Being in the terror zone is scary

2016-03-23 00:40

Gummersbach, Germany

I, along with other representatives of various NGOs from Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa, have spent the last week and are spending this week in Gummersbach, Germany, for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation's (FNF) seminar, titled "NGOs - Winning Support for Ideas and their Political Implementation". To tell the truth: It has been very exciting.

After five days of group work and presentations, last Saturday we visited Aachen, a small city west of Germany - the home town of one of our facilitators, Arno Keller. We slept in one of the hotels there, and left for another beautiful city, Maastricht, in Netherlands, Sunday morning.

By Sunday afternoon we were in Brussels, Belgium. We spent Monday at the Brussels FNF offices listening to various speakers, and later, visited the European Parliament. We had also planned to spend the most of yesterday in Brussels, unaware that the morning would be marked by the horrific terrorist attacks, and that in the process, more than 30 people would lose their lives.

Terrorists detonated two explosives at Zaventem airport, around 08:00 AM yesterday, and an hour later, another blast occurred at the metro station near European Union offices, which was about half a kilometer away from where we were, we were told.

We were all terrified by the incident. It was a shock. The city was shutdown, and two of the people who were due to address us cancelled.

We were grateful to two of our group mates, Omar Saliba Abdel Samad from Lebanon, and Anna Ogarrio from Mexico, who both came up with a fantastic idea - that we have a conversation about how we felt about the attacks.

The two moderated the discussion, and I must say, it was wonderful to hear diverse views about what had happened in Brussels minutes earlier, and about terrorism in general.

Some of us, although very few, are used to hearing about or being near the violence of this type. Others are not. I am not.

My country, South Africa, has never had to endure the terror attacks of this type, at least post-1994.

The only case of terrorist attacks I've ever heard about, and that was around 2003 or 2004, was that of Boeremag - a group of white supremacists whose mission was to overthrow South Africa's government and reinstate apartheid. They detonated a series of bombs in Soweto. One woman died, and her husband was injured. They were subsequently captured and imprisoned.

Of course what motivated those who bombed Brussels this week is different from what motivated the Boeremag back then - but the methods they used to carry out their attacks are the same.

What continues to stain South Africa's image is gun-related crime and gun-deaths, not terror attacks. We rank amongst the top countries on gun related violence. I have been a victim of gun-related crime myself. It is a serious grapple the country faces at the moment.

The whole discussion was moving - I liked it. Different perspectives from different countries enlightened us all, I believe.

It was unfortunate that because of the attacks, we had to depart Brussels earlier, back to Germany. We arrived safe in Gummersbach, and for that we are thankful.

I pray for the victims and their families in Brussels. It could have been me, it could have been you, it could have been anyone. I pray for Belgium and Europe in its fight against the enemy - an enemy whose mission is to inflict harm on European land.

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