These famous words: ‘Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world’, expressed by Nelson Mandela during his spectacular inauguration ceremony reverberated through our homes and our hearts as the father of our nation reaffirmed our rightful place as a new member of free democratic nations of the world.
Mandela would be startled that our beautiful land has become a place where violent killings have become so rampant that ordinary people live in fear and are unable to enjoy the very basic freedoms which have been enshrined in our constitution.
In the past few weeks the following acts of violence rattled us from our comfort zones and made us to see the brutality of violent killings in our communities:
In Lusikisiki, a small town situated just next to Umtata, the capital city of the Eastern Cape, gangsters went about terrorizing villagers to an extend that an elderly woman said in isiXhosa during a radio interview siya oyika, a sa nwabanga – (we are afraid, we are not happy).
The images of an African elderly woman, sitting in a thatched roof rondavel, surrounded by her meagre possessions flashed my mind.
I imagined young men brandishing pangas and guns, breaking into her hut and assaulting her. I asked myself ‘what happened to ‘imbeko’ (respect) to the elderly? What has become of our people? I wondered.
We all sighed with relief when news came out that the NPA withdrew charges against umama from Lady Frere (my own ancestral home town) accused of stabbing a man to death and injuring two others after finding them raping her 27-year-old daughter. Besides being amazed by the sheer strength and courage from umama (a mother), we need to ask ourselves deep questions: why should villagers live under the mercy of trigger happy rapist? I hope my family is safe in Bomeni (a village in Lady Frere)
In Phillipi near Cape Town, deaths of 11 people who have been killed in two separate shootings have been reported. It is said that in the first incident, shots were fired inside a shebeen and four people were fatally wounded. In the second attack, three people were shot dead in a shack in the area, another person was killed outside a house. And police found another two bodies lying between shacks nearby. A weekend of violent killing ended with a tally of 11 violent killings in the Marikana informal settlement of Phillipi. Hundreds of people gathered to attend a community meeting which was addressed by the Minister of police. The Minister brought in more police and replaced the station commander because he was not trusted by the community.
In KwaZulu-Natal political assassinations have become the order of the day, with one more 35 the number of deaths since the run-up to 2016’s municipal elections.
A commission of enquiry has been stablished to find answers to political killings in KZN. These killings happen mainly between warring political factions in the governing party, which begs the question: is this the ANC that Nelson Mandela was referring to when he said at his inauguration: ‘As a government, the ANC will create a legal framework that will assist, rather than impede, the awesome task of reconstruction and development of our battered society. ‘By the look of things, the ANC has become an impediment to the mammoth task of rebuilding a society that is struggling to recover from the legacy of colonialism and Apartheid. How do we make sense when members of the governing party resort to killing one another in pursuit of gaining political power?
Scenes of chairs being thrown around by delegates at the recent Eastern Cape elective conference are not only an indication of how dangerous factional divisions in the ANC have become but they also reveal the extent to which the ANC has come to condone the culture of intimidation and violence within its own party structures.
Just when we thought, as a nation, we could resolve such violence as one of our ‘internal problems’, the blood thirsty criminals took our violence problem to the consciousness of the Dutch nation. Around the 29th of September dozens of elderly Dutch tourists‚ who had just arrived at OR Tambo International Airport for a three-week holiday‚ were attacked by armed robbers posing as police. The elderly tourist who came here to invest their hard-earned money were attacked on Sunday night near Fourways after the five suspects apparently followed them from the airport. Just like in the movies, the robbers forced the bus to a stop before making their way into the vehicle and assaulting some of the tourists. We are made to understand that one of the passenger told the Dutch newspaper that “it was hell”. The tourists later packed their bags and returned to their home country after being escorted by the police to the airport. After I read that the tourists decided to leave us, I was ashamed to be a South African and I wondered, if we as a nation had not become the skunk of the world something that Nelson Mandela cautioned us not to be. It seems that our violent tendencies have made us to be disrespected and disliked by people of other nations.
The levels of violence in our public spaces are so serious that Vasu Gounden (founder of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes and a specialist on conflict resolution) argued convincingly that the South African nation is at the crossroads of a civil war or civil peace.
Few days after these profound words were uttered at the annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, our energetic Minister of Police publicly announced that he is considering deploying soldiers alongside the police in the Gauteng and Western Cape Provinces so as to deal with increasing levels of public violence. If I am not mistaken, the Democratic Alliance Premier of the Western Cape once made the same request to the President but she was pushed aside merely because she is a Premier from the opposition party. Here lies the tragedy of our nation, a governing party that is unable to establish collaborative working relationships with the opposition parties. Maybe we will soon become familiar with sights of soldiers in their camouflage carrying AK47’s at our shopping malls especially in December. Shopping malls have been targets of violent attacks in the past few years. Well some of us who have been to other African countries are used to seeing armed soldiers even at small shopping centers, so it will instill some sense of security to a nation where public insecurity has become the norm.
But these levels of public violence should not be tolerated in our new South Africa. The situation begs the question: what happened to us? A nation that pulled itself from the brink of a racial civil war and emerged with a constitution which is regarded as one of the best in the free world. A nation that gave to the world Nelson Mandela, an icon of peace, reconciliation and democracy. As asked by the late legendary musician, Ray Phiri: Where did we go wrong?
There are many theoretical explanations on the root causes of violent killings in our country but these theories do not empower us to deal with violence that threatens all efforts aimed at developing a peaceful prosperous nation. I have seen poor African nations where there is virtually no such violence as seen in South Africa. I have visited African nations which were divided into tribal and ethnic lines but the people of these nations are now at peace with one another. We can’t blame the current levels of violence on our history or on poverty. Something must be done by all of us to rid our communities of this curse of violence, pull together or all of us sink. We come too far to allow the Nelson Mandela’s dream of a prosperous peaceful nonracial South Africa to burn on the altar of violence, lawlessness and anarchy.
The question becomes ‘from hitherto where to?’ We should not look far for solutions to the endemic violence that threatens to tear our communities apart. On the KwaZulu—Natal killings, our own Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, makes far reaching proposals on getting to the root of violence in his region. He claims that there are arm caches which have been hidden during the height of violence between ANC and IFP supporters in the early 1990’s (let’s not forget the Third force as one of the parties to the violence of the 1990’s in KZN) and these arms must be pointed out by all parties and be destroyed. Getting rid of dangerous weapons will surely make a contribution towards long lasting peace in KZN.
My friends in the ANC once told me that at a meeting they held with Madiba on resolving violent conflicts of the early 1990’s in the Sedibeng region (south of Gauteng), Mandela said to them the first step in conflict resolution is to define who you are as a people, unpack your philosophy of life which entails your vision and values as a nation. Madiba, I was told, argued that it is who you are which would determine your approach towards conflict resolution. This comes from an icon who with the power of his words could plunge South Africa into a civil war but he chooses the path of peace and reconciliation for all the people of South Africa.
Who are we then as a nation? Again, our own former President Thabo Mbeki elaborated on our national identity in a manner that will forever be forged in our living memory. This is what he said we are: ‘We are Africans, we owe our beings to the Khoi and the San, we are formed of the migrants who left Europe, in our veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East’.
‘We are the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom. We are the grandchildren who lay fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St Helena and the Bahamas, we are the children of Nongqause, we come of those who were transported from India and China’.
‘Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now! Whatever the difficulties, we shall be at peace!’. The forces of history pushed all of us to the southern part of Africa to constitute a diverse nation.
Our conduct as a diverse nation is driven by the Ubuntu way of life. A way of life that seeks peaceful coexistence with other people and respects the sanctity of life. A way of life that prides itself in the values of (motho ke motho ka batho/ umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu) a human being owes his/her existence to other people.
Ours is a nation that was not founded on violence but a nation that has at its foundations peace and reconciliation. Violence cannot and should not be a feature that defines our national identity. Our national identity, with our shared values of Ubuntu, are sufficient enough to move us forward in our noble efforts of reclaiming our country as the hope of Africa where people of all races and cultures live in peace and work together towards building this Paradise of Africa.
Dr. Tutu Faleni (PhD) is a DA Member of the North West Provincial Legislature. He writes in his personal capacity