Violence starts at the top

2018-04-08 06:01
 A taxi was set alight in Mgonyame village between Libode and Port St Johns last week. (Supplied)

A taxi was set alight in Mgonyame village between Libode and Port St Johns last week. (Supplied)

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In South Africa’s crazy news cycle we tend to move on from important issues way too quickly.

You may wish to blame it on the public’s short attention span or the media’s chasing after the next big thing, but the fact of the matter is that this is a society on steroids. So much happens in this place that last week’s story already seems like a distant memory.

The biggest problem with this is that we do not get a chance to interrogate matters of national importance or to reflect on incidents. The horrific deaths of six mine workers, whose bus was torched in Limpopo this week, is a case in point.

While the nation was absorbing the news of the passing of struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a mob attacked a bus carrying miners who work at the Modikwa Platinum Mine in Sekhukhune. While most of the 39 miners on the bus jumped out of the windows and escaped with injuries, six were charred beyond recognition.

The Chamber of Mines’ spokesperson, Memory Johnstone, was so on point when she used the words “gruesome”, “merciless” and “shocking” to describe the murders.

“The level of brutality of this attack is inconceivable and the impact of this act of violence will be felt for many years to come, not only by those who survived the incident, but also by those left behind,” she said.

Early speculation was that the attack was linked to ongoing protests over high levels of unemployment, with many locals believing that outsiders were getting preference for jobs.

The attack was hardly an isolated incident. Such gruesome violence is a daily occurrence in our country.

In the big metros a one-sided war has been raging for the past few years between metered taxi drivers and their Uber and Taxify counterparts. Innocent people, who are earning a living for their families, have been brutalised and killed by the metered taxi drivers. Some have been burnt to death inside their cars.

Just last month, university student Siyabonga Langelihle Ngcobo (21), a Taxify driver, was found in the boot of his burnt-out vehicle in Pretoria. Last year, Lindelani Mashau had to endure a few weeks of pain after metered taxi drivers burnt him in his car near Loftus Stadium, after a rugby test match, presumably because they didn’t want competition on that busy night. In the end, he succumbed to his burns and died.

This week, truck driver Jimmy Dlezi narrowly escaped death when he drove into a violent protest near the Mooi River toll plaza on the N3. Stones rained on his truck, forcing him to stop and run away on foot. Instead of letting the innocent man go so that they could do what they wanted with the truck, they chased him down and put him back in the vehicle. Petrol was poured over him and a match was about to be lit when police came to the rescue. “I was 100% sure I was going to die,” he told IOL.

They proceeded to burn the truck and block the busy freeway on one of the busiest days of the year.

The point here is that the people who perpetrate this violence are not necessarily hardened criminals with dead consciences. They are usually normal citizens.

Those people who climbed on that bus and set it alight with the intention of harming the passengers were just members of the community concerned about high levels of unemployment. The same goes for the service-delivery protesters in Mooi River who wanted to burn Dlezi with his truck and end his life.

The metered taxi drivers who beat up their rivals are probably family men who teach their children good values. They probably attend religious services, partake in community affairs and are elders in their extended families. The striking workers who attack working colleagues and often kill them are just guys next door with normal behavioural patterns.

Why are ordinary people so prone to violence, even to the point of committing gruesome murders? Many answers have been proffered for this, one of them being the trauma arising from our violent past.

In an article on Africa Check a few years ago about the possible reasons for the high levels of violence in society, Institute for Security Studies’ senior researcher, Chandre Gould, said part of the cause was that respect and confidence in state institutions were being eroded and “undermined by the daily experience of citizens in their interactions with the criminal justice system”.

“Attempts to change attitudes towards the rule of law are stymied by the disrespect demonstrated for the law and the value of life by the very people responsible for making and enforcing the law.

“For as long as those holding political office appear to act with impunity, or cynically use the criminal justice system to dodge very serious allegations of the abuse of power and state resources, we cannot reasonably expect South African citizens to respect the law,” she wrote.

This is no excuse for lawbreakers, but in healing and normalising society, those with authority must set the standard.

Read more on:    crime  |  violence

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