Roy Sesana’s Speech Is One of The Most Powerful I have Ever Read: This Is What Leadership Looks Like

By Roy Sesana / survivalinternational.org

Roy Sesana gave this speech when he accepted the Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm in 2005. We read this years ago and wanted to share it with you, because it's one of those rare speeches that we have wanted to read again and again over the years. It is profound and important beyond words.

Roy Sesana

Above all, it is so inspiring to us. This is what true leadership looks like. In its entirety it is wisdom that transcends time and culture, and perhaps that's why we think everyone will find something beautiful in this. – Films For Action

“My name is Roy Sesana; I am a Gana Bushman from the Kalahari in what is now called Botswana. In my language, my name is 'Tobee' and our land is 'T//amm'. We have been there longer than any people has been anywhere.

When I was young, I went to work in a mine. I put off my skins and wore clothes. But I went home after a while. Does that make me less Bushman? I don't think so.I am a leader. When I was a boy we did not need leaders and we lived well. Now we need them because our land is being stolen and we must struggle to survive. It doesn't mean I tell people what to do, it's the other way around: they tell me what I have to do to help them.

I cannot read. You wanted me to write this speech, so my friends helped, but I cannot read words – I'm sorry! But I do know how to read the land and the animals. All our children could. If they didn't, they would have all died long ago. I know many who can read words and many, like me, who can only read the land. Both are important. We are not backward or less intelligent: we live in exactly the same up-to-date year as you. I was going to say we all live under the same stars, but no, they're different, and there are many more in the Kalahari. The sun and moon are the same.

I grew up a hunter. All our boys and men were hunters. Hunting is going and talking to the animals. You don't steal. You go and ask. You set a trap or go with bow or spear. It can take days. You track the antelope. He knows you are there, he knows he has to give you his strength. But he runs and you have to run. As you run, you become like him. It can last hours and exhaust you both. You talk to him and look into his eyes. And then he knows he must give you his strength so your children can live. When I first hunted, I was not allowed to eat. Pieces of the steenbok were burnt with some roots and spread on my body. This is how I learned. It's not the same way you learn, but it works well.

The farmer says he is more advanced than the backward hunter, but I don't believe him. His herds give no more food than ours. The antelope are not our slaves, they do not wear bells on their necks and they can run faster than the lazy cow or the herder. We run through life together. When I wear the antelope horns, it helps me talk to my ancestors and they help me. The ancestors are so important: we would not be alive without them. Everyone knows this in their heart, but some have forgotten. Would any of us be here without our ancestors? I don't think so.

I was trained as a healer. You have to read the plants and the sand. You have to dig the roots and become fit. You put some of the root back for tomorrow, so one day your grandchildren can find it and eat. You learn what the land tells you. When the old die, we bury them and they become ancestors. When there is sickness, we dance and we talk to them; they speak through my blood. I touch the sick person and can find the illness and heal it.

We are the ancestors of our grandchildren's children. We look after them, just as our ancestors look after us. We aren't here for ourselves. We are here for each other and for the children of our grandchildren.

Why am I here? Because my people love their land, and without it we are dying. Many years ago, the president of Botswana said we could live on our ancestral land forever. We never needed anyone to tell us that. Of course we can live where God created us! But the next president said we must move and began forcing us away.

They said we had to go because of diamonds. Then they said we were killing too many animals: but that's not true. They say many things which aren't true. They said we had to move so the government could develop us. The president says unless we change we will perish like the dodo. I didn't know what a dodo was. But I found out: it was a bird which was wiped out by settlers. The president was right. They are killing us by forcing us off our land. We have been tortured and shot at. They arrested me and beat me.

Thank you for the Right Livelihood Award. It is global recognition of our struggle and will raise our voice throughout the world. When I heard I had won I had just been let out of prison. They say I am a criminal, as I stand here today.

I say what kind of development is it when the people live shorter lives than before? They catch HIV/AIDS. Our children are beaten in school and won't go there. Some become prostitutes. They are not allowed to hunt. They fight because they are bored and get drunk. They are starting to commit suicide. We never saw that before. It hurts to say this. Is this 'development'?

We are not primitive. We live differently to you, but we do not live exactly like our grandparents did, nor do you. Were your ancestors 'primitive'? I don't think so. We respect our ancestors. We love our children. This is the same for all people.

We now have to stop the government stealing our land: without it we will die.

If anyone has read a lot of books and thinks I am primitive because I have not read even one, then he should throw away those books and get one which says we are all brothers and sisters under God and we too have a right to live.

That is all. Thank you.”

Roy Sesana – First People of the Kalahari, Botswana

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/roy-sesana-right-livelihood-speech/

 

From Miasma to Ebola: The History of Racist Moral Panic Over Disease

On October 1st, the New York Times published a photograph of a four-year-old girl in Sierra Leone. In the photograph, the anonymous little girl lies on a floor covered with urine and vomit, one arm tucked underneath her head, the other wrapped around her small stomach. Her eyes are glassy, returning the photographer’s gaze. The photograph is tightly focused on her figure, but in the background the viewer can make out crude vials to catch bodily fluids and an out-of-focus corpse awaiting disposal.

The photograph, by Samuel Aranda, accompanied a story headlined “A Hospital From Hell, in a City Swamped by Ebola.” Within it, the Times reporter verbally re-paints this hellish landscape where four-year-olds lie “on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open.” Where she will probably die amidst “pools of patients’ bodily fluids,” “foul-smelling hospital wards,” “pools of infectious waste,” all overseen by an undertrained medical staff “wearing merely bluejeans” and “not wearing gloves.”

Aranda's photograph is in stark contrast to the images of white Ebola patients that have emerged from the United States and Spain. In these images the patient, and their doctors, are almost completely hidden; wrapped in hazmat suits and shrouded from public view, their identities are protected. The suffering is invisible, as is the sense of stench produced by bodily fluids: these photographs are meant to reassure Westerners that sanitation will protect us, that contagion is contained.

Pernicious undertones lurk in these parallel representations of Ebola, metaphors that encode histories of nationalism and narratives of disease. African illness is represented as a suffering child, debased in its own disease-ridden waste; like the continent, it is infantile, dirty and primitive. Yet when the same disease is graphed onto the bodies of Americans and Europeans, it morphs into a heroic narrative: one of bold doctors and priests struck down, of experimental serums, of hazmat suits and the mastery of modern technology over contaminating, foreign disease. These parallel representations work on a series of simple, historic dualisms: black and white, good and evil, clean and unclean.

The Western medical discourse on Africa has never been particularly subtle: the continent is often depicted as an undivided repository of degeneration. Comparing the representations of disease in Africa and in the West, you can hear the whispers of an underlying moral panic: a sense that Africa, and its bodies, are uncontainable. The discussion around Ebola has already evoked—almost entirely from Tea Party Republicans—the explicit idea that American borders are too porous and that all manners of perceived primitiveness might infect the West.

And indeed, with the history of American and European panic over regulating foreign disease comes a history of regulating the perception of filth from beyond our borders, a history of policing non-white bodies that have signified some unclean toxicity.


If the history of modernity can, as Dominique Laporte suggests in his genealogical meditation History of Shit, be written as a triumph of cleanliness over bodily refuse, then so too could the European colonization of Africa and India. The sanitary crusade of the nineteenth century is central to the violent project of empire. Western medicine, with its emphasis on personal hygiene, functioned (and in some arenas still functions) as colonialism's benevolent cover—an acknowledgment that, while empire was about profit at all costs, that it could also conceal this motive slightly by concerning itself with bettering the health of debased bodies.

The bureaucratic annals of colonialism are filled with reports on the unsanitary conditions of life and unhygienic practices of natives. Dr. Thomas R. Marshall, an American in the Philippines, wrote of the “promiscuous defecation” of the “Filipino people.” An 1882 British report, “Indian Habits,” observed that, “The people of India seem to be very much the condition of children. They must be made clean by compulsion until they arrive at that degree of moral education when dirt shall become hateful to them, and then they will keep themselves clean for their own sakes.” Dirtiness and defecation indicated their primitiveness and savagery; it reaffirmed the white body's privileged position and claim to moral and medical modernity.

This intense focus on hygiene emerged from an old medical doctrine known as miasma. According to the miasma theory, illness was the direct result of the polluting emanations of filth: sewer gas, garbage fumes and stenches that permeated air and water, creating disease in the process. Filth, however, had many incarnations. It could be literal, or also a catch-all metaphorical designation for anything that made people uncomfortable about race, gender and sexuality. (This idea underpins phrases still in use today, for example: a “dirty whore”).

So, the medical mission of hygiene was simultaneously a moral and medical imperative. And it was this fervent belief in miasmas that led to colonial administrations deeply interested in the bodily fluids of bodies of color; as Lord Wellesley, the British governor of India, briefly noted in an 1803 report, “Indians defecate everywhere.”

But if colonial governments exercised concern over what they believed to be the contaminated cultures of native populations, it was more likely the result of panic over the health of their own officials and soldiers. “The white man's grave,” as one nineteenth-century British colonist called Sierra Leone, was a dangerous trap of foreign disease, carried by the contagious peoples who inhabited valuable land. Their culture, like their natural resources, must be conquered. Who better to do that then scientifically advanced westerners who valued cleanliness and life?

Miasma theory proved a powerful science through which to construct “the African” or “the Indian.” Long after its late-nineteenth-century demise and subsequent replacement with an epidemiological understanding of contagion, the metaphors it produced endured. The move from miasma theories to germ theories simply added pathological depth to older social resentments. Minorities might look clean: but who knew what invisible, contagious threats lurked within?

These stereotypes showed up everywhere. Take, for example, Victorian soap advertisements: ordinary markers of domesticity that, according to feminist scholar Anne McClintock, “persuasively mediated the Victorian poetics of racial hygiene and imperial progress.” In a Pears' Soap advertisement from around 1882, race is linked to dirtiness and ignorance: blacks could become clean (here, actually, white) if they just bathed; they barely know how to clean themselves; they need a white man to teach them cleanliness, civilization, culture, etc. More