Marikana aftermath – Blood on our hands

2012-08-24 11:26

It is indeed a week of national mourning for our country, but a lifetime of grieving for the family and friends of the 34 miners who lost their lives last Thursday.

It is a week which will not be forgotten by the mothers and caregivers who had to bury their children who were stoned to death in Limpopo, or for the loved ones of the seven men gunned down in Pomeroy, KwaZulu-Natal last week.

Events like these always leave us feeling that an important part of our humanness is being offended.

Regardless of our distance from the event, we feel the blow of such violence as if we were right at its source.

On behalf of the University of the Witwatersrand, I would like to publicly express our deep dismay with regards to the continuing expression of violence that characterises social and institutional interactions in South Africa.

Marikana and Pomeroy are only recent examples of this characteristic.

We should all flinch with the same pain when violence is visited upon an individual or a group; a single child or a gathering of adults.

Social justice cannot be allowed to reside in the stoning hand or the trigger finger of those with more power.

This ongoing violence is a part of our national and collective shame and we should take this time to seriously reflect on the state of our society, and to disturb the conscience of our community.

We all have blood on our hands.

Why, after 18 years of democracy, are we as South Africans still killing each other?

How do we, as a society, accept these acts of violence, symptomatic of wider societal issues, as part of our ‘normal existence’?

s the Rainbow Nation indeed evaporating, or is this manifestation of violence just an outcome of a civil war that was averted in the 1990s?

Are our higher education institutions able to explain this phenomenon in order to deepen the collective public understanding and interpretation of this violence that is plaguing our society?

What role does the state’s non-delivery of basic services to our country’s most vulnerable groups play in stoking uprisings?

Are institutions in the private sector responsible social actors that plough back, as much as they extract from communities?

Do we speak for those whose voices are not strong enough to be heard?

Do we bring to the fore the suffering of the unseen, aside from the images of dead bodies in newspapers when it is already too late?

How do we hold ourselves accountable for the state of our society today? Is this our tipping point?

South Africa was, and is, internationally lauded as the beacon for defending human rights for all.

We have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and we have overcome profound racialisation and discrimination.

We need to remember that we have fought very hard to create a democratic society and we should not take for granted any of the freedoms that we have gained.

We are renowned for endorsing negotiations before the use of force – throughout our history, but also in the approach we use in managing international conflicts today.

We place tolerance, debate and the value for human life before all else.

How, then, have these values been eroded in such a short period of time?

As academics, we need to comprehend this violence and its contexts, causes and consequences.

In our quest for the truth, we need to examine the underlying socio-economic and political causes of this crisis, including the ongoing contributory factors like poverty, crime, corruption, racism, gender violence and inequality.

This crisis demands that we use our scholarship and expertise to engage in the search for short- and long-term solutions that promote an ethos of peace, humanity and security for all.

The University of the Witwatersrand is calling on all South Africans to take collective responsibility and to grapple with this scourge facing society, if we are to truly lay the foundation for a better life for future generations.

As a nation, we have the responsibility to adopt a multifaceted response to tackle violence in our society, regardless of our standing in society.

We must regain our moral compass, reflect on the true meaning of ubuntu, work tirelessly to overcome poverty and inequality in society, and put our shoulders to the ground to create employment.

More importantly, we need to stand up for a just society, and advocate for an end to all types of violence and intolerant behaviour in society, even when it makes us uncomfortable.

» Professor Yunus Ballim is the acting vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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