Clem Sunter

The greasy pole of dehumanisation

2010-12-08 14:15

I have seldom – if ever – read something which has left me so disheartened. I am referring to the news article posted on News24 last week about the brutal murder of the Potgieter family in the Lindley district of the Free State. My deepest condolences go to the relatives and friends. At least some suspects have been arrested. Good for the police!

How can anyone shoot a three-year-old girl in the back of the head at point blank range and then leave a note: "We have killed them. We are coming back." It requires a level of depravity and sickness of mind which is unthinkable. However, it has happened before. You only have to go back to the Second World War when the most scientifically advanced nation on Earth – I am talking about Germany – was bewitched by Adolf Hitler. He convinced them that Jews were not people, the consequence being that young concentration camp guards with no twinge of conscience whatsoever calmly escorted whole families into the gas chambers, locked the doors and turned on the jets.

We have seen it since in Cambodia, Russia and Rwanda. It happened under Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao. Sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers were perceived as the enemy – cockroaches that had to be stamped out. They were killed after being photographed; machine-gunned into trenches that they themselves had dug, or sent into the Siberian waste to freeze to death. Time and again mankind goes through these moments of madness and all that is left is a mountainous pile of skulls. There is no upside to payback time, not even for the perpetrators.

I am sure some of you reading this article will ask: how can I raise the spectre of dehumanisation because of an isolated death? The answer is that dehumanisation is a greasy pole, and once you are on it you can slide down into the pit of mass murder very quickly.

I have a nasty feeling that the rhetoric in certain quarters is heading in this direction, the farmers in this country are at considerable risk and it only requires some spark somewhere for the fires to start raging. Hence, I am not over-reacting.

It is therefore absolutely imperative that the government here bans the use of any genocide-laden terminology from any quarter, and that anybody found guilty of using such language is sent to prison for a long time without any chance of appeal or parole. It should be considered one of the deadliest crimes that any citizen can commit. There should be no mercy shown to the culprits, just as they would show no mercy if they were in a position to carry out their vile rhetoric. Punishment must be quick and harsh to serve as a big deterrent.  

Why am I so sure? Because South Africa does not need its moment of madness. Nelson Mandela put reconciliation at the top of his list. Don’t betray his glorious legacy. Stop the incipient tendency towards dehumanisation right now. All problems have to be resolved peacefully and sensitively. Otherwise hell beckons – for everybody. Go to Rwanda and see for yourself what the consequences are of demonising a section of the human race.

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