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We've failed Ellis Park victims by not honouring them

By unknown | Apr 20, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Memory is the weapon, celebrated poet and journalist Don Mattera once wrote.

Memory is the weapon, celebrated poet and journalist Don Mattera once wrote.

But as with many other weapons, it can be used for good or for ill. We can choose what to remember and what not to. As with other tools in the employ of humans, this weapon can lose its effectiveness with the passage of time or because of general misuse. With this weapon, it is a case of use it or lose it.

Last week many of us saw the English, and more specifically, Liverpool Football Club fans commemorate the Hillsborough stadium disaster, in which 96 supporters were killed at an FA Cup semifinal match against Nottingham Forest in 1989.

It was a touching scene of the will to remember no matter how painful the memory. The English chose to remember, not because they relish nightmares, but because they know that dulled memories are the seedbeds of a history that will most certainly repeat itself.

Two Saturdays ago, we too had something worth remembering, but chose not to.

Many of us, including the media, forgot that, or at best, made low-key of the 43 people crushed to death at Ellis Park Stadium during a match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs on April 11 2001.

Unlike the English, we collectively allowed the event to pass unnoticed.

In fact, had it not been for the ANC rally in the same venue, the two clubs would have met at Ellis Park again almost eight years to the day. The Soweto derby was initially pencilled in for last Saturday but was postponed to May 2 because the ANC held its Siyanqoba rally there yesterday.

It cannot be that we are such a forgetful nation. I am not willing to accept that our collective hippocampus (the area of the brain neurologists say is responsible for memory formation and temporary memory storage) is that terribly damaged.

We are, rather simply, negligent in keeping the memory of the things that should matter. It strikes me that unless there is commercial value to be extracted from commemorating a day, we'd rather forget about it. In other words, we have made marketers the reservoir of our collective memory.

Everybody knows and plans for the Easter and Christmas holidays, not because they are particularly religious, but rather because there are chocolates and hot cross buns to be sold or turkeys and gifts we are expected to shower on our loved ones, apparently as a way of showing them how much they mean to us. June 16 or Sharpeville Day must be peppered with some jiving for the memory not to be obliterated. It is a shame.

All is not lost though.

On Wednesday we have another opportunity of living out how much we know or remember about our history. As Giambattista Basile, the Italian poet and fairytales collector, once said: "Memory is the cabinet of the imagination, the treasury of reason, the registry of conscience, and the council chamber of thought."

Our understanding of the struggle that started in one or other form with the arrival of the Dromedaris on April 6 1652 and lasted until April 26 1994, gets crystallised in one small act of marking an X on a ballot paper.

We vote for our past as much as we do for our future. Hopefully, those who will exercise this right will do so knowing that they honour the memory of those who struggled for us to get here while ensuring that those who come after us will remember us for making the choices we did.


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