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 Penny Jamieson:

Media turns blind eye
to 'routine' violence


There is a great deal of news that does not get published in the press but which gets widely circulated in e-mail and on web sites.   There is a sense,  of course,  in which Internet news is in the public domain,  but,  if it is not taken up and republished in our domestic media,  it does not become part of our common conversation.

While the election in Zimbabwe,  at the beginning of last month,  was world news and a topic of divisive debate at the Brisbane meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers,  it was in the minds,  and the prayers,  of many of us.   But over the last month I have received a number of very distressing e-mails from friends from Zimbabwe that have alerted me to the violence that does not capture the attention of our national press.   We did hear the story of the murder of a white farmer and saw the pictures of his funeral,  but there have been many other stories of the cruel torture and murder of black people.   And there is the consistent desire to silence the opposition by whatever means.

Spokespeople for the Movement for Democratic Change  (MDC)  are calling for the return of the international observers that were in the country to monitor the elections.   Clearly,  those who oppose President Robert Mugabe felt much safer while the eyes of the world were on their country,  and they want those eyes to return so that we are all aware of the ongoing suffering that is the current lot of innocent Zimbabweans.   But unless we are involved,  or unless the international media is interested,  or unless something new and dramatic happens,  we tend not to notice suffering when it becomes "routinized",  as in Zimbabwe.   And of course there are many other such places in the world where suffering has become so commonplace that we no longer have the interest or the energy to notice.

But grief is not the only news that fails to get our attention.   Good news is also unexciting.   In 1998,  when I was at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion,  I worked in a small group with Bishop Dinis Sengulane from Mozambique,  another country that has been grievously torn about by conflict.   At that time peace was both new and precious,  and the major concern was,  as so often follows hostilities,  the dangerous legacy of illegally held weapons left behind after prolonged conflict.   It is the same problem faced by Afghanistan and even Northern Ireland.

In Mozambique,  people were invited to hand their weapons in and to use the material they were made with to make useful items.   I remember well the story of one woman who had received a sewing machine in exchange for a gun and who,  for the first time in her life,  was making a living.   They called it the "Swords into Ploughshare" project  (Micah 4:3).   I have recently read of an exhibition in London,  arranged by Christian Aid,  of sculptures  (musical instruments,  furniture,  people and animals)  made from small arms collected in the "Swords into Ploughshares" project.  

In Mozambique,  as many as seven million weapons were hidden at the end of the civil war in 1992,  and the entire population is only 17.5 million.   The "Swords into Ploughshares" project which started seven years ago,  has destroyed over 200,000 guns,  grenades and rocket launchers.   And the people who gave up their weapons receive tools in return  –  hoes,  bicycles,  construction materials,  as well as sewing machines.

Dinis Sengulane says:  "I tell people that sleeping with a gun in your bedroom is like sleeping with a snake  –  one day it will turn round and bite you.   We tell people we are not disarming you.   We are transforming your guns into ploughshares,  so you can cultivate your land and get your daily bread."

Pray for the peace of Zimbabwe.


This article was first published in the Otago Daily Times of April 9,  2002.
The Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson is the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.

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