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A Book That Built Me, by Herman Mashaba

By Herman Mashaba for the Sunday Times

Capitalist CrusaderCapitalist Crusader
Herman Mashaba (Bookstorm)

Left to Tell is Rwandan writer Immaculée Ilibagiza’s haunting memoir of her survival of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. When Rwandan President Habyarimana died, Hutu extremists turned on moderate Hutus and Tutsis. In only three months, approximately 800 000 Rwandans were massacred in one of the most violent “deathscapades” in history.

What appalled me about Ilibagiza’s first-hand account of her attempt to stay alive, was the groundswell of ethnic hatred and division that had hitherto not been evident in Rwanda. The tiny nation had never been divided along ethnic lines, until its colonial occupation. The division that German and Belgian colonialists wrought upon this united African nation was purely according to a colonial mindset and agenda.

Diversity means that we have different cultures, values, languages, and yes, even skintones. Racism and ethnic hatred rejects diversity: it prevents people who are different from living with dignity. I despise racist or ethnic division in any form. It goes against humanity; it engenders disharmony that festers into suspicion, discontent, and ultimately hatred.

It is impossible to have been born or lived in South Africa without experiencing racist acts. I have personally experienced racism, and it would have been understandable if I’d allowed such racism to define the course of my life. Instead I have always tried to interact with everyone I meet on a human level, and that has resulted in a refusal to judge on anything other than what people present to me. There is no hope for humanity if we don’t reject stereotypes.

Left to Tell is a lesson for those who would consider themselves superior or different to others. Ethnic hatred or racism evolves into xenophobia, and genocide is the extreme endpoint. Dissatisfied people who feel that the only way to channel their discontent is through violence and eradication reach this point very quickly.

Ilibagiza’s story is about more than just the hatred she encountered, it’s about finding something stronger than man’s vile nature to restore her faith in humanity. In her case, she found faith.

Currently the South African government is intensifying its racial policies, which are going to result in polarisation, disrepute and worse. As Ilibagiza shows us, all forms of discrimination must be abandoned.

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