Why have we normalised violence?

UNSAFE: A bullet hole pits the glass at this school's reception. Vandalism and gangsterism at schools are rife, even at primary school level where it's reported that younger kids carry guns for older boys. Picture: Courtney Africa/ANA

The deeply imbedded culture of violence in South Africa has left most citizens numb to daily reports of various criminal activities. It seems that we have come to accept that crime, even the most gruesome acts of it, is a normal part of our society.  When one looks at recent reports of the various crimes reported, it begs to ask why we are not angry enough.

This year alone we have learned that violence is deeply entrenched in our communities, and more often than not, women and children are at the receiving end of it. On a daily basis, various media outlets report on various violent crimes in spaces that are supposed to be safe havens, but currently seem like battlegrounds. In the past two months we learned with shock at the fact that 87 children were molested by a school patroller, along with matric learners who were raped on school grounds by the very patrollers entrusted to protect them.

In addition, the movement #Metoo that stemmed from women who state that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually violated them too trended in South Africa. South African women utilised the platform to reveal how they too, had been sexually abused by men they trusted. It is reminiscent to the not so old #Menaretrash movement that sought to speak out about violence in relationships in light of the brutal killings of Karabo Mokoena earlier this year.

Along with these violent gender based crimes, we continue to see shooking statistics in relation to violent crimes such as murder. According to Statistics South Africa, over 500 000 people have been murdered since 1994, and though the numbers have dropped to approximately 31.9 per 100 000 people, they remain high for any nation.

With this kind of violence, it is thus imperative that we look at some of the deeper underlying problems that make us such a violent society, and how we should move forward and mitigate the challenge.

The Institute for Security Studies released a report in 2015 called “Beaten bad: The life stories of violent offenders”. This report looked at what made violent offenders commit violent crimes. A substantial number of the offenders had a violent past. They had experienced racism; trauma, bullying and some came from dysfunctional families.  What this report indicates about violence in our society and the perpetrators of those violent attacks is, more often than not, there is a link to a person’s history with violence, such as childhood exposure to violence or neglect and violent behaviour in future.

Furthermore, research shows that socioeconomic challenges have a direct and indirect influence of violence in country. When people live with high levels of poverty, poor access to sanitation, and are unemployed among many others. A growing sense of discontent and desperation creeps though, leading many to fend for themselves in whichever way possible, without recourse of the legal ramifications. Moreover, subsequent to such behaviour, is a state that is increasingly becoming violent towards its people, which perpetuates the violence circle through a militarised response to most incidents.

The normalised culture of violence is not healthy nor sustainable to any society. Urgency is required to deal with the violence, but more importantly, to understand the entire psychology of violence. For reactive rhetoric after violence crimes have been committed is not sufficient.

I am of the view that we need to do at least two things to at the initial phase to rebuild a safer country. In the first instance, we need a national indaba to engage substantively at this matter. Where we can understand the root causes of various issues that lead to violent crime, and sustain it. There is a fundamentally need to engage truthfully about why the constitution of the republic is not as expedient to the poor as it is to the well off, and in part play a role as to why many seem to disregard it. Secondly, dialogue on learning, unlearning and re-learning certain societal values is imperative. It will allow for conversations of the psychology that leads to violent behaviour to be had, led ton constructive methods on how we can start a healing process of people with a painfully violent history, whether as victims or perpetrators. Third, is to understand the broader implications of the socioeconomic issues that play a role in the violence evident in this country. When people are unemployed, live in poverty, have little to no access to quality education and are directly affected things like corruption, violent crime seem to them as the only way to survive and respond to a state that seems to care less about their wellbeing.

Kenneth is the Cofounder and Director of Diole-Wadee advisory, an entity aimed at shifting paradigms on leadership development, creating shared value and harnessing the creative efforts when working and collaborating with the millennial demographic