The Child is not Dead

By: Stefan Koolen

 

On May 24, 1994 Nelson Mandela delivered a speech at the opening of the South African parliament after the first free and democratic elections. During his speech, Mandela quoted a poem by the South African poet Ingrid Jonker, daughter of Abraham Jonker who was a member of parliament and chairman for the Censorship Committee on Art, Publications and Entertainment. During her life Ingrid Jonker struggled with her own life, her father and the society in which apartheid was a reality. At one point, Ingrid Jonker witnessed the assassination of a (colored) child during a peaceful demonstration. The poem entails her struggle with her family and apartheid although she was member of the dominant white minority. The incident (of killing the child) is used to represent the South African’s spirit of civil resistance against the prevalent political and social systems at that time.

The poem reads:

“The child is not dead

the child lifts his fists against his mother

who shouts Africa screams the smell
of freedom and heather
In the locations of the heart under siege

 

The child lifts his fists against his father

in the march of the generations

who shouts Africa ! shout the breath

of justice and blood

in the streets of his embattled pride

 

The child is not dead

not at Langa nor at Nyanga

not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville

nor at the police station at Philippi

where he lies with a bullet through his brain

 

The child is the shadow of the soldiers

on guard with rifles Saracens and batons

the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings

the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts

of mothers

this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere

the child grown to a man treks through all Africa

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole World”

Ingrid Jonker, in my opinion, beautifully implies that the child will forever live on in the memory of the perpetrators and the survivors, who will always remember the ones they have lost. Mandela, through his speech, emphasized that the Child (and hence the other South African victims) will not be forgotten as they have become a part of the construction of a new and freer society. Similarly, but in an entirely different context, the new constitution of Tunisia stresses in a reference in its preamble, that those who were martyred (although incomparable to Syria’s tolls of death) will become a part of the new society.  

The preamble reads:

“Taking pride in the struggle of our people to gain independence and to build the state, autocracy was eliminated to achieve its free will, in response to the objectives of the revolution of freedom and dignity, and out of loyalty towards the blood of our blessed martyrs and the sacrifices of Tunisians over generations, with a view to eliminate injustice, corruption, and oppression.”

The reason I remembered the poem is that I felt tired of analyses and facts about the current state of affairs in Syria. I kept looking for a different point of view that can address the feeling of despair one feels thinking about Syria. At a certain point within everyone the question will rise whether the deaths of the civilians and the revolutionaries are pointless.

I however feel that the poem addresses that feeling. The poem can easily be applied to Syria and Syrians. It needs only little amendments.     

“The child is not dead

The child lifts his fists against his mother

Who shouts (free) Syria screams the smell
of freedom and heather
in the locations of the heart under siege

 

The child lifts his fists against his father

in the march of the generations

who shouts (free) Syria ! shout the breath

of justice and blood

in the streets of his embattled pride

 

The child is not dead

not at Homs nor at Deraa

not at Damascus nor at Raqqa

nor at the “police station” at Palestine

where he lies with a bullet through his brain

 

The child is the shadow of the soldiers

on guard with rifles Saracens and batons

the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings

the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts

of mothers

this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Homs is everywhere

the child grown to a man treks through all Syria

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole World”

Although a poem cannot take away any pain, the pain caused by the hands of Assad and those who support him officially or by their actions (such as al-Qaeda affiliated group of ISIL).

The poem does provide hope, a vision that change will come (as was the case in South Africa) and the fact that those who called for freedom will continue to live on in several ways. This is also my hope for the children of Syria.  

 

Opinions do not necessarily reflect ARA News’ policy. 

 

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