Loss of ubuntu: Why crimes are so vicious

SA has 'always been violent' but there's an escalation, compounded by broken families and individualism

14 October 2020 - 08:57 By Nomahlubi Jordaan and Shonisani Tshikalange
Experts say South Africa has a history of violence.
Experts say South Africa has a history of violence.
Image: SAPS

Socio-economic conditions, disintegration of families and individualism brought on by the coronavirus lockdown are contributing factors to the increased levels of violence playing out in society, experts say.

“We’ve always been a violent society. It is just that it has not been in your face as it is now. Our society has been militarised. We are resorting to militarisation during Covid-19,” said psychologist Dr Saths Cooper.

SA has recently seen violence flaring up in many communities, particularly in rural areas.

Police minister Bheki Cele visited the family of murdered farmer Brendin Horner in Paul Roux, Free State, to pay his respects on October 13 2020. He spent the afternoon at Meets Agricultural Union hall talking to farm workers on their grievances about crime in the area.

When norms are no longer upheld by society, the abnormal begins to be normal.
Sociologist Dr Alex Asakitikpi

An angry mob recently torched a Limpopo man's home, shop and vehicle and killed his livestock after accusing him of murder. In the same province, a 51-year-old father is believed to have committed suicide by setting alight his home using a “highly flammable substance”, police said. The fire also killed his two children, aged nine and 13.

Last week, two suspects were arrested for the murder of 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner in Senekal, Free State. The court appearance of the suspects was met with a violent protest that saw a police vehicle  torched and a 51-year-old businessman arrested for his role in the mass action. The businessman was denied bail on Tuesday. The two murder suspects are due to appear in court for a bail hearing on Friday.

The brutality of other recent crimes includes a bus driver set alight and murdered in Lawley, a Katlehong girl, 8, murdered and raped, a Soshanguve woman allegedly abducted and killed for muthi, and a 94-year-old woman's teeth knocked out during an assault at a  home for the elderly. In Pretoria, an athlete was ambushed by three men who assaulted, kicked and stripped him, and hit him with rocks. In Hartswater, two elderly parents and their daughter were robbed and murdered.

Lockdown created focus on self

Cooper said with the outbreak of the coronavirus and the lockdown to prevent the spread of infection, people were confined in their spaces, creating a culture of individualism and a focus on the self instead of the collective.

“People have been in confined spaces and focusing on their own needs rather ‘our needs’ together. The spirit of ubuntu has been destroyed.

“All those things are creating an opportunity for violence to take place. There is rage and anger among our people. We are left with our own resources,” Cooper said.

With the Covid-19 pandemic pushing people to poverty and unemployment, crime has become the only solution to daily problems. This, Cooper said, leads to violent behaviour.

“When people go out to rob and see it works for them, they become vicious.

“We’ve got to unlearn bad habits by changing our socialisation and education. Our men need to act better. You cannot be seen to be striking a woman and a child. There is a fracture in our sense of self,” Cooper said.

We’ve got to unlearn bad habits by changing our socialisation and education.
Psychologist Dr Saths Cooper

Sociologist Dr Alex Asakitikpi said the disintegration of families  in society creates “anomie”, which is a state of normlessness.

“When norms are no longer upheld by society, one of the major consequences is that people begin to do things they define as normal. The abnormal begins to be normal. When people begin to express anger, they begin to define it as normal.

“Violence in SA has been happening for years. What we are seeing today is an escalation of what has already been there,” Asakitikpi said.

He said violence was the culmination of anger and tension in society, and the idea that one group is exploiting the other or that one group is better than the other.

“We are seeing more acts of violence because of the media becoming a global space.

“With your camera, you can capture a scene, unlike before when only a few people were able to share the scene. People are becoming more bold to express themselves or publish what they have observed.”

Asikitikpi recommended that courts be empowered to deal speedily with cases of violence, that the police be reinforced and the public sensitised.

Family structure destroyed

“It’s extremely crucial to coordinate the family as a social institution, and manage social relations in the country so the family structure that has been destroyed over the years is rebuilt and retained,” he said.

Johan Burger, consultant at the Institute for Security Studies' justice and violence prevention programme, attributes violence to socio-economic conditions.

“When we talk about socio-economic conditions, we talk about people losing their employment and therefore losing their income. We saw this especially during the lockdown when millions lost their jobs. It will be difficult for people to regain employment until the economy improves,” he said

Burger said unemployment and hunger created tensions within the family unit, which in turn led to violent behaviour.

“We need to get the economy going again. We need to get people employed again so they can support their families.

“We need a complete a complete turnaround strategy for police crime intelligence. A new head is busy rebuilding crime intelligence, but it’s going to take a while,” said Burger.


21-year-old Brendin Horner was found brutally killed near Paul Roux in the Free State on October 2 2020. While two suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing, investigations are ongoing. MultimediaLIVE takes a closer look at the young farmer's death which has caused chasms in the local community..