Softness shines through harshness of Flats

Softness shines through harshness of Flats Adnan Sarwar Photo: Medium

We can get very parochial, and not in a good, value-your-parish kind of way. More and more I find this about so many aspects of Irish media, and public life in general. We think our issues are of global significance, sometimes a laughable hubris in the eyes of the universe.

These thoughts were prompted by last Friday’s Unreported World (Channel 4). Subtitled ‘Schools Under Siege’, it looked at gang wars in the Capetown Flats area in South Africa and how a local school gets caught in the crossfire between the warring drug gangs – the principal showed us the bullet holes in the school building.

Primary school children behind the school fence were chanting for peace, but the real fear was that many of these same children would get drawn into the gangs, and before they got much older.

The statistics were horrifying – 47 people murdered over the weekend the film crew visited, 1,000 children murdered in the last five years, a six-year old girl killed in crossfire soon after the crew left.

It’s part of the style of the programme that the reporter, in this case Adnan Sarwar, is central to the story, and perhaps too much so. Supportive and empathic, he focused on a young boy Mariezaan, cheerful in school, but getting caught up in the violence – he had already started a junior gang and carried a scissors for self-defence, his father used heroin and hung out with gang members, his mother was a former drug addict.


Yet his inherent softness was painfully obvious in an insightful interview when he was in tears talking about his mother and their close bond– he wanted to get her to a better place and that bond kept him from getting more deeply involved with the gangs.

His simple words hit home – “I can change everything of me but not my family…every night we pray…I can’t handle all the stuff at home”. Though I’d like to have seen the school situation getting more attention, it was a hugely thought provoking episode, and should give us all perspective on the things we complain about at home.

That same day, RTÉ News had extensive coverage of the Youth Assembly on Climate Change in Leinster House. These children could discuss the things that bothered them without the danger of being shot in crossfire. They are privileged, though I don’t mean that in a bad sense – nowadays it’s seems as if one must apologise for being so. How idealistic and articulate they were was impressive, though I think there is a danger of climate alarmism and hysteria that will not ultimately serve their cause.

And I was struck by the irony of these children having discussions in the same chamber where their very right to be born was legislated away so recently.

Some of a conservative leaning can be very dismissive of young climate change activists, and yes there are valid concerns, but would such critics be complaining if there was a mass movement of children campaigning and school-striking to regain their right to be born?

I suspect such critics would cheer, but also reckon that the powers-that-be would then revert to talking about ‘exclusion zones’ and ‘the integrity of the school year’.

Speaking of integrity, I was impressed by religious affairs journalists Anne Thompson and Inés San Martín who were interviewed by Michael Comyn last Friday on The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1). These American journalists have covered all matters Catholic in the last few years, Thompson for NBC and San Martin for CruxNow.

San Martín emphasised her duty of “due diligence” as a journalist, to uncover and share the truth. No doubt there are times when, for legal or other reasons, wisdom dictates that she may have to guard or retain the truth, e.g. for fear of libel.

The truth doesn’t always mean bad news – she said that good news always pops up!

She acknowledged the good will in the Vatican media section but said they really needed a bigger team. Thompson also thought the Vatican needed to be quicker with their responses – in relation to the devastating Pennsylvania Report on clerical child abuse she found responses slow – nowadays, she said, people don’t want to wait, the world expects and is used to prompt responses.

I get the point, but reflection is needed too – they’d want to get it somewhere between knee-jerk and slow!


Pick of the Week
EWTN, Saturday (night), November 23, 1.15 am, also Sunday, November 24, 11 am

Message on Nuclear Weapons: Live from the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki, Japan. Start of extensive EWTN coverage of the visit.

BBC1 NI, Monday, November 24, pm, BBC 2 NI, Thursday, November 28, 11.15 pm

Through powerful and revealing interviews, these are the stories of pupils and teachers whose lives were forever changed by the violence in Northern Ireland.

EWTN, Thursday (night), November 28, 3 am

The story of Fr. John F. Harvey, the founding director of ‘Courage’, a ministry to persons with same-sex attraction.