As a journalist, I come across a multitude of things and people in my field of work. Some of these are for stories that I have to do, or sometimes it’s interesting people with a story to tell. You know, the lay of my land type of thing…
Today, during some background research on a article that I had to write, I needed to brush up on my history. The topic: Emily Hobhouse.
I always knew of the name through projects that I had to do in school and constantly hear her name whenever people started discussing the Anglo Boer War, but never really got what the fuss was about (former teachers and mentors: please excuse me, but I’m just being honest).
To me, she was just some forgotten icon that did something during a war that most South African people refuse to talk about. It was a typical “meh”-situation to me.
Needless to say, I went to read up on her.
Although I don’t regard Wikipedia as a credible source, we journalists love to use it a lot to brush up on quick information.
And quite to my shock and surprise, Emily’s entry on Wikipedia, left me speechless.
For the first time I stared at shock and awe at what Emily had actually done and meant to many Afrikaner women and children during the war.
Exposing the almost Nazi-like conditions in which they were forced to live in, Emily made sure the world knew about a truth that was being hidden away from the English.
Confessing in letters and documents how she needed to drastically put a stop to some of these terrible things, how children were dying of famine, typhoid and other diseases while mom’s and dad’s stood by helpless with no power at all.
Just to capture what Emily had to witness, I can quote the following from one of her many letters:
“The women are wonderful. They cry very little and never complain. The very magnitude of their sufferings, their indignities, loss and anxiety seems to lift them beyond tears… only when it cuts afresh at them through their children do their feelings flash out. Some people in town still assert that the Camp is a haven of bliss. I was at the camp to-day, and just in one little corner this is the sort of thing I found – The nurse, underfed and overworked, just sinking on to her bed, hardly able to hold herself up, after coping with some thirty typhoid and other patients, with only the untrained help of two Boer girls–cooking as well as nursing to do herself. Next tent, a six months’ baby gasping its life out on is mother’s knee. Two or three others drooping sick in that tent. Next, a girl of twenty-one lay dying on a stretcher. The father, a big, gentle Boer kneeling beside her; while, next tent, his wife was watching a child of six, also dying, and one of about five drooping. Already this couple had lost three children in the hospital and so would not let these go, though I begged hard to take them out of the hot tent. I can’t describe what it is to see these children lying about in a state of collapse. It’s just exactly like faded flowers thrown away. And one has to stand and look on at such misery, and be able to do almost nothing.
It was a splendid child and it dwindled to skin and bone… The baby had got so weak it was past recovery. We tried what we could but today it died. It was only 3 months but such a sweet little thing… It was still alive this morning; when I called in the afternoon they beckoned me in to see the tiny thing laid out, with a white flower in its wee hand. To me it seemed a “murdered innocent”. And an hour or two after another child died. Another child had died in the night, and I found all three little corpses being photographed for the absent fathers to see some day. Two little wee white coffins at the gate waiting, and a third wanted. I was glad to see them, for at Springfontein, a young woman had to be buried in a sack, and it hurt their feelings woefully…”
She is still, to this day, hailed as one of South Africa’s bravest heroines who went out of her way to make a different and stop oppression and war it’s barbaric tracks.
With wars sparking up in 2013 one after the other, I think it’s time that we need another hero like Emily to make a difference and open the eyes of the privileged and those who can help to what is really happening out there in stricken countries like Syria, Egypt, Cameroon, the DRK and North Korea.
And, even if we use to have wars and civil unrest in our countries, we should never forget icons like Emily at all and be able to make them live on, so that our children will know who they were and what they stood for, and not how to operate an iPhone…
I dedicate this blog post to those hero’s out there who stood up for what they believe to make a difference and change the world.