South Africa is a sick society in desperate need of a cure

Minenhle Maditla (first from left at the top in the framed picture), Blessing Maditla (second from left at the top), Ethen Maditla (first from left at the bottom) and Shaniqua Maditla were allegedly killed by their mother Zinhle Maditla in their rented room in Klarinet in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga. Picture: Balise Mabona/ANA

In the past weeks, we have witnessed incredible incidents which lend credence to the view that our country is fast approaching the final stages of a terminal illness. Unlike Schabir Shaik, I am not sure whether we will make a miraculous recovery and avoid certain death.

The sentencing of the twenty five year Mpumalanga mother, Zinhle Maditla, to four life sentences for murdering her four children by feeding them rat poison, represents a sad and harrowing episode on our blighted land. How does a mother, one with natural instincts for nurturing resort to such a drastic and cruel step. Not only has she killed her own children, she has also destroyed a family which will be left with sad memories and will it hard to find closure to one of the most gruesome family murders ever committed. 

Looking at Maditla’s age and the fact that she has had four children at that age, it would seem the babies were not planned hence she could not cope with her situation. This was a case of teenage pregnancy at its worst where children are deprived of a loving and caring environment with two parents, this time ending with their tragic murder at the hands of one supposed to provide such love, care and nurturing.

Another incident involved the death of a 12 year old Katlehong pupil who was caught in the crossfire of taxi wars raging around the township. Rethabile Rapulane was killed outside a school for no other reason other than the fact of adults who resorted to the use violence to resolve their disputes. The preponderance of guns in our society is a problem that is beyond the ability of our government to resolve. There seems to be no end in sight to gun murders that claim lives week in week out. Violence has become the new norm as evidenced by the recently announced crime statistics which show that violent crime is on the rise. Police seem to be unable to deal with the scourge of violent crime in our society. 

The killing of women and children has triggered rage from various sectors of society which have called for an end to this scourge. The same crime statistics ominously pointed out that more of our children are committing violent crimes including murder. Specifically, 734 murders in the past year were committed by children sometimes on other children. This is a clear sign that if this situation is allowed to continue, the consequence of such to our future will be too ghastly to contemplate.

In this state of siege, the Constitutional Court passed a ruling that declared the spanking of children in the home unlawful. It is no longer possible for parents to argue on the basis of “reasonable chastisement” to justify punishing their children. There was a varied response from society to this seminal judgement. It is important to remove emotion when arguing for or against the judgement. It is also important to read the judgement before adopting any stance. However, it needs to be pointed out that the Court did not say parents cannot discipline their children. Instead the Court ruled that alternative ways to beating children would have to be found.

This court judgement is important in the light of what is currently witnessed through the normalisation of violence in our society. It can be argued that violent behaviour is first and foremost learnt in the home and passed on to the broader society. When children live with violence, they learn to fight as the saying goes. By ruling on the undesirability of violence at home, the Court has set the scene for what must become the new norm where the home should be a place of safety where acceptable behaviour is modelled. Home should be a place where conflict is resolved in an atmosphere of love and understanding. Parents are not foremost administers of discipline, but loving guardians and providers for their children. The children in reciprocation are to obey their parents and play a helpful role to ensure a functional home.

The challenges our society faces such as teenage pregnancy can be nipped in the bud if our homes are fixed to be what they are meant to be. Looking at the government for solutions to our problems is as futile as drawing water through a leaking bucket. The ANC government has proven from time to time that it does not have what it takes to constitute a capable state. What South Africans need to understand is that when a government fails to meet expectations, it is removed and not returned to cause more damage that will propel our nation to its demise.

In the face of an incapable state and an impotent government, we can only look to agents of socialisation including the home, schools, the church and other civil organisations for a cure for the ills of our society. The work to fix these should start now.

Nathaniel Lee is a social commentator with  a keen interest in educational and political issues.