In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma reflects on her experiences covering the conflict in South Sudan


Suddenly, a figure comes walking from the desert between me and the mountains.
I know without looking that it’s a human on its back. The figure turns;
its face is half hidden in the desert; its hands are in its pockets. A shadow
of the figure is the first thing that enters the micro lens, a man walking in
the darkness.

For a moment, it seems the man is facing a wall. The micro lens’s camera
captures the face, as if a hole had appeared. It’s the same man. The camera
also captures the man’s face: its eyes are open, staring at something that
may never pass. I feel his gaze and hear his breath. The man turns back to
heave towards me. He falls on me. He takes me over and then over again.

I hear him crying, as if I’m a blanket, a blanket to hold him. And he whispers
at the end of it all: “He’ll find you. He’ll find you.”

I don’t understand. I’ve never heard a human cry. I’ve heard a dog or a cat
cry or just the wind. But a human, a man, a human crying, to me, would mean a
different thing than a dog or a cat cry. It wasn’t in my mind that was going
to happen, but instead, it was another thing. It was a promise, a hope, a
wish, a thing inside me that wanted to happen and in which I was trying to
imitate it.

I think to myself, “He’s going to love you.”

I am not a man. I’m just the most powerful man that will ever come to this
planet. I have no power; I’m worthless. But if I don’t love, I’m not alive.

I’m here. I’m here. My heart says it’s alive. But I can’t see inside of it,
not right at that moment. I’m not even sure if I believe in my own heart. I
have to believe in the camera lens to believe in my own heart, but it doesn’t
come with the camera.

I’m here. But everything is all wrong. I don’t know if it’s here to be
loved, or if it’s here to see the world. I don’t know if it’s here to be loved
or if it’s here to see all the pain, all the horror, all the sadness, all the
death. If it’s here to see it, then I should be seeing it.

I don’t know if my heart is still beating, or if it’s dying. It could be
sitting in an oven, or in a fire, or it could be dead, but it’s not here, its
here, but it’s not here, its there, and I haven’t even seen all the things it
can see. Now, I know that I don’t know, because it’s not the same as me.

I don’t know if I’m alive or if I’m dead. I don’t know if I’m here and I’m
not here and I’m here and I’m not here. I’m here.

I’m here.

“Why are you doing this?” I ask.

I don’t know if I’m alive or not, I don’t know if I’m here and I’m not here
and I’m here. I’m here.

“You’re just a puppet,” I say.

I don’t know if I’m alive or not, I don’t know if I’m here and I am here
and I am not here, and I’m here.

“Let go of me!” I whisper.

“No,” I say.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Let go!” I scream.

I don’t know if I’m alive or not, I don’t know if I’m here and I am here
and I am not here, and I’m here.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Well,” I say, “I know that I’m here.”

“We’ll see about that,” I say.

And then, I think, “It has to be here,” but I don’t know how, because my
mind is gone, my thoughts are gone. Everything in my life is gone, but I have
no idea how I’m here. I’m like a man in the desert with a body that doesn’t
even have a heartbeat.

“I don’t understand,” I ask.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” I say.

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