ACCLAIMED Somali writer Nuruddin Farah yesterday told Wits staff and students “South Africa is not interested in improving education” in comparison with other African states.
The country’s attitude impacted on literacy and the ability to develop an African consciousness, he said. He was giving a lecture which he named “Green in the salad of my judgement”, a nod to Shakespeare. The reference was used to introduce Farah’s experiences growing up in Somalia, and being exiled for writing novels about his homeland.
Farah spoke of the “grotesque caricature” the media had made of Somalia, and how important it was to remember “there is still love” and humanity in Somalia. He emphasised the need to portray Somalis as equal to all humans, and therefore understand that “they deserve the same justice”.
Farah’s eloquent anecdotes from his childhood and time in exile demonstrated how much Somalia’s oral tradition had influenced his story telling.
Farah has been praised for his portrayal of female consciousness in his novels and has, in the past, said women could provide strong leadership in his war-torn country. Questioned on this during the panel discussion that followed his lecture, he said: “Women are never the initiators of war in history… However they lose very much. They know very well the consequences of war.”
Farah encouraged young Africans to produce their own cultural knowledge by reading in their native language, highlighting the removal of one’s original self when experiencing the world through a foreign language.
After the lecture, Maimuna AY Darir, a Somali student at the African Leadership Academy, told Vuvuzela: “It is interesting to me because there are not a lot of Somali writers out there telling this story in a non-fictional way… It’s really motivating for young Somali writers to actually believe they can do something better for themselves.”
The panel, which included Farah and Wits academics Prof James Ogude, Prof Véronique Tadjo and Dr John Masterson, discussed themes of post-colonial alienation, the role of women in the leadership of Somalia and representations of Somalia in the media.
See my live tweets from the lecture @Lisa_Golden_SA #NurridinFarah
Young Somalians in a deli shop.
Newspaper and TV images portray hunger in Somalia but a much grimmer picture was described by Gift of the Givers founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman recollecting his week there.
“It was heartbreaking. Children are dying slowly. Parents are watching their children die in front of their eyes and can’t do a thing about it,” he said.
The owner of this Somalian delicacy shop stands unders a Somalian flag.
The famine in Somalia, more particularly in the capital city of Mogadishu, is due to the worst drought the Horn of Africa has seen in 60 years and has left thousands without food and water.
“Little Somalia” in Johannesburg is home to many immigrant Somalis who expressed their fears about the famine in Somalia.
Young Somalian in a clothing shop.
Abdurahman Mahdi, who is from Kismayo, fled Somalia in 2007 because of political unrest.
“The problem is that the political climate is very dangerous, everyone is fighting. They all want to be winners, when it comes to fighting, there’s no other idea that they have, and all they are thinking about is fighting each other so they can’t help the people,” he says.
Mahdi says he contacts his family every month. “I try to help them if I get some money. The situation is very dangerous this time because there is no food, people cannot farm.”
Mahdi is here with his wife and children, but other immigrants are not as fortunate.
Haleema Abdul broke into tears when asked about her family back in Mogadishu. She says the situation there is serious. “I hope my country has peace, a good government.”
Nasreen Mohammad, who has been in SA for 18 months, is the youngest in her family and fled Somalia on her own.
Mohammad and her family are from Mogadishu. She says she has recently had problems contacting her family.
“I don’t know where my family is, that’s the problem. In six months I can’t send anything to my mother because I don’t know where I can send it to. But I will try where I can.”
The country has seen an estimated 29 000 children under the age of five die in the past 90 days, and more than 600 000 Somalis fleeing its borders.
Adding to the severity of the situation is the war between the government and rebel group Al Shabab. Each group wants to have power over the people in the area. Even within the Somali government, power conflicts get in the way of any decision-making processes making government action about the famine ineffectual.
Food donation collection points are set up outside the SRC shop in the Matrix, under the 1man 1can initiative which MSA-WITS are working under.
The Gift of the Givers has pick up points at their Johannesburg branch at Mint Road, Fordsburg.
THE Wits SRC has begun a campaign to provide assistance to the crisis in Somalia.
Fighting famine is a priority not only for the United Nations but also for the Wits SRC, as millions of Somali people face starvation.
A UN agency held an emergency meeting on Monday night to discuss ways to counteract famine in Somalia but Wits has also begun to take action.
SRC fundraising officer Wandile Sishange explains a campaign which they have initiated to assist the needy country:
“It’s based on a mission statement ‘we have to have an African perspective on the things we do’.
“What happens in Somalia affects the continent.
[We must ask] what can the Wits community do to assist the situation?”
Last week, the UN confirmed that two regions in southern Somalia are in a state of famine. UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is asking for a donation of about $1-billion to aid the affected people.
Sishange explains how the SRC also plans to raise funds for the people of Somalia, who are currently seeking refuge on the other side of their border in Kenya. “[We are ]trying to appeal to those who can assist, from government to the private sector to students. Even if only 10 000 of the 28 000 students contribute R10 each [that’s something]. We really hope students in the Wits community will unite in doing this.”
Sishange also hopes to create awareness of the situation; he says he has been following the events in Somalia since he was in grade 8, when a man named Peter Hammond came to speak at his school.
Somalia has had no central government running the country since a civil war began in 1991.
“There has been political instability and there is no government in place, so after food and medicine are provided they also need political stability to sustain [themselves],” says Sishange.
“The people of Somalia should be able to find solutions for their own problems, all we can do is facilitate”.
The SRC is calling for students to contact them if they are willing to be a part of their committee to raise funds and possibly be sent there to help out.