Making a difference

Linked on our blogs with Swiss banks, Swiss neutrality and the poors, and with New Internationalist.

Published on New Internationalist /Blog, by Mgcini Nyoni, April 27, 2011.

I have a German friend who doesn’t like Switzerland much; she doesn’t like their neutrality: ‘The world is not a nice place and no one can afford to be neutral,’ she has said often enough with frenzied passion. During both World War One and World War Two, Switzerland managed to keep a stance of armed neutrality, and was not involved militarily. However, because Switzerland was centrally located, neutral, and generally undamaged, the war allowed the growth of the Swiss banking industry. At the moment the Swiss banking system is considered a safe place for illgotten and illegal money. A lot of African dictators hide money they loot from their countries in Swiss bank accounts: so much for neutrality! 

I do not believe in neutrality either and have sometimes been radical, to the detriment of my wellbeing and security. The same German friend of mine, in apparent contradiction of herself has often asked me, ‘Do you have to be so radical?’ I have had moments to ponder this, and while examining the ‘it begins with you’ theory have actually realized that small good acts and efforts will add up to something. Starting at the grassroots is actually a viable option.

I remember when I was teacher in Tsholotsho (a district in Matebeland North 98 kilometres northwest of Bulawayo – the second city of Zimbabwe – as the bird flies). Tsholotsho is a dry place; agriculture without some form of irrigation system is a waste of time. They try to farm maize without much success. Sorghum, millet and watermelons give modest returns that seem hardly worth the effort … //

… I took over the netball team from a bunch of female teachers who sat in the shade during practice and let the girls coach themselves. I was different: I ran with the girls and never sat down during training sessions. I also took over the drama club. The netball team did not lose a single match on their way to the district finals. The drama club waltzed its way to the national finals of a drama competition. We performed one of my own plays, The Chronicles of Dr Phiri, which attracted mutters of being ‘too political’. This was before political thought and life became the high-risk business it now is in Zimbabwe.
At times I felt overwhelmed. At times I thought I could not do much alone. The school head loved my efforts, but some of the more senior teachers hated me – good work makes shoddy work appear even shoddier.

As writer Martin Porter explains: ‘Perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, victims: we can be clear about three of these categories. The bystander, however, is the fulcrum. If there are enough notable exceptions, then protest reaches a critical mass. We don’t usually think of history as being shaped by silence, but, as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing”.’

I have heard a lot of people say they are not political, because in very repressive countries like Zimbabwe, taking a stance often leads to imprisonment or torture. But it doesn’t always have to be a direct stand against politicians. For example, I find it very hard to put rubbish anywhere but the bin. (full text).

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