The deaths in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron and Steve Biko are commemorated in September.
Imam Abdullah Haron was murdered in detention on 27 September 1969, while Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko was murdered on 12 September 1977, also in detention.
The individual stories of the lives of these two men are still not known by all South Africans, and this poses searching questions of us all, particularly in the post-apartheid era. Amongst the many questions we need to ask is whether or not the savagery of apartheid has been documented well enough. If it has not been documented well enough, we run the risk of apartheid being underplayed as something not quite serious.
There are concerted efforts to do just this, and it is seen in several ways, not least of which is ‘can we just move on from the past now, please?’ sentiments expressed on social media and in other social spaces.
This is not an accident. In order to justify the spoils of the past, those who benefited need to make themselves not accountable for anything. This means that intensive interrogations of the past, particularly the apartheid past, need to be avoided by those who aided and abetted a social system that legitimised one of the most racist regimes ever known to humankind.
We dare not aid and abet the forgetting of the apartheid regime, and how it was designed to criminalise the lives of the vast majority of the people of South Africa.
Part of this process of not forgetting is to think very clearly about what we ought to remember.
This September, as we mourn the loss of Imam Haron and Steve Biko, we should ask ourselves what we do with their memories.
Mourning loss is natural, and the process itself is recommended by medical and other professionals who indicate that grieving is a necessary process for those left behind. Being sad is normal, and allows those who suffer the loss to work through the deeply complex processes that follow the deaths of loved ones.
This points to a key issue.
The immediate families of those whose lives are lost are the ones, of course, who mourn as those for whom the loss is most intimate and searing. The absence of their loved ones in the home, coming from work, and eating with the family, for example, are experiences that are not shared on a daily basis by anyone else.
We therefore know that ‘the loss of a loved one’ is a process which can take many years to come to terms with, even though the sadness may never really depart.
So how do those who are not part of the immediate families of those slain by apartheid, mourn those who are lost? A second question is: can those who did not even meet those who were slain, ever feel the loss in ways that are more than ‘political’? This raises a crucial question which we need to confront. Can we love those we did not meet? Can we define love in ways that go beyond what is so often thought about purely in terms of blood-relations or family by wedlock?
It really is quite simple to answer. Those people who are able to call themselves human are easily able to shed tears when they see the pain of others. That is a basic human feeling, but it is not universal. There are those who feel nothing when they see the pain of others, and there are people who feign sympathy because they can benefit from the bereaved in some selfish way. We know this from harsh experience.
But we also know that reading about the pain of others can move us to tears. It can shake our hearts in ways that we do not always understand.
In one sense, this is love that transcends blood-relations.
This is love that binds people to each other through a common humanity. This love makes our hearts break.
But it must go beyond tears to become a commitment to fight injustice until we, too, will die.
Our editorial comment represents the composite viewpoint of the Editorial Team of Muslim Views, and is the institutional voice of the newspaper. Correspondence can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
This editorial comment appeared in the September 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.