The devil made me write this column
The MEC of the North West Province recently said that the reason our levels of violence are so high in our country, is because we are under attack from the devil.
This itself is one of the reasons why violent crime is so bad in our country – not because of some supernatural super-villain of pseudo-Abrahamic mythology – but because we blame things that do not exist for it.
So why is it that our country is so violent? Well, there are no simple solutions, but if I were to venture a guess I would posit the following:
First of all we are a mining country whose environmental standards have deteriorated over the past decade or so.
There is a strong link between lead poisoning and higher rates of violence. Blaming the devil isn’t going to do anything about this – it is purely natural causes.
The ANC has been moving towards banning corporal punishment – and it isn’t because they want to meddle in how you raise your kids. It is because research on this subject actually backs them.
Unfortunately, we as a country don’t necessarily follow our government’s lead so we end up working against this. Consider what violent initiation means in light of what meta-analysis shows on corporal punishment.
Next, we have serious issues with women’s rights – and not just in specific instances of abuses, but how we handle advocacy for women’s rights.
An illustrative example was a recent ANC women’s league statement in which ANC gender commissioner Patricia Cheu argued that polygamy is oppressive, but women must live with it in the name of cultural diversity within the organisation.
Now let’s be clear here – my thoughts on polygamy are mixed, and I do not necessarily agree with her on it being strictly oppression if all parties agree to it.
But that being said; if it is oppression then it shouldn't be pushed aside. If it is a problem then it should be handled as a problem, not simply shunted off for being less than politically expedient. Women’s rights, much like the rights of any oppressed group, will never be expedient, that is what makes them so important.
Rights are easier to lose than they are to win, so it takes all of us standing up together on these issues. Gender inequality is not something that promotes stability in a country.
When we talk about women’s rights being human rights, we aren’t talking about some abstract ideal here; we are talking about how often the social wellbeing of women translates directly into the social wellbeing of everyone.
Further we have a lot of things playing together to make South Africans feel less powerful than they really are.
On a personal level, a lot of South Africans are very superstitious. Responsibility is power; if we put the responsibility of our failures into the sphere of the will of the spirits we take away our power to do anything about it. Not all things are our fault, but “our fault” is our power, once we hand the blame for our circumstances over to spirits or gods, we lose that power.
But on a more practical level, people who believe in witches are more likely to actually harm people they suspect are witches. It is kind of irritating to consider that some people appear to think Harry Potter was a documentary, prompting academic write-ups on the subject.
On a local level, service delivery protests tend to get more violent over time as they get ignored if the protesters don’t start burning tyres. This violence eventually leads to the issues being dealt with, but that only reinforces the feeling that violence is necessary for results.
The upshot of this is we are being classically conditioned to get more violent in our local politics.
One a federal level we are told that social justice hasn’t happened because the struggle continues and minorities are getting in the way. In other words, even once a political party that we elected on a social justice ticket gets a near two thirds majority, it is still powerless to affect the changes we need.
This continues until violence erupts, and again that seems to be when things get taken seriously.
So in real terms a big chunk of our violence is born of sheer frustration at how powerless we all feel, coupled with violent actions leading to desired results.
Now there is a common thread to all these causes, and that is that they are things that can be solved.
They aren’t the devil. They are us and we can change.