Why is it so difficult for us, as a nation, to set down some simple guidelines? Nothing difficult, nothing that affects anyone's pride or politics – just a few simple concepts that help a society to function on a slow, smooth upward trajectory towards some shared sunlight?
I'm not thinking about thorny land issues, controversial economic policies or perilous cultural questions, just a few universal foundations that would save South Africa billions in healthcare Rands and relieve a lot of suffering.
It isn't hard for me to think of the first one: no sex without consent ever, and no sex with anyone under the age of 16 (even with consent) ever.
Not when you're drunk, not when you're home alone and bored, or babysitting the neighbour's little girl or boy, not because you need someone to cook and clean for you, not because someone's told you that virgins are good for your health, and certainly not because your buddies have told you that every "itch" needs to be scratched.
The second one comes to me just as easily: don't kill anyone if you're not into getting killed yourself. I know, you'd imagine that to be a given, but it isn't.
Apparently there are a whole range of South Africans who don't know that this is the most basic of all human rights, and they come in all shapes, colours and social groups. And the simple act of NOT taking a life should be accorded to anyone who is a human by anyone else who's a human. Homo sapiens: no matter your hue, gender or social standing, this is the simplest respect you can offer each other.
Breakers of this most basic right include people who drive while drunk beyond belief, have unprotected sex, flood groundwater with noxious chemicals, stint on vital structural components in a building, shoot someone for a cellphone or deny people medical services. Among other things. It's all just a matter of scale – whether you kill one or a million, whether they die immediately or in the next two generations.
I gave myself a spectacular headache thinking about this for hours: how can we find a way through all the hurt and noise to reach an agreement on two fundamental issues that have the potential to sicken our whole nation?
And then it came to me.We don't have to fix the country, a province, a city or even a village – we can concentrate on our own homes and the spheres we move in every day. If we see sexual abuse or violence going on we need to act. If the police in our area aren't up to scratch, then we can call Childline. If the teens in the neighbourhood are going off the rails, then arrange a meeting with the parents in your street and talk it over until you find a solution. If you're aware of dangerous practices in a business then find out where you can effectively blow the whistle.
It would be naïve to imagine that every intervention is going to have a flawless outcome, and I would urge anyone to proceed with caution.
South Africa is a deeply traumatised nation, and sometimes this causes us to freeze up in despair. The difficulty we have to overcome is that we who caused each other such wounds are the very ones who have to bring each other healing. We just have to want a future as much as we revere our past.
(Joanne Hart, Health24, May 2011)