over the Ndebele kingdom: "Ou Tomoson," the induna said, "how have you treated us, after all your promises, which we believed." South Africa, you have a history!
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Title Annotation:Baffour's Beefs
Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Publication:New African
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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