Paris, Lampedusa, Nelson Mandela and the ability to forgive the unforgiveable

Dear friends, firstly I whish you all Mery Christmas – or happy holidays for those who do not believe. 

Secondly, you may wonder the link between the three topics of the title, but yes, there is at lest one. 

But let’s start from the beginning. Paris. Yes, after my summer job, I gave myself a small family tour and visited my people living in Paris and Italy. I spent almost a week there, and remember some impressions which may be unexpected coming from me, but that’s what I felt. 


I don’t know about the exact demographic figures, but there were lots of black people in Paris, really. Francophone Africans complain a lot about French influences and history in Africa, but the truth is that nowadays many African have found a better life in their country, which has become their country. I saw people from African descents working in every kind of jobs, engineers, recepcionists, policemen, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, etc. I also noticed that there were almost no white people in the suburbs areas, and that the Gare du Nord  undergound station was basically the starting point to travel to Africa. I was told that, as I saw black neigbourhoods, there were also Arabic and Chinese or Latino areas. I also experienced the feeling of frustration when I realised that banlieues where like other world, without order or law, a place where people sold grilled corns on the road and skipped paying the metro ticket. Just to nane a few misbehaving situations I saw. And this was not a black issue, but an issue about a precise area where people of foreign origins lived. People worked together, but did not live together, I felt quite strange about that. I definitely do not support acting against law nor racial segregation. 

I could also felt the black offspring’s pride, I saw very daring fashion styles, young people walking with their heads up and confident about themselves. People who felt at home, transmitting that inner courage to face the world. I like seeing people with good self-steem, but was it gemuine confidence? Hope so.

Anyway, France has got it history within, it is obvious that they first to Africa, and now Africa has come to France. Despite the offensive words against their black minister Christiane Taubira.


Then I went on to Italy. I must admit that I had bad prejudices about that country. I had only heard about racist issues concerning the football player star Balotelli or the newly arrived minister Celice Kengye. I had also learned that the whole population were mean towards black people living amongst them. I still don’t have a response about this. I opened my mind and went on, and to be honest, I felt wellcomed. It’s true that in Bergamo I was accompanied by a Spanish friend or his Italian friends, who showed me around. But from Bergamo to Torino, I was alone and found a lot of black peopleon my way. Especially Cameroonians and Senegalese guys. I learned that most of them came as students. I also saw many of them working along the street as in Spain. I loved Venice and fell welcomed in every single moment, which challenged my pre-asumptions about the country, but after all I was a tourist. It’s always different to spend money than to earn it in a foreign country. Yet, my uncle did told me that daily life was difficult. There were an explicit racism, especially towards blacks and Romanies or gypsies. Almost at the end of my stay, I watched the news of the tragedy of Lampedusa. Over 300 people died and the pictures were heartbreaking. Incredibly sad. The majority came from Somalia. I went back home with that dreadful impression.

I remember that Italian authorities stated national mourning days. Lots of volonteers went to give a hand and save the victims from the sunken boat. Yes, this is the way some of our people risk their lives to search for a better life in Europe nowadays! People are condenmed to live in poverty of corrupt countries, unless they are rich and grant holder students, they are denied to get a visa, free movement is almost impossible. These deadly pictures happen in Spain, in Italy, Greece…

Europeans were never asked a visa to travel to African nations, yet they refuse free movement of Africans today. I heard lots of good words about changing this shamefull laws, even from the Pope from Argentina. Some voices criticised European governments, but I criticise African authorities. I did not heard of  official mourning days by the African Union or any other authority from our countries of origin. Non of them offered to take the corpses back home and give them a traditional funeral. This shows us where the problem lies. Not only we are denied some basic rights as the freedom of movement, but we are also meaningless to our politicians. Doble shame. It seems like we only depend on our own fate, no institutional assistance other than foreign charity. And since we are poor, we will keep on accepting this charity.

This leads me to the death of Nelson Mandela. Few months ago I was lectured about the Apartheid system, the incredibly miserable atrocities commited by the afrikaners on local black majority, with tolerance of international powers such as the USA, UK or France. I saw pictures about the Shaperville massacre, so striking. And then I realised how generous black South Africans were and still are. If something similar had happened in other country, the white minority would have been eliminated after recovering political power. That’s why Nelson Mandela was so great. Because he embodied this generosity, and taught the world that we, black people, could forgive the unforgiveable. Victims could live and work with their former torturers… but not only that, he also managed to make sure that economic power remained in former hands. He was very much criticised for this. But, looking trough modern African history, looking at the fates of Patrick Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Mamadou Dia… Those who dared to dream of a proper change of the status quo…They were killed. Did Mandela really have other choice than to foster the rainbow nation? I think that, from many perspectives: no. Militarily and economically, he was in a weaker position. He was just clever enough to make it happen without greater violence and giving dignity both to black population and white South Africans. 

I felt very bad about his death. Because I think he was a great man, but overall because I think his transition remained unfinished. Poverty is still overwhelmingly present within black communities. The difference is that unlike many of us, they seem to trust their country and do not emigrate desperately.

I always wonder why we use terms like “African Americans”, but not about European -Africans. How do they feel about themselves? I guess a mix of guilt and pride. I read somewhere these days that white South Africans were more in love of Madiba than black ones. May be because he did not ask them to forgive their once torturers or share their money with poorer citizens? Who knows…

By coincidence, last  October I participated in the African Film Festival of Cordoba, and guess what… the only few people I met from South Africa were 2 white women and an Indian-descent girl. And nobody made a big deal about them being non-black and calling themselves Africans. Nor were they labelled “European- African”, it was obvious that they had European features somewhere. One of them, a cimena expert teaching African cinema in London, wore a typical African dress in the closing night and looked wonderfully happy and without any kind of complex. 

Only then, I suddenly understood why this man was called the ‘Father of the nation’. He made millions of white grand children feel at home. We still have a long way ahead to find a white European leader who will made us feel at home in Europe. After decades of migration, we are just a non stable minority is Europe, risking our lives only to get here, and afterwards, we have to deal with people like Marine Le Pen in France.


PS: What do you think? If you were a black South African, how would you feel about your white fellow citizens? And if you are from S. Africa, please give your feedback. 

Happy New Year to all. May life you a bit of your dreams during this year 2014. I myself am dealing with a kind of transition, from student life to professional life. Transitions are never easy to handle, as history teaches us. Those in weaker position always have to give more than they receive… in order to reach peace. Or not.