Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Mpumelelo Mkhabela: Outrage over circumcision, traffic deaths remain a seasonal reaction

2019-12-26 05:00
The holiday traffic will again be punctuated with fatalities and expected outrage. (iStock)

The holiday traffic will again be punctuated with fatalities and expected outrage. (iStock)

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Over time, members of society will move on with their lives until the next season comes to claim its victims, triggering the same old reactions. It has become the seasonalisation of killing, outrage and do-nothing with an annual repeat button permanently switched on, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The weather is the default icebreaker when, for whatever reason, it seems impossible to start a conversation. 

Weather patterns are largely driven by natural seasonal changes. Our discussions about certain weather patterns are naturally seasonal - something we can't change.

But our society has seasonalised crises that don't belong in the realm of natural seasons. In so doing, we have normalised them like seasons we can't change. 

During school holidays, young boys mostly in the Eastern Cape, are killed by people who claim to be their culturally ordained gatekeepers to manhood. Since November 2019, the official death toll stands at 25.

Not mentioned in the statistics are those boys who were left with permanently deformed penises. Some will end up in hospital but with no guarantee of normal manhood after corrective surgery.

The butchering has been going on for years. Today's screaming news headlines, featuring varying numbers of the dead, read the same as those of over decades ago.

The response from society is the same too, just like we complain about the heat in summer and the cold in winter - seasons we have no power to change.

Some call for the prosecutions of the killers.

Some call for the end of the ancient custom or for it to be tightly regulated.

Some argue for training of the killers. And, of course, the defenders of the amputation machinery would stand firm to prevent anyone who threatens to "interfere" with the sanctity of the culture. 

Anyway, the public outrage disappears with time as soon as bodies have been buried and the initiation season has ended. Meanwhile, the families of the survivors would host big parties in the neighbourhood to welcome the return of "new men".

There's no solidarity with those who didn't make it or whose parents would spend festive season checking on their young boys in hospital.

Over time, members of society will move on with their lives until the next season comes to claim its victims, triggering the same old reactions. It has become the seasonalisation of killing, outrage and do-nothing with an annual repeat button permanently switched on. 

We apply the same mentality to the road carnage that comes with the festive season.

Every year we count the bodies and the wheelchairs as a result of reckless driving, unroadworthy cars that have been on the roads the whole year and alcohol, among others. 

The Road Accident Fund, financed by the ever-increasing fuel levy, is permanently bankrupt due to injury claim volumes and, of course, corruption.

At the end of the festive season the Transport Minister will call a press conference to report on the death statistics.

Current minister Fikile Mbalula who famously spoke about "people drinking under the influence..." has already announced mid-festive season numbers showing a 25 percent decline in fatalities compared to last year. 

Like botched circumcision deaths, the numbers fluctuate every year but the reality of death itself is constant. And so is the public outrage. The repeat button stays on until next season. 

This approach to predictable calamity is unhelpful. We are not investing enough in enforcing the rule of law on the roads. The number of cars on the road has increased over the years but it's questionable whether it has been matched by law enforcement personnel and a matching enforcement system.

Despite the seasonalisation of public relations exercises on road safety, some things never change. For example, there are still two sets of laws: one for taxi drivers, the untouchable kings of the road who do as they like, and one for the rest of us.

In January matric results will be announced and another seasonal debate will ensue about the quality of our education system. There will be discussions about pass/failure rate and the quality of the passes. 

There will be complaints that the education system does not produce the right quality to meet the needs of the economy.

Some government officials will tell us about the fashionable fourth industrial revolution, but they won't show us a public school that teaches robotics and coding. Instead, we have schools without basic laboratories. There will also be debate about the 30% pass mark and the plan to exit some learners before Grade12. 

Just after the matric results are announced, the annual battle to gain access to universities and the failure of NSFAS to pay student fees on time will begin. The old problems of access to university education will be the subject of debates. This season will pass but the repeat is definitely scheduled.

There must be a concerted national effort to stop the seasonalisation of national crises. Only then can we tackle the crises for what they are; not seasons we can't change.

- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

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