Darfur: Mia Farrow begins hunger strike in solidarity for Darfur

Link: Mia Farrow Speaks Out on Darfur Hunger Strike []

Mia Farrow has begun her hunger strike in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of those suffering in Darfur. She is going to try to consume nothing but water for 21 days. This is a Fox News interview with the star.

In early March, the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir for the murder, rape, torture and displacement of millions and he retaliated by expelling 16 key aid agencies from Darfur and there has been no response. I keep thinking the shoe is going to drop; this surely is a line that cannot be crossed. He has already displaced nearly three million people; he is now going to sever the lifeline to those displaced people who cannot sustain themselves? Are we going to let that happen? I can’t believe that there hasn’t been a larger outcry that merits the death of more than a million people. -

South Africa: Freedom Day – 27 April

27 April is Freedom Day in South Africa and it is a public holiday held to commemorate 27 April 1994 when the first democratic general election was held in the country. This election marked the end of Apartheid where the National Party government was replaced by the government of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela became president.

It was the first ever election in South Africa in which there was universal suffrage which means that all adult South Africans, regardless of race or gender, were allowed to vote.

Photo: AP

Most people today have heard about Apartheid but I wonder if everyone knows what it was like? Apartheid officially began in 1948 but certain laws dated to before that time and were vital parts of Apartheid legislation. The 1913 Native's Land Act prevented non-white people from owning land. Not only could they never own the land they lived on, they could be forcibly removed from any land that was deemed attractive for white settlement (see District 6). This law was enhanced in 1950 by the Group Areas Act which assigned different racial groups to different residential and business areas in urban areas. Hence, blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians in South Africa could not live together, could not own businesses in the same areas and only whites could own land.

The second piece of important pre-Apartheid legislation was released under the Jan Smuts government. It was called the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 and it deemed urban areas to be "white" areas and all black adult men had to carry passes at all times if they were in cities or urban areas. A statue of the lovely Jan Smuts now stands in parliament Square in London and he looks out over the square to where Nelson Mandela's statue now also stands. This law was also enhanced by the 1952 Pass Laws Act which made it compulsory for all blacks South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a pass book at all times. The book would stipulate where, when and for how long a person could remain in a specific urban area and it greatly restricted where black people could move or visit.

The final bit of despicable legislation I will talk about today was the 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act which prohibited interracial marriage in South Africa and the 1950 Immorality Act which prohibited all sexual relations between whites and non-whites. These laws were repealed by PJ Botha in 1985 but up to that time, people could be arrested and prosecuted if they were caught having sexual relations with a person of another race and black people often got stronger sentences than white people.

The Beginning of the End
In the early 1980's, international economic sanctions had begun to take their toll on Apartheid and that was the beginning of the end. Little by little President PJ Botha began to repeal laws and offer greater freedoms to the Indian population and to blacks and coloureds too. The separate and completely unequal policies and privileges offered to the different population groups under PJ Botha are quite complex and the topic of another post, but in 1989 PJ Botha had a stroke and FW de Klerk became president. He began a process of reform which culminated in the unbanning of the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress on 2 February 1990 and the release of Mandela on 11 February 1990.

A national referendum was held on 17 March 1992 in which white people voted whether they wanted to continue the process of reform started by FW de Klerk two years earlier. We knew what the stakes were and the basic question was really, "will this be the last whites-only election before universal suffrage is awarded and national elections are held"? 2.8 million people voted and the result was 68.73% "Yes".

The Road to the Elections
The next two years were emotional and tumultuous for our emerging rainbow nation. There was so much intimidation and violence going on around the elections that people were advised never to divulge who they were voting for. It was our right to keep our vote private. Many of the young, black females that I worked with were too scared to vote, even though we offered to drive them to the election stations and hide them in our cars. This was worrying - we needed every single vote. I still won't divulge who I voted for or what my preference was, but the important thing was to vote!

The Day
As the photo above shows, South Africans stood for hours and hours in queues that day to vote. I myself stood for four hours in a queue that ran the whole way around the northern Johannesburg suburb of Craighall. I got to the front of the queue and stood for several minutes in the booth. My hand was shaking so much that I was scared to try to write in case I spoiled my ballot. I cast my "x" on the regional and national papers, posted my ballots in the box and burst out crying. I was so overwhelmed and so acutely aware of the importance of what had come to pass that day. I was one of the 19,533,498 people who changed the course of world history that day.

The rest, as they say, is history. The ANC won 62.65% of the vote and Nelson Mandela became the first president of the New South Africa. At some stage I hope to elaborate on what it was like to live in Apartheid South Africa.

Armenia: Update on Obama’s speech

Link: REMEMBERING THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE: Obama’s words rebuked []

As previously suspected, Obama in fact did not use the word “genocide” during his statement on Friday but instead used the term “atrocities” and the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” meaning “Great Calamity”.

This is not a popular decision and it is doubtless that Obama reacted to political pressure from the Turkish government that the US/Turkish relationship would suffer permanent damage if he formally recognised the events as an act of genocide.  The other item the Turkish government held for ransom was the reconciliation process with Armenia.  Given this, I would say that it is vital that continuing pressure be put on the Turkish government now to make the reconciliation process a success.

Armenia: Genocide Remembrance Day

April 24 marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and is a national holiday in Armenia. It is observed every year to commemorate the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.

The Wikipedia article states that this is widely acknowledged to be one of the first modern genocides due to the systematic and organised nature in which Armenians were killed and persecuted.  It is generally held that the genocide began on 24 April 1915 when 250 intellectuals and community leaders were arrested in Constantinople.  Forced removals followed and Armenians were marched for hundreds of miles and deprived of food and water to the desert of what is now known as Syria.  Massacres took place and were indiscriminate of both age and gender and rape and sexual abuse were common place [Source: Wikipedia].

It sounds like classic genocide to me.  I had not heard of the Armenian Genocide before a month or two ago and everything I know is based on the article above.  When US President Barack Obama was campaigning to become president, he apparently undertook to formally recognise the Armenian genocide if he was elected.  It sounds like an easy thing to do but it could greatly jeopardise US relations with Turkey if the US were to formally recognise that a genocide had been committed.

There is a resolution pending in the US Congress to formally recognise the killings as genocide and many Armenians had hoped that President Obama would support it.

Link: Obama not expected to recognize Armenian claims after joint statement []

This article posted yesterday casts doubt on whether this will happen though.  Turkey have said that if the US did recognise the genocide, it would not only permanently damage ties between the US and Turkey, but they would discontinue the reconciliation process with Armenia.  Obama conceded in a visit to Turkey earlier this month that his view on the matter had not changed but that it was important not to derail the reconciliation process.

Turkey claim that it was a civil war in which 300,000 Armenians perished but that there were just as many Turkish casualties.  They claim that Armenians took up arms in a Russian-backed bid for independence in the eastern Anatolia region.

I am sorry but the Armenian genocide is the second most studied genocide after the Holocaust (according to Wikipedia) and there is evidence and history of the forced removals and massacres.  I don’t hold the Turkish government of today responsible for what happened almost 100 years ago but I do think that the truth needs to come out here.

On Genocide: Recommended Reading List

The following reading list appeared on the now defunct website It is a great collection of books written on Genocide and includes fiction, biographies / autobiographies and non-fiction texts. Comment below to add your recommendations.

About Genocide

  • The Theatre of Genocide, Robert Skloot [Indiebound] [Amazon]
  • Out of Exile: Narratives from the Abducted and Displaced People of Sudan (Voice of Witness), Craig Walzer, Dave Eggers, Valentino Achak Deng [Indiebound] [Amazon]


  • The Knock at the Door: A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide, Margaret Ajemian Ahnert [Amazon]
  • My Grandmother: A Memoir, Fethiye Çetin [Indiebound] [Amazon]
  • The Promise at Sea: Armenian Genocide, Vitali Ianko [Indiebound] [Amazon]
  • The Road From Home: A True Story of Courage, Survival, and Hope, David Kherdian [Indiebound] [Amazon]
  • Skylark Farm, Antonia Arslan [Indiebound] [Amazon]
  • Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide, Donald E. Miller, Lorna Touryan Miller [Indiebound] [Amazon]
  • Vergeen: A Survivor of the Armenian Genocide, Mae Derdarian [Amazon]




  • Heart of Darfur, Lisa French Blaker [Amazon]



[Source: Books of Conscience Reading List]

Rwanda: Prosecution seeks life for Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Link: Prosecution wraps up case in Rwanda genocide trial [AFP]
Link: Life term sought for female suspect in Rwanda genocide [AFP]

There are a couple of interesting facts about the trial of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko:

  • She is the first woman ever charged with genocide by an international court. I reported on Agnes Ntamabyariro earlier in the year but of course, she was tried and convicted by the court in Kigali. Pauline Nyiramasuhuko is being charged by the ICTR in Tanzania.
  • She is also the first woman to be charged with incitement to rape.
  • She remains the only woman still detained by the ICTR.
  • Her trial began in 2001 and it is the longest ICTR trial so far.
  • She is on trial with her son, Shalom Ntahobali, who at 39 is the court's youngest detainee.
"Instead of protecting the families as her ministry stipulates, she decided to exterminate the families," prosecutor Holo Makwaia of the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said of former family minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko. - AFP

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko was formerly the minister for the family and women's empowerment in Butare. The prosecutors have asked for life sentences to be imposed on Nyiramasuhuko and her co-defendants.

"The prosecutor respectfully submits that the appropriate sentence in this case is imprisonment for the remainder of their lives," prosecutor Holo Makwaia said in her closing arguments. Makwaia argued that the accused had "the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare." - AFP

If convicted, then Nyiramasuhuko is guilty of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. I cannot think of a worse human being than a woman that incites men to rape other women. I realise that she has the right to a defence but I have to wonder about the type of woman that would defend a woman like this. Defence council Nicole Bergevin has claimed that the prosecution have failed to prove their case and to prove her client's guilt. Defence begin their presentations today.

Rwanda: Students Urged to Write On Genocide

Link: Rwanda: Students Urged to Write On Genocide

I thought this was an interesting article and I agree wholeheartedly. Speaking during the School of Finance and Banking's night of Vigil to mark the 15 year anniversary of the genocide, Board Chairman Professor Manasseh Nshuti said:

"Remembering what happened is important. But writing what happened is more critical because unwritten history can easily be manipulated by anybody or it can easily fade away with time, which is dangerous".

I would recommend that anyone who has lived through an important moment in history write it down. Seeing that nearly everyone here lived through the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, I would say that everyone has something to write about. In my life I have seen the Berlin Wall come down, the fall of Apartheid and yes, the attacks on the US and the later attacks on the UK. I would say that everyone has a story to tell.

If you have a story to tell and would like it featured on A Passion to Understand, please comment here (even if you just leave your contact details).

South Africa: If Gordon Brown were Jacob Zuma

Link: He has four wives and he faced 783 counts of corruption: PETER HITCHENS on South Africa's next president

“Imagine how you would react if Gordon Brown opened and closed his election rallies by bursting into a song called Bring Me My Machine Gun, swaying and jigging to the hypnotic chorus of this menacing ditty.

And how would you feel if the Prime Minister were alleged to be taking campaign money from Colonel Gaddafi; faced 783 counts of fraud, racketeering, tax evasion and corruption which somehow never came to court; and had been acquitted of rape while his fearsome supporters mobbed the courthouse?

Then ponder how you would despair if, despite all these things, Mr Brown's party was certain to win the election whatever he did or said.

If you can picture all this happening here, then you have an inkling of the horrible process South Africa is now going through. Except it is much, much worse”

For a supposed political blog, I've kept pretty quiet about the situation in South Africa, the country of my birth. There is a very good reason for that. I am sad and despondent about the state of affairs in South Africa.  I believe that a rapist and fraudster is about to become president and I am ashamed to admit that in the rush to go on holiday to South Africa, I forgot to register to vote here in the UK.  That means that according to my own morals and values, I have given up my right to complain about whoever does win the election.

People fought for the right to vote of all minority groups, whether they be based on gender, race, nationality or class.  I believe it is our right to vote but it is also an obligation - one that I forfeited and I am not proud of that fact.  I can assure you I will never make the same mistake again.

Therefore, you won’t find too much on this blog on South African party politics.  If I find evidence of human rights violations, I will certainly report on that.  I may also one day report on the crime situation in South Africa, when I am able to take an objective stance and report fairly on the situation.  I know too many people who were murdered, raped or who were victims of other violent crimes in South Africa, myself included, and it is too soon for me to report on it.

I maintain that I will return to South Africa when the crime situation is brought under control and I wouldn’t really care who is in power then and what their politics or past crimes may be.  The saddest thing is that I am not sure this will happen before I turn 50.

Mahmood Mamdani on Zimbabwe and Darfur

Link: Lessons of Zimbabwe [Pambazuka News]

This is Mahmood Mamdani's controversial article on the crisis in Zimbabwe. It was originally printed in the London Review of Books but I have given this link because of the excellent comment to the article by F Kashiri. On my return from my holiday, I will sift through the information in the article and in Kashiri's reply and hopefully it will help me to understand the spirit behind the independence struggle in Zimbabwe.

Link: The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency [London Review of Books]

Another controversial Mamdani article on Darfur. Mamdani has many critics; he has been called an apologist by some an factually incorrect by others. Nevertheless, his articles and books are worth a read and assist in forming your own arguments on the subjects.

Recommended reading: Saviors and Survivors

Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on TerrorSaviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror by Mahmood Mamdani

Link: The Darfur the West Isn’t Recognizing as It Moralizes About the Region [NYTimes Books]

Mahmood Mamdani has written what looks to be quite a controversial book on the situation on Darfur.  Mamdani has been criticised in the past for being an apologist and blaming the genocide in Rwanda on Belgian colonialism.  I could write an entire essay on this (and possibly will one day) but many scholars have noted that colonialists manipulated and enhanced differences between groups of people (Hutus and Tutsis, Zulus and Xhosas) and that this increased the propensity for violence and discord between these groups in later years when resources became scarce and political tensions arose.

"Mr. Mamdani calls this British tactic of administratively reinforcing distinctions among colonial subjects “re-identify and rule” and says that it was copied by European powers across the continent, with deadly consequences — as in Rwanda, where Belgium’s intervention hardened distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi" -

In his latest book, he criticises the use of the term "genocide" in Darfur and seeks to "reintroduce history" into the discussion of Darfur.  He questions why the actions of the Ugandan government are overlooked (they are an allie of the US) and he notes that 5 million have died in the conflict in the Congo since 1998.  Once again drawing on his theory of "re-identify and rule", he calls into question whether the conflict in Darfur is a true conflict between Arabs and "black Africans".

"Much foreign commentary about Sudan speaks of its Arabs as settlers, with the inference that they are somehow less African than people assumed to be of pure black stock. If whites in Kenya and Zimbabwe, not to mention South Africa, vociferously maintain their African-ness, what then to make of the Arab presence in Sudan, whose slow penetration and widespread intermarriage, Mr. Mamdani writes, “commenced in the early decades of Islam” and “reached a climax” from the 8th to the 15th century, “when the Arab tribes overran much of the country”?" -

Importantly, Mahmood is a scholar who seeks to understand the situations in Darfur, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.  His opinions may be controversial but I think his works constitute important reading and therefore, I am putting this latest book Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror plus his previous book When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and the Genocide in Rwanda at the top of my to-read lists.