The F-word: Violence is now our national sport

2012-09-08 09:04

A trade union leader casually tells journalists he will lead union members on a march to their workplace and order workers not on strike to stop working.

If they do not heed their call, there will be consequences, he says.

A few days earlier, fans of two football clubs run riot because their teams had lost. They want the coaches to go.

Elsewhere, community members burn and loot houses of councillors they only elected a few months earlier and accuse them of not “delivering”.

In many of these instances, those who say or do these things do so with their faces on television cameras, and are happy to share their names and surnames for the record.

Violence in South Africa has become a sport. It is the only way people think they can make their point clear.

We are a society that is increasingly normalising violence as a way of simply making people listen to us.

It is as though the violence of the poor or the marginalised is righteous because they are poor, marginalised and black.

There is a dangerous view that law and order is a right-wing concept. Apartheid had such a hold on many of us that we think acting firmly against those who resort to violence against the state or other citizens would be too much like endorsing the old days. And so the cancer spreads.

Any condemnation of the violence perpetrated by the poor is met with a welter of politically correct retorts that absolve the poor from the consequences of their actions. We are told they have no other way, as if we live in a repressive state where they cannot change their rulers.

It is as though there are no forums to bargain for wages and conditions of employment. To say nothing about how patronising it is to say that the poor and marginalised have no sense of right and wrong because they are poor and often undereducated.

Secondly, it undermines the rule of law and order in society if some – regardless of their station in life – are allowed to get away with what everyone agrees is wrong.

I will be the last to deny that the state is innocent. Police too often and too easily resort to lethal force where the minimal use of force would have sufficed.

A chicken-and-egg conundrum ensues with questions about whether the police need to be violent because society is, or whether it is the other way around.

But we must ask how it is that trade union leaders can openly threaten to kill others if they go to work, without any action taken against them?

The state’s indifference to the unravelling social pact spells a dangerous future for our country.

The governing party’s tolerance for such blatant acts of criminality for short-term political expediency will one day prove costly, even for the party itself.

If we do not arrest these dangerous tendencies now, we will reap the whirlwind.

In fact, we already are. Members of the ANC burning each other’s homes in Port Elizabeth and the many cases of murders of comrades, allegedly by their party rivals, suggests we are skating on thin ice.

Just because we were once forced into a situation where violence against the state went beyond being right or wrong to being necessary, does not mean we must condemn future generations of South Africans to this demon of violence.

Being free must include being free from having to resort to violence to be heard.

Just like a call to arms to fight against an oppressive regime required brave leadership, a new rally for peaceful styles of resolving conflict will need equally visionary leadership.

It will require the vision and bravery shown by former president Nelson Mandela when he told war-hungry young people in KwaZulu-Natal to go throw their weapons in the sea.

To be held to ransom by a group of people openly acting criminally because they might not vote for you in the next election if you told them off, is no leadership at all.

It is sheer cowardice.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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