26. Februar 2015

In four days through Africa

While I was awaiting the results of my job applications in Cape Town I decided to spend my days surfing in Muizenberg, a surfers village just one hour outside of the city. When I moved into my hostel I did not know that I was going to embark on a four day trip through Africa’s democracy movements. Instead of surfing I dived into the lives of young politicians from Swaziland, Chad, DRC, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Ghana who had come to Muizenberg to participate in a four days political school organized by a group of trainers from the International Union of Social Youth. Some of the participants were members of opposition parties in their home countries, others were comrades participating in freedom struggles against oppressive governments in their home countries. Listening to their discussions felt like Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ coming alive in front of my eyes.

The goal of the political school was to enhance skills for political participation. The sessions encompassed capacity building for non-formal education, negotiations and project management as well as discussions on democracy, accountability and youth participation. Next to the learning  during the formal sessions, a lot of learning took place in the informal exchanges of the participants. Amongst others, I witnessed passionate discussions about the definition of socialism, on whether or not the notion of common goods is an illusion and the effects that power has on the morals of people. The participants were highly politicized and ambitious to shape their societies for the better – even though some of them were acting under an acute risk for their lives or their physical freedom.

This workshop made me reflect on the importance of intercultural exchange, which feels almost like a natural given in the EU but still needs to be established among African nations. Doing so will certainly boost Africa’s democratic movements, as I was able to witness first hand. We were very lucky to listen to an ex political prisoner from Swaziland – one of the smallest countries in Africa and one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. He had spent 4 years in prison after having been tortured by suffocation in order to confess alleged terrorist attacks. His account of the treatment he received in prison (4 years inclosed in a crowded cell without seeing daylight, among other prisoners of which 40% were HIV positive and even more suffered from tuberculosis) not only outraged myself but even more so the participants from the neighboring countries South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. They realized that despite the geographical proximity they had been unaware of the state of affairs in Swaziland and passionately started discussing how they could exert political pressure from their respective countries.

To date this workshop constituted my most in-depth and authentic exchange with African people, Africa’s problems and African politics. I experienced a strong shift of perception. While the outlines of the participants’ stories sounded familiar to me from news articles or books I was amazed once again by the emotional depth of a story that is told face to face. It made me ponder how much more empathy there would be in the world if such exchanges between young people took place more often. In only four days I experienced how Africa came alive in my heart. How Swaziland, Chad, DRC, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Ghana transformed from far away countries with unintelligible conflicts into people with whom I had laughed, sung and danced. My shift in perception resonated with a quote by Oliver Tambo which was cited during the workshop: “We who are free to eat and drink as we wish, to sleep and move around as we wish have a responsibility not to perpetuate the existing misery in this world.”

(Oliver Tumba was the president of South Africa’s liberation movement, the African National Congress. According to Nelson Mandela Oliver was one of the greatest by least celebrated leaders of the ANC who held the party together during more than 30 years in exile.)

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Dear reader of this post, please assume with me your responsibility for those who are deprived of their voice and sign here an online petition to free political prisoners in Swaziland.