‘I thought the Sydney Peace Prize was a hoax!’

By Ece Koc

The recipient of the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize,  Zimbabwean Senator Sekai Holland was in the A9 TV Studios recently, answering questions about the latest situation in Zimbabwe, how the country crawled its way back out of turmoil and a crippled economy, and the latest turmoil in Syria.

Sekai Holland of Zimbabwe is a familiar name in the international peace community. After having worked years for human rights and ending the  culture of violence in her country, and going through nine hours of torture for her actions, Holland finally got the attention she deserved and received the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize for her efforts for peace. She recently was a guest in the A9 TV studios in the peace-promoting TV show Building Bridges.

Sekai recounted her journey of a lifetime, which she began as a child: ‘I think most of the time, people like me become who they are because of something which happens to them, which makes them realize things differently. First of all, I think my family, my father and mother played a great role in my quest for peace’. ‘However’, she says ‘the torture was the final straw’: ‘11th March 2007 (the date of torture), really made me see that we needed to take serious action to bring peace to Zimbabwe’.

In March 2007, she was arrested and brutally tortured in a Harare Police station with 139 leaders of the MDC. She sustained a broken arm, a broken leg, fractured ribs, and over 80 lacerations to her entire body caused by whipping, beating, and being stamped on by the torturers. Sekai spent 15 weeks in hospitals in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia including eight months in Australia, to begin to recover.

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Asked about Syria, she said that Syrians need to put aside their differences and see what they have in common: ‘In Syria, the Syrian language, Syrian culture, the environment of Syria, the history of Syria, should be enough motivation for people of Syria to declare that they must work together. They must put all differences aside and put Syria first. Why put Syria first? For the sake of themselv to have love and happiness now. For their children and grandchildren to come. Syrians must really start to understand how important those things are for them.’ She adds that today with the influence of the social media, you can easily see the damage and continues: ‘(Seeing all this damage) should be enough to determine for you to say no, we cannot continue to destroy, we must fight to build. ‘

When asked a question about the reason behind all this conflict, she believes that unfair distribution of resources is the largest origin of  the problem and the second reason is the lack of teaching people the need for peace.

Holland has a humorous story as to her Sydney Prize. She says that ten years before the prize, she received a hoax email claiming that she won one million pounds and that put her off many years: ‘So ten years ago I received an email saying that I won one million pounds. I got very excited and I screamed and went to my husband, ‘Our problems are finished!’. He looked at it and said to me: ‘Listen, this is a hoax’. I was very upset, I realized that there were many people who believed in it. So ten years later when I received this email, that I won Sydney Peace Prize, I went through it, ‘Ah, junk’. So my husband goes through the ‘junk e-mail’. Because I normally throw away very good things. And he came back very enthusiastically, saying ‘You won’. I said ‘When?’. He said this is an e-mail which came few days ago, I said ‘It’s a hoax’. He said ‘It’s not a hoax’.’

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Holland says that the peace prize, and the messages she received after that made her understand that many people want peace and that fueled her even more to pursue new goals in peace-building: ‘ I suddenly realized that many, many societies want peace. They really want to link up and talk to one another. So they really have very good ideas for one another on how to bring peace to the other countries. I value this connection with Turkey because Turkey is doing such a great job with the Syrian refugees.’

Holland was very happy to be interviewed by such young ladies keen on bringing peace to the world and said that this was a very good thing because the real change in the Western societies came from young people like them in the 60s and 70s, although not many people seemed to understand the importance of their actions back then. Holland continued: ‘I think that there is lots we can learn from Turkey. From even the way you are doing this initiative with the Syrian refugees. I’ve been reading a lot about Turkey and Syria since we made contact. And I’m really excited about some of the things that I’m finding out. I think yes we can all learn a lot from what you are doing there. And I’m actually struck looking at you now, to see how young you all look. I’m going to be 70 next week’.

When two elephants fight, it is the children who suffer

Holland says that children are the most affected in any kind of conflict, and the Syrian violence should be resolved immediately without further damage to kids: ‘An African proverb says ‘When two elephants fight, it is the children who suffer’. So any of this fight, the government, the opposition, it is the elephants fighting, but it is the children who are suffering. Because they will never forget, the noise, the verbal abuse, they will never forget that it was their home that was trashed, all those things make a big impact on the children. When those things are happening, we should remember the impact on the children and stop and really start to talk to bring peace as quickly as possible in their country.’

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