The F-word: Trite sentiments ring hollow

2013-03-31 10:00

As fate would have it, the public outcry over the deaths of 13 South African soldiers who died in the Central African Republic has coincided with a week in which much of the world commemorates the most famous dying for a cause ever recorded.

Ever since Jesus Christ died some 2?000 years ago in what his followers believe was for humankind’s redemption, many have believed that all that is required for a course to have merit is for someone to die in its name.

It is a misguided benchmark to gauge the merits of a course.

For example, the Boeremag terrorists, now convicted and awaiting sentencing for wanting to topple the democratic state, were willing to die for their ideal.

The Central African Republic debacle is explained in terms of how “our men” died defending their country and we, as patriots, should be proud of them. Nonsense.

They could not have died for their country when they were caught in the crossfire of an internecine war. At best, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At worst, they were victims of the time honoured tradition of politicians massaging their egos or their cronies’ business interests by sacrificing their country’s youth in the name of patriotism.

To sugarcoat the backward practice of killing those we disagree with, we use effusive terms like “honour”, “patriot” or “heroism”.

We call their dying “falling” so as to assuage the feelings of grief their families must be feeling at the premature demise of their loved ones.

We avoid calling what they arrived back in, “body bags”, and prefer calling their corpses “mortal remains”.

It is revolting. There was a time once when it made sense to eulogise the deaths of our young who had died violent deaths at the hands of those they had no personal quarrels with. It was during the dark ages called apartheid.

In villages and townships, the period between the mid-1980s to as late as just before the first democratic elections in 1994, was dotted with the commonness of the death of youngsters.

Family members, neighbours, friends or schoolmates were killed by those defending white racist rule.

Families and loved ones were deprived of the opportunity of mourning the deaths of one of their own as the tragedy was turned into a political rally aimed at mobilising more young people to witness the nobility of dying for a course.

I cannot fathom why, in what is supposed to be the age of enlightenment evidenced by the end of apartheid and the ushering in of a human rights culture and jurisprudence, we should use backward language, like we did during apartheid, of justifying the unnecessary deaths of young South Africans.

The end of apartheid was meant to bring an end to such gratuitous waste of young lives.

It was meant to be the end of days of young white men being conscripted to defend apartheid and “fight godless?communists”.

For their black counterparts, it meant the end of forsaking their youth to join guerrilla armies in faraway lands so they could return home to “kill the boer”.

Realpolitik dictates that there will be times when “it is neither wrong nor right to kill, but necessary”.

In this sense, the idea of soldiers dying is not always entirely unheard of or always a futile exercise.

The difference is that every time our young are sent or choose to die, there should be something worth dying for; something any normal thinking person can defend, such as trying to free oneself from political rape of you and your people. Alas, today they die in foreign lands defending ill-defined courses and their families must be consoled by them being called “our heroes”.

I just hope that the commander-in-chief will live long enough to be able to tell the children of these men why exactly they had to go through their lives without the love and guidance of a father.

Hopefully, they will have a better answer than the hollow “died for their country” line.

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