What has become of us?

2014-07-16 00:00

I’VE seen a lot in the time I have been a journalist and an editor, but last week saw something that makes me wonder about the state of humanity.

We’ve been covering the horrendous story of the murder of a young boy in Pongola, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. His name was Lungisani “Kiki” Ntuli. He was four years old when his dismembered body was found lying in a local church.

If that wasn’t stomach-turning enough, the pictures posted on Facebook were. For some reason known only to the sick mind of the person who decided to do this, images of Kiki’s mutilated body were posted on the social network for all to see.

The image is the kind that sears itself into your brain never to be forgotten — a child treated, as his mother described, like a cow being slaughtered for a feast.

To add to the cruelty, these pictures were inexplicably forwarded to the family of the young boy, compounding their grief and trauma.

I shake my head as I write this, wondering what has become of us. Did the person who took and posted these images think that doing so would serve some greater good and, if so, what could it possibly be?

I am confronted daily with e-mails from those lobbying for more media coverage on the Gaza conflict. Many of these contain graphic pictures of dead children, torn apart by bombs and the munitions of war.

I know those who send me these images hope to jolt me out of my supposed complacency about this tragic conflict, but I think they do their cause no good for the same reasons as the image of Kiki’s mutilated body on Facebook can serve no good either.

Perhaps such images will spur some to action, but I can only see a young boy — whose mother dreamt would one day become a lawyer — distilled to an item of media, to be pored over by voyeurs of crime and violence.

The image so disturbed me that I asked two Witness reporters, Thamsanqa Magubane and Jonathan Erasmus, to travel to Pongola to try to reclaim Kiki’s story from the gutter.

I hoped that in telling his story and that of his family, we could reclaim some dignity for this little boy.

So these stories run and the headlines fade rapidly from our memory. Soon society will move on to the next titillating horror and you have to wonder if we have become so inured to violence that we have surrendered our empathy. What will be the future consequences of that? I shudder to think.

However, against this bleakness, I am also glad to see some glint of hope that there is also good in our midst. I’ve been moved by the number and variety of people who have responded to our call to clean up the capital in Pietermaritzburg since we launched the campaign recently.

There are some ambitious plans for Mandela Day on Friday (The Witness team will be out in Willowton cleaning up too) from both the city and the provincial legislature, but what has thrilled me are the ordinary citizens of the city who have stepped forward with plans of their own.

Businesses in Winston Road have picked up on the challenge thrown down by Nu-Print owner Victor Pillay to clean up the neighbourhood and each business is going to plant a tree outside its premises.

The KZN Inland Cricket Union is climbing in to sort out the western end of Alexandra Park. Law firm Austen Smith is sorting out Pietermaritz Street, the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust is getting down and dirty cleaning up river hot spots, among many others, to whom I offer my apologies for not mentioning them specifically here.

To all of you who have stepped forward, please accept our thanks for embracing this campaign and the spirit in which it is intended.

I think we are about to prove the point that it doesn’t take much effort to bring about a positive change

I hope you are proud of what you are about to do, because you deserve to be.

You are all champions in my book and we will do our utmost to make sure your efforts are shared with the rest of the Pietermaritzburg community.

• E-mail: andrew.trench@witness.co.za

• Twitter: @andrewtrench

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