Creating a land of upright people

We are in Red October, a month soaked with the blood of martyrs.

On October 19, 1978, at least three Rhodesian military bombers and eight helicopters attacked a Zipra camp full of girls and women at Mkushi in Zambia.

This was the same month that Rhodesia also bombed Freedom Camp and Tembwe. At Mkushi, hundreds of people were killed as they were caught unawares, but they did not go down without a whimper.

Ken Flower, then head of the Central Intelligence Organisation, grudgingly and patronisingly conceded: “They gave a fair account of themselves fighting back like soldiers and not women.”

You can read more about Mkushi elsewhere in this edition of The Sunday Mail, courtesy of the biographical account of Group Captain Sithabile Sibanda aka Cde Ntombiyezizweni Mhlanga as captured by Tjenesani Ntungakwa.

On October 15, 1987, in a small country in West Africa, Blaise Compaoré took over Burkina Faso.

That was his bounty from the assassination of President Thomas Sankara.

Sankara was a man who opposed borrowing from the IMF and the World Bank; who preached the gospel of economic empowerment; who invested in local food and textile production; who clamped down on patriarchy; who pushed forward literacy and healthcare provision; who tackled corruption and paid himself a monthly salary of just US$450; who built railways, roads and houses for the poor.

In 1984, Sankara had changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “The Land of Upright People”.

An account of his death, presented in a documentary by Silvestro Montanaro for Italian broadcaster RAI, has it that just before Compaoré allegedly fired the first shot, Sankara said: “Blaise, you are my best friend, I call you my brother, and yet you assassinate me?”

To this, Compaoré reportedly responded with an irritated hand gesture, a few mumbled French words, and a tightening of the trigger.

Just four days later, on October 19, 1986, a Tupolev 134 aircraft crashed in the Lebombo Mountains near Mbuzini in South Africa.

On board the plane were 44 people, 34 of whom perished.

Among the dead was President Samora Moises Machel of Mozambique.

All accounts and probability point to apartheid South Africa being at the heart of that murder.

Now, some people do not like Machel because of his strong Marxist streak, some loathe him because of his anti-religion position.

We would rather not get into that argument, because – as Vladmir Putin put it when asked if he thought Edward Snowden was a treasonous wretch or a hero of free speech – it is “like shearing a pig, too much squeaking, too little wool”.

What cannot be argued about is the immense contribution that Machel made towards restoring the dignity Africans.

This dedicated proponent of peace never saw anything but war, and died in a most violent fashion.

October is a red month. It is soaked with the blood of martyrs.

Their blood bids us introspect, urges us to place our actions on a scale and measure them to the sacrifices made by others so that we reach where we are today.

Are we doing justice to the sacrifice when we pillage national resources and indulge in wanton corruption as we abuse public office?

Are we building on their foundation when we splurge on expensive imported trinkets even as our fellow citizens sleep in bank queues in the hope of maybe getting US$50 the next morning?

Are we conducting ourselves with dignity, integrity and patriotism when we place destructive factional politics above national interests?

Surely, even in a world losing its soul to individualistic economics and politics there is a strong case to be made for Ubuntu.

This Red October, this month of the blood of martyrs, we will not do ourselves any harm to reflect on the words of Mariam Sankara, the widow of Thomas Sankara.

She once remarked: “Thomas knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through willpower, courage, honesty and work. What remains above all of my husband is his integrity.”

When we look at ourselves, when other people look at us, at our economics and our politics, do they see integrity?

Do they see public officials working to build a land of upright people?

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