I recently wrote an article - Shower with a friend ... - in which I mused about Jacob Zuma’s call for a cleansing ceremony. As per usual, the comments following the article were a true window into the thoughts (and emotions) of a small cross-section of South Africans. Yes, there were the racist rants, the obscure Zuma-defenses and the purely emotional knee-jerking, but then came a comment that brought me to a standstill. It’s about the issue of consequences in South Africa.
The words “they get away with everything” echoes everywhere; in discussions about the ANC, about Zuma, about crime, about corruption - pick your topic. There seems to be a definite lack of vigor on the part of the justice system - something many of us feel. I could never figure out why. Yes, it is probable that many connected people enjoy unspoken protection from prosecution. Yes, there is a lot of bribery and corruption. Yes, yes, yes and blah, blah, blah. But there always seemed to be something more to the bigger picture. Something lurking just beneath the surface which I could not completely grasp. Mfelasakhe Mahlangu gave me the answer in his response to my article.
Cleansing is a serious ritual. It has two aspects the spiritual and the practical or symbolic. The second is a usually not recognised. In African culture, to be specific my culture, punishment for wrong doing against society is secondary to prevention from wrong doing. The objective is to prevent the wrong doing in the first place because once that happens no amount of punish can reverse the deed. That is why we don't believe that a punishment is an effective deterrent. The practical aspect of the cleansing ceremony is that it is process of facilitating a collective appeal to a sociatal conscience. This is in line with the belief that as human beings we are one and therefore any wrong doing against any member of the society is a wrong doing against firstly the self, your family, your clan, community and the society at large. Do you ever wonder why we never developed complex laws, legal systems, punishment modes. We do not even have a word for imprisonment. G
In his comment, Mfela gives an authoritative explanation about how justice is approached in his culture. Although I had a broad-brushstroke understanding of a cleansing ceremony before I wrote the short piece on which he commented, many of the nuances were lost on me. I am honestly grateful. I have learned something. Even if I don’t agree with all of it.
Thus, a few loose thoughts and I’ll leave the rest for a possible debate in the comments section. We as human beings are one? Spot on. There is only one race and that is the human race. Cultural differences is where we bump heads, and this is a great example why. Our different approaches to justice. I also believe prevention is better than cure. Every time. Without exception. But I equally believe in consequences. As much as I wish it were, I don’t think the human race is evolved and noble enough to simply excuse wrongs in the hope that it will never happen again. There can only be order in society if there is a clear set of behavioral parameters with an equal set of consequences for exceeding those.
I am also not sure how this philosophy of justice translates into behavior. I have seen societal punishment in action in various communities around the country. Mob-justice. The news if full of it. It is unusually cruel and mostly results in death. Is this again a nuance I’m perhaps missing?
Lastly, I should add, with my tongue in my cheek, that cleansing ceremonies have clearly not worked for Zuma personally. Nor for most of the other members of the thieving cabal. As someone mentioned on Twitter last night - 2013 will be sports with certain politicians believing that some mistakes are too much fun to only make once ...
Best for 2013, all!!!
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