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2013-06-04 10:00

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Dead initiates, dead soldiers, dead miners. Let’s take stock and prevent the needless, reckless loss of life, writes Sibusiso Tshabalala

It was never about the traditional practice of initiation. Sadly, the corpses of the 30 young men dispersed all over the Wemmershoek mountains tell a different story.

The voices of contempt came a bit too late. The voices of authority never quite pitched.

The same can be said about the 34 miners who fell at Marikana. Remember Wonderkop, the koppie ironically named to signify a wonder, a miracle?

But that doesn’t matter because the koppie became an ill-fated site of refuge for hundreds of miners. It was left drenched in blood, no wonder.

Mountain deaths occurred far away in the Central African Republic too. Fifteen South African soldiers were slain for a cause unknown to them.

In just eight months, more than 100 lives were snuffed out. There were a different set of reasons for each tragedy, some say. But beyond the surface lies a thread that binds all three.

If we’re mindful enough and less hurried with our thin retorts, we would know Marikana, central Africa and Mpumalanga are separated by time and space only.

It may just be an ugly twist of fate, “just a coincidence”, says Joe Public. But when more than 100 people die in three national tragedies in little less than eight months, it can’t be just a fluke.

So how does it happen? Why is it we keep returning to a place where the meaning of human life is pinned at its lowest?

It is not clear to me either. But the idea of eternal return comes to mind. It’s the idea that things recur with little or no change in circumstances.

That which is adverse persists only because of our own carelessness – because of “our doing”, if you like.

But what do we continually do to warrant the uninvited jinx of the eternal return? Maybe we do nothing.

Ours is a state that postulates momentarily on the lives of the vulnerable. And while we postulate, we – you and me, the brass tacks that hold the ugly state machine together – are left intact.

For Marikana we have a commission, for Mpumalanga we have an inquiry and for central Africa we have redeployment. But it fools no one. These interventions are a stymie for real reflection – stalemates for genuine change.

Maybe, just maybe, we could get over the log jam and things could be different.

For instance, is it fair to say Mpumalanga MEC Candith Mashego-Dlamini has not learnt a thing or two from national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega and her bloopers?

When the initiation death toll was at 23, Mashego-Dlamini opted to toe a line that gave you the impression she was shirking responsibility.

“This is a cultural matter. I am not a man. Women are not allowed to interfere in this process.” Of course, there’s truth to this statement. But after 23 initiates died in the cold bush, I could not bring myself to come to Mashego-Dlamini’s defence.

A week and a half later, 30 initiates died. They died at different initiation schools in Belfast, Kwaggafontein, Siyabuswa, Verena, Evander, Middelburg and KwaMhlanga.

Ours is a sad reality. Even with the successive counts of eternal return, we never find it in ourselves to learn from these chilling tragedies. I shudder. I think of a primary school teacher who yells: “You never learn!”

Friedrich Nietzsche was right. In the world of eternal return, the weight of responsibility lies heavily on every move we make. Sadly, we have made too few moves to place the weight of responsibility on ourselves.

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