Violence, as a cancer in South African society, seems to have metastasised. It is attacking the very soul of our humanity.
Social challenges like widening economic inequality has led to polarised political camps, growing suspicion and ruthless violence.
This unfettered violence seems to be giving birth to even more senseless violence.
The case of the Eastern Cape woman, dubbed #lionmama on social media, caught the country’s imagination. The woman charged in like an enraged lioness protecting her cubs to save her daughter from savage rape at the hands of three men. The fact that this incensed mother stabbed and killed one of her daughter’s assailants was seen by some as a crime in itself and by others as a victory for the many thousands of women who have been raped and assaulted without retribution.
We, as a nation, have become so inured to violence that its daily occurrence no longer moves or shocks us. Eleven people died in an informal settlement in Marikana, Cape Town, due to unimpeded gangsterism. Our lives carried on as if nothing had happened. There have been 33 reported ‘political murders’ in KwaZulu-Natal since January 2016, according to Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. Does this prompt us to sit up and pay attention?
No, not really. Therein lies the tragedy of a jaded society.
We can no longer afford to sit back and simply depend on a dysfunctional criminal justice system to bring us occasional relief. The solution to this subculture of violence and criminality needs to come from all of us, firstly, as individuals, as well as a collective. The responsibility for subverting the culture of violence is every citizen’s duty.
The root causes and drivers of violence and crime in South Africa are historical, diverse and multifaceted. More than half the population lives below the international poverty datum line; about 26% of the population is unemployed; and over 30% of the youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are not part of the educational system, employment or training opportunities offered. This a volatile ticking bomb in the making.
Although we concede that the problem of violence in South Africa must be seen and understood within the context of an extremely violent past, the past cannot forever be used as our scapegoat. Yes, violence has become normalised and we have become euthanised to its effects. Its drivers, although symbiotic in nature, have morphed over the years.
The time to act together is now
At the heart of the violence in our country is the conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity.
The ideology of scarcity is biblical. Starting with the children of Israel who took more than they needed and hoarded manna “just in case”, it continues today – but with even more devastating repercussions. We live in a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing like a cancer, polarising the haves and have-nots and leading to growing suspicion and antagonism.
Greed is now evidenced by our political leaders’ insatiable need to amass wealth with impunity, whether it be for themselves, their families or their praise singers. This morally reprehensible attitude has ushered-in a selfish and shameless mentality of “grab what one can, from whomsoever one can, by whatever means one can deploy”. If one has to rape, pillage and kill to “get ahead” in life, so be it.
This rapacious mentality is also driven by a sense of entitlement, encouraged by misguided and irresponsible political rhetoric that eventually degenerates into unbridled violence justified as a means of affirmative redistribution. Added to this matrix is the seemingly ineffective or compromised law enforcement agencies the populace has come to mistrust and lost confidence in. Especially when its top executives are mired in flagrant disrespect for the rule of law and the erosion of the institutions of state and democracy.
National resignation and lethargy seems to be our excuse for inaction. Our ability to stand up against these daily violations of our basic rights as citizens stares us in the face daily. We have an almost fatalistic attitude, erroneously drawing strength from a belief that violence has become normative rather than deviant. We have capitulated to violence as the most effective and efficient means of resolving conflict.
The unchecked desire for power has led to a myopic society whose driving ambition will bulldoze anything or anyone standing in its way by any means, fair or foul, to achieve its avaricious objectives.
Corruption is the order of the day as the amassing of power inevitably leads to the control of resources and groups of people. Consequently, desperation amongst the poor then leads to a scramble for power in order to be as close to the centres of control as possible at whatever cost.
Just as there is no single cause of violence and crime, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A multipronged, holistic approach that focuses on rehabilitation and prevention needs to be adopted.
We need a sustained and coherent process that will pool and implement all the collaborative efforts of the various sectors of our society that are working towards justice, peace and dignity for all.
How do we begin conversations and actions towards putting in place building blocks that will lead to an equitable distribution of all economic resources and a harmonious existence between humanity and creation, all while drawing lessons from the past, the present and impacting the future?
Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for the violence we allow in our midst, because we are all complicit in the disintegration of our social and moral fabric. We need to provoke a movement of collective outrage over all forms of violence. As alluded to by Walter Brueggemann, “We need to tell each other the truth because all the weapons in the world will not save us from our self-inflicted lies and inaction.”
A new culture is possible and the time to act together is now.
Siwa is the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa
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