There is a time to die and a time to live (in Africa there is always more time to die) but there is also a time to brand. Cattle owners and slave drivers did it. The Nazis did it on Jews. Meles Zenawi’s guerrillas used the scythe to singe and brand their innocent victims. Branding was in for long and may be due for a comeback if we are to heed the advice of a Swazi member of parliament. He demanded that people with AIDS be branded so that their potential victims get a forewarning as they are being prepared for a dangerous foreplay. An interesting idea, to say the least.
But the Swazi MP could not withstand the hue and cry by Swazi men and had to withdraw the suggestion. Swazi Member of Parliament and gospel singer, Pastor Timothy Myeni, has now blamed the devil for suggesting at an MPs’ workshop that there should be a law making it “compulsory to test for HIV” and that people testing positive should be “branded on the buttocks”. Here is a news report on his retraction:
“The devil has trapped me so that he celebrates that, from a Christian, such an uncalled for statement has come out. I am very sincere. I am very sorry. I understand very well that this was a blunder”, said Pastor Myeni at a media conference, in Johannesburg.
“There are infants who get infected in the womb or during birth. Does he want HIV-positive infants to be branded also? What does he say about rape survivors?”, asked one angry official without explaining if he was talking of women or men rape victims and why the branding should not involve babies with Aids. Myeni has retracted but his was an interesting suggestion.
Swaziland is a country where a young king marries young maidens and carelessly spends the country’s meagre resources over cars and palaces for himself and his women. His 13 wives shop in Dubai most of the time and his birthday parties cost millions while the Aids afflicted people suffer for lack of drugs. He ordered the Swazi girls and women not to have sex for five years, not to wear miniskirts and long pants and then goes on to hold the so called Reed Dance ceremony during which more than 50,000 bare breasted and scantily clothed young girls vie to be the absolute monarch’s next wife–for the money and prestige of course. The king, Mswati III, uses this ceremony to acquire young maidens as his wives. Shouldn’t such a person be branded on both his buttocks as a profligate, polygamist and tyrant? MP Myeni’s branding idea could very well have been an idea whose time has come but he was cowardly and threw it on and to the Devil.
To begin with, there is no reason why the branding should be for Aids carriers alone and why it should only be done on the behinds. If branding as a warning and as ID catches on, it can be used for tyrants, embezzlers, official thieves, decadent politicians, “genociders”, mass killers and more. Imagine the corrupt tyrants with a big THIEF brand on their foreheads. They will never show their ugly faces in public. The brutal military regime in Ethiopia did try its own sort of branding when it unleashed the Red Terror against its opponents (mainly the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party) and nailed an “I am a counterrevolutionary” placard on the foreheads of the murdered EPRP followers. It did not catch on because the brander was the one that had to be branded and exposed while, on the other hand, popular branding by people on the tyrants can catch on.
There is branding and there is branding and the Nazi numbers branding is out of date unless we insist on branding Sassou Ngueso and his likes N° 1 Thief. African tyrants who like to be called N° 1 Patriot and N° 1 Genius could deserve to be called number one Despots and Robbers. Branding the forehead may not also be very effective given that fact that with fundamentalism spreading not only women but also bearded fanatical men cover their foreheads. The hands can also be covered with Michael Jackson gloves. Thus, where to brand becomes a problem.
Lest some ill intentioned people think that the Swazi pastor is one more African savage advocating a cruel act, let me say that branding people is an old practice of the Western civilizations. Romans branded thieves with the letter F and burning people with iron was also considered punishment. The Greeks did burn and brand. Res servus est, the slave was a thing, a biological entity somewhere there with any ordinary livestock who had to be dehumanized to make it know its place. Following the Romans and Greeks, Americans and Europeans branded their slaves (in most cases black: Bury the Chains, by the American author Adam Hochschild, indicates that the church’s missionary organisation, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, branded its slaves on the chest with the word SOCIETY) just as they branded their cattle. The practice of branding did spread to affect deserters, adulterers, blasphemers and prisoners. Branding was legal in ancient laws of England. “The British Mutiny Act of 1858 provided that the court martial may, in addition to any other penalty, order deserters to be marked on the left side, 2 inch below the armpit, with the letter “D”, such letter to be not less than an inch long. In 1879 this was abolished”.
The Dutch, the Spaniards and the Peruvians were cruel slave holders often joining branding to neutering of the slaves. Yet, there are those who argued that branding gave the slave a sense of pride, it was proof he belonged to someone, had an identity and was not a “nobody”. Nowadays, the border police take our photos and finger prints so that no rejected modern slave flees to another country and becomes an accepted immigrant (or slave). It must be said that not all branding, or facial marking, was done involuntarily. Many Africans cut their faces with knives to carve “railways lines” or designs to show their ethnic identity and/or social status. You brand yourself and you differ and, as one Nigerian put it, based on that difference you slaughter or get slaughtered.
The problematic of where to brand lingers. Below the armpits is a hidden place where many eyes do not get the chance or the will to go. The Swazi pastor suggested the buttocks but that is only visible if one takes of trousers and pants– and even poorly clad Africans manage to cover that part somehow. In other parts, the Burka–type covers frustrate any branding on any part of the face. The shame is thus hidden, the ID not seen. The Swazi pastor also made the mistake of assuming the males in his place will be nude when they spread the virus with diligence and cruelty. Given the fact that people tattoo themselves anywhere and everywhere with meaningless designs and indecipherable characters the ideal place for the revealing and exposing branding may not be found that easily. Can the Devil help? Maybe, hopefully.
But branding is an idea whose time has come. Imagine our joy if we could see the despots that have made our life miserable carved up with a big DD on their foreheads: Decadent Despots. Time to carve them up, time to brand them all. R for racists, B for those disciples of Bush and his butcheries, T for tyrants, MM for mass murderers, G for those who commit genocide, E for embezzlers, S for stooges, C for the corrupts, and a big MO for monsters, scoundrels, Talibans, ruffians, marauding militias, sick fanatics, mad mullahs, the Joseph Konys and other such disasters who have made the world a terrible place to live in.