by Jessica Horn
Mtu ni watu. A person is people. Or maybe a person is not a person without other people. By defending other people you become a person.
But what if that person is a woman who speaks luminous truths to dictatorial power? What if she is a woman that breathes the words “let us all have a chance to thrive” with so much dignity that the police don’t know how to respond. And so they comply with routine. They detain her as they try and concoct legal offenses that will at least put this woman in jail and out of sight, with the hopes that the people she made people through her community work and activism would forget her eventually.
Unjust imprisonment has always been a weapon of choice for those on the wrong side of history.
We are among the children of a generation that benefited from the sacrifices of liberation. Sankara, Lumumba, Biko and Machel are not friends we lost but names of streets that we walk through in town. Some of us have preserved the memory of their honourable example in collections of first edition books, their covers worn with time and reading. Others reblog quotes, screenprint their faces on t-shirts.
To remember a little is better than not remembering at all.
But there are those whose names we never even called in the official record. Women who found their way to the ‘bush’, those who organised and educated and protected and risked because they knew they had to for all of us to know fresh air, healthy bodies, decent work, uncensored imagination.
These women are not street names. They are the streets.
Gentleness is the nemesis of violence.
For every ‘ Father’ of liberation there is a woman who struggled- there is a Freedom Nyamubaya, a Pauline Dempers, a Wangaari Mathaai, an Aminetou Mint Moctar, a Yara Salaam, a Sanaa Seif.
Freedom, Pauline, Wangaari, Aminetou, Yara, Sanaa. Know their names. Learn the names of others like them. Place their names in your mouth. Teach them to us. Speak them with love.
We are Africans but wisdom is human. Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones the Irish-American labour organiser of the last century was on to something when she said, “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
Mtu ni watu. A person is people. Or rather a person is not a person without other people. By defending other people you become a person.
We defend the women who defend us. Mtu ni watu. We become people by saying that our sisters have the right to be free people too.
Jessica Horn is a feminist activist, writer and technical advisor on women’s rights – passionate about the struggle for African women to live empowered, healthy lives in their bodies. As an analyst she publishes regularly in professional journals and media platforms including openDemocracy and Al Jazeera and is also a published poet.