For the past week, as I near the date of my return flight home, I’ve been immersed in social justice issues as I helped to organize DITSHWANELO’s Annual Human Rights Film Festival. The Festival screened eight films, exploring issues such as child trafficking, hip-hop culture and activism, HIV, genocide and Apartheid.
And for the weeks before that, as I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve been helping to coordinate the Children’s Rights Exhibitions to educate Batswana students about political violence in Zimbabwe as well as child rights – both controversial topics.
While all this has been going on, I’ve been bombarded with images and articles about Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Cote d’Ivoire whenever I have a spare moment to comb through Google News.
So, not to conjure up images of Ghosts of Elections Past, but everywhere, there seems to be one word reverberating with great force around the world once again: CHANGE. People are demanding it. Governments fear it, from Mugabe to Gaddafi.
I started really becoming preoccupied with this idea for the blog last Friday at the screening of David Forbes’ documentary “The Cradock Four” at the Film Festival. The film is about the murder of four anti-Apartheid activists in South Africa. Their murders were a major turning point for the collapse of the Apartheid regime and the release of Nelson Mandela.
After the film, the French Ambassador commented on the timeliness of Forbes’ film on the revolutionaries, given the present turmoil in the Arab World. Beginning with this comment, the rest of the discussion on the film centered on revolution, social justice and political change.
Even going back to my academic program, “development” in its simplest (if presumptuous) term, is often defined as a “positive change.”
Given these reflections, I’ve been thinking about social and political change, as well as the morality or ethics surrounding change. Two stanzas of Bob Dylan’s the “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” stick out to me:
Come senators, congressmen / Please heed the call / Don’t stand in the doorway / Don’t block up the hall / For he that gets hurt / Will be he who has stalled / There’s a battle outside ragin’. / It’ll soon shake your windows / And rattle your walls / For the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand / Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command / Your old road is Rapidly agin’ / Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’.
In essence, the lines I’m concerned with flesh out a couple of themes. First is that change is sweeping. No one can escape it and no one escapes unchanged themselves. But secondly, even as we advocate for any sort of positive changes, we are implicitly criticizing what we perceive as dated. Sometimes we do this without full comprehension of what it is we are hoping to replace (something the song doesn’t cover). Because change affects so many people, any advocate for change must understand what it is they are seeking to change too.
Mma Ramotswe, proprietress of the too-good-to-be-true-it-must-be-fiction No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is always talking about the Old Botswana and the New Botswana. The Old Botswana is synonymous with her youth and her father, representing respect and morality. The New Botswana of her middle-age is full of immorality and the permeation of Botswana with Western culture and influence.
I realize that I’ve taken change for granted. As I came into Botswana almost three months ago, I came brimming with the neo-Gramscian ideals of social change that NGO workers and human rights activist always seem to espouse. I took for granted that I would be doing good, working with a human rights organization.
Without much of a thought to the Old Botswana, I came ready to transform the New Botswana into the New and Improved Botswana.
Practically, at the end of the term, I very much feel that I have done good while in Botswana. But at the same time, after spending several conversations with Batswana talking about human rights and DITSHWANELO, attending a kgotla (local government session) and helping to organize interviews with dikgosi (local chiefs) I’m aware that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the organization’s work from youth, adults, elders, traditional and government officials.
But, intellectually, I’m left with one critical question: is DITSHWANELO a subaltern organization working to reverse inequalities in Botswana? OR is DITSHWANELO a hegemonic agent, guided by Western ideas of freedom and justice?
These questions, concerned with the dialectic between cultural relativity versus universalism, are by no means new. But as I prepare my final internship report and pack up by belongings to head back to Canada, I’ve found that they are useful reflective tools for thinking about my own role in the development process.