Once there was Phokojwe (the Fox). He threatened Leeba (the Dove) that he would eat her children if she did not give them to him; “throw or I jump” he said, and Leeba decided to throw down one child to save her family. This decision pained her because Phokojwe ate the child in plain sight. For this act, Leeba was guilt ridden and inconsolable. Her despair caught the attention of Moholodi (the Blue Crane) who revealed that in fact, Phokojwe can’t jump! The danger was a ruse.
On 14 July 2021, BBC’s Thuthuka Zondi captured an image of a two year old child being thrown from a burning building by a mother in Durban (Kwazulu Natal, South Africa). Like Leeba, she was faced with a difficult choice, and when she threw her child, rather than feeding the treacherous Phokojwe, the child fell into the safety of human hands and spirit. In South Africa, the extraordinary events within which this image was captured, call for a pause. A moment to breathe.
In many parts of the world, including Cuba, and eSwatini and South Africa, citizens have had to make life and death decisions that demonstrate both courage and despair in the face of violence, instigated by political unrests. These are happening against the background of new Covid 19 variants, causing unprecedented grief and trauma caused by illness or loss of life begun by the pandemic and now compounded by death due to political unrests.
A decade ago, the United Nations observed the systematic exclusion of children’s voices on matters that concern them, as a violation of their rights as contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC). In 2011, the UN Special Session on Children (UNGASSoC), sought an unprecedented direction to imagine a world fit for children WITH them and not FOR them. Consequently, children’s voices fed into the declaration that was ratified by all the countries, but USA, at the time. Since then, many promises have been upheld and many broken. Many hashtags have come and gone, and the impact of UNGASSoC can be witnessed through the then children who are now parents or guardians. We have seen increased activism from young people, such as then-15 year old Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning young woman, who survived being shot due to her activism against restrictions on education of girls placed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s TTP. She has since been an ASSITEJ World Day Message writer. Unfortunately, to date, not enough has been done to ensure that those who make decisions on behalf of children, do so embracing UNCRC principles such as “the best interests of the child” and not out of fear like Leeba, or contemptuous mindsets like Phokojwe.
As artists we need to provide images to counter the images of violence that we see in our streets or in the media. Let’s listen to the voices of children.
From South Africa, Ntalo-khanyisa Lerato Motsieloa Silindane (5) shares that “hands are for hugging, not for pushing, not for beating, not for punching or pushing or smacking”.
From the United States of America, 22 year old Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman reminds us that “there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it”.
As a run up to UNGASSoC, Save the Children created a Big Book through which children could creatively express a route toward a World Fit For Children.
In South Africa, July is the month dedicated to honour the life of Former President Nelson Mandela, who was born on 18 July. On this particular day, the world dedicates 67 minutes toward acts of kindness. Let us use this opportunity to mobilise images and narratives that remind us that we can never fall prey to Phokojwe, because we now know better. Perhaps through light, we can avoid the demise of Leeba and have the last laugh.