We are West Papua: Benny Wenda, ULMWP and Free West Papua Campain in Africa


Benny Wenda, the West Papuan Independence leader and Spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), met with various community activists and leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandla Mandela, Pastor Xola Skosana of the Way of life Church (now Kilombo village) in Khayelitsha, to mention a few among many, on his most recent visit to South Africa. On the 21st of November 2015 at his public lecture in Cape Town, Wenda recounted very sad accounts of the excruciating experiences he went through during his childhood. Once, he watched his aunt being raped by the heavily armed Indonesian soldiers. And while in school, a young light-skinned Indonesian girl spat on his face only because he is black. The colour of his skin was supposedly the crime he had committed. His was a wrong skin, or is it? This school incident was his first direct experience of the problem of racism and later on fighting to free his people from the vices of racism and colonialism, he lamented, 'You think that because I am black, because I am Papuan, that I am dirty? I have eyes, I have hands, I am human - just like you. We are both human and we deserve to be treated the same. With respect.'

Benny Wenda’s experiences are not unique in any way but a microcosm of the grinding state of torture, humiliation and intimidation the West Papuans go through on a daily basis. I can only imagine the degree of physical and psychological damage to the women and children living under this constant state of terror, humiliation and intimidation. This gripping story is not new on the African continent. It is a very old story. Those who have read 'King Leopold’s Ghost' are quite familiar with the heinous scenes of the atrocities committed in Joseph Conrad’s heart of darkness - the mineral rich Democratic Republic of Congo – as well as apartheid South Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, everywhere, and in certain instances resulting in mass migration of the indigenous people.

So who are the Papuans? 

The West Papuans are Africans who migrated from Africa 'tens of thousands' of years ago and they are the indigenous people of West Papua. They have a very rich culture and their country is rich with mineral resources. Did you know that the gold mine with the largest gold reserves in the whole world is in West Papua? Unfortunately like in many African countries these resources do not filter to the common Papuan on the ground. Multi-national companies make staggering profits and ship huge profits to their mother countries, leaving Papuans living in grinding poverty. There is huge concern among environmentalists that mass destruction of vegetation by Indonesia is contributing significantly to climate change.

West Papua lies on the world’s second largest island, North of Australia, making up the western half of the island of New Guinea. They got their independence in 1961 from the Dutch colonialists but unfortunately they were recolonised three months later by the Indonesian military government. And for the past fifty years they have been under Indonesian occupation. Students, journalists and activists are behind bars for fighting for their rights, which they are currently denied by the Indonesian government. Some political activists including Filep Karma have been jailed for more than 15 years for daring to raise the West Papuan (Morning Star) flag. Until today, tens of thousands of men, women and children have been raped, tortured and killed. The world is turning a blind eye to this hidden genocide. Where is the United Nations? Where is the African Union? Where is the African leadership? Where is the African Intelligentsia?

To conclude let me borrow the profound words of the renowned African writer, Mtutuzeli Nyoka from his amazing book, 'I speak to the silent' when he said 'one day we will have to answer for the atrocities that are being committed in our silence'. Let us all speak out about this hidden genocide and raise awareness. 

The West Papua Campaign managed to collect 1,8 million signatures from West Papua, 70% of the total indigenous population. This speaks to the need of West Papua self-determination. Let us join hands in supporting the struggle for freedom and independence in West Papua. For more information go on the FREE WEST PAPUA CAMPAIGN facebook page. #LetWestPapuaVote #ReferendumForWest Papua. Merdeka Papua.

Free West Papua Solidarity Campaign-Cape Town. Aluta Continua.

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