Passion – Good Friday in the 21st Century

I first wrote this in response to the dreadful events in Ficksburg in 2011 when some policemen set upon community leader and organiser Mr Andries Tatane during a protest in that normall sleepy town. The events of the past few weeks though have added the names of the Marikana Miners to the list of martyrs, those killed in the cause of freedom and justice. The Marikana Massacre has exposed again the deep divisions that exist in this otherwise wonderful country. So I dedicate this piece to the memory of Andries Tatane and the dead of Marikana. May their deaths not be in vain.

This was going to be a post about Bach’s St Matthew Passion. It still is, in a way, but I am moved to write about something more than that.

I also think I should state up front that I am in no way attacking the police in this piece. The police have a frequently thankless task and yet they are essential to any constitutional democracy as upholders of peace and freedom.

The fact that they often have to act on the orders of a system which operates without concern for ordinary people and their issues renders the police very vulnerable and puts them in invidious positions.

The tensions involved for individual members of the police often boil over and they give in to the temptation of taking out their frustrations on more vulnerable people, with often disastrous consequences.

Policemen beating Andries Tatane. Image from

From Libya to Lebanon,

from Tripoli to Tyre,

from Babiy Yar to Ficksburg,

where cherries became drops of blood –

were you there?

From Columbine to Sendai,

the mark of the nails is visible

the crown of thorns tears the bloodied head –

a head full of pain and scorn

and still the struggle, the lonely struggle,

while the list of martyrs grows –

were you there?

From the great Mahatma and MLK;

Olaf Palme;

Lutuli and Biko and Chris Hani;

the nameless dead in the ditches of Auschwitz;

the endless plains of death in Rwanda –

were you there?

In the darkness of Harari

and the bloody roads of Ficksburg

where the name of Andries Tatane joins the list –

were you there?

When the mothers marched for bread and roses

when the martyrs marched at Tolpuddle

when the police rioted at Stonewall

when the mud came down at Aberfan

were you there?

At Haymarket, in the Plaza de Mayo;

on the Dia del Trabajador;

at Tiananmen Square and

at Peterloo and Nyanga

were you there?

When will we learn, when?

When will the killing end, when?

When will the hating end, when?

If not now, then when?

If not here, then where?

If not with me, then with whom?

When will we learn, when?

Who will break down the walls if I don’t?

Image from Wikipedia

Who will stop the tanks if I don’t?

Who will comfort the stranger if I don’t?

Who will try to understand if I don’t?

Who will learn and love if I don’t?

Who will find the lost if I don’t?

Who will hold and feed the child?

Who will stop the blood?

Have there not been enough crosses?

Have there not been enough guns and whips?

Do we need another Golgotha, another Babiy Yar?

Do we need another Birmingham, another Sharpeville?

Crucifixion by El Greco

O head of blood and wounding,

of pain and scorn so full,

do we need another Soweto?

Was one Kent State not enough,one head beneath a crown of thorns?

Is one mother’s pain not enough?

One daughter’s lonely tears not sufficient?

How many drops of blood to enliven the soil?

How many tears to water it?

No resurrection day can wipe away the pain

No resurrection day can make all all right again

Too much blood, too many tears have flowed

and we, naked and wet and cold, we still cling to each other,

cling to the warmth of the breath and the sun.

Will we be there?

O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.

When we can say, with Loveless:

“God is our guide! from field, from wave,

From plough, from anvil, and from loom;

We come, our country’s rights to save,

And speak a tyrant faction’s doom:

We raise the watch-word liberty;

We will, we will, we will be free!”

We will be there.

Good Friday 2011

What got me writing this piece about the seemingly endless list of martyrs in the cause of freedom was the latest in South Africa. A man relatively unknown outside of his community, Mr Andries Tatane, was set upon by six armed policemen during a protest in the small Eastern Free State town of Ficksburg. He died after being brutally beaten with batons and allegedly shot in the chest with rubber bullets.

Ficksburg is a usually sleepy little town known mainly for the annual “Cherry Festival” held there. It is the centre of South Africa’s relatively small cherry industry.

The incident is the subject of an inquiry by the Independent Complaints Directorate which has been set up as a watch dog body over the South African Police Services. Six policemen are now under arrest and face numerous charges, including murder.

The vicious attack on Mr Tatane took place in front of the video cameras of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the national TV and radio service, and shown on that evening’s 7.00 pm news broadcast.

The scene revived painful memories of similar attacks which were all too commonplace under the former apartheid regime. The difference now is that the incident is subject to an inquiry and the policemen allegedly involved are facing charges. This seldom happened under apartheid, when the police operated with almost total immunity.

The fact remains that a young, intelligent and involved community leader has been killed, his family robbed of a breadwinner, his students (he was a popular and energetic teacher) left without the guidance they had relied on.

And I am left asking – “How many more?”

~ by Tony McGregor on September 19, 2012.

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