I shouldn’t have but I did. I read the Sunday Slimes quite thoroughly yesterday. And although it was not visibly different from any other Sunday Slimes, or even any other daily newspaper, or even the daily on-line news articles, the thought of violence in South Africa is deeply with me this morning.
I cannot believe what I read. I cannot believe that during a house robbery an old lady’s four fingers are cut off with pruning shears and her husband’s assaulter lies next to his beaten and dying body and watches TV. I cannot begin to comprehend how an old woman can be so badly burnt by boiling water during a house robbery that she dies from her burns. I cannot get the image out of my mind of a 17 year old girl being raped and her mother being beaten while their helpless father and husband is forced to endure their screams. I cannot stomach the stories of women and children being raped, murdered, shot and beaten. I am repulsed by children stabbing each other for cell phones and ipods.
A few weeks ago I ran into a friend who had just come back from Niger. She was standing in the picknpoo looking completely bewildered and we chatted for a few moments. She told me about her visit and she kept on repeating how she had been in the most poverty stricken country in the middle of the Sahara desert and yet she had been totally, unreservedly safe. She had been able to move about freely, even late at night. She had not felt scared or threatened at all, ever. And she said that for the first time she realised that there was no direct link between poverty and violence.
Now this is a huge deal. This is a really big idea. We here, on the tip of Africa are constantly being asked to take poverty and unemployment into account when considering the raging crime and violence situation. And a small voice has always whispered in my head that it’s more about dignity and value than about poverty. I believe (and this is completely terrifying) that (almost all) South Africans have little or no dignity. I believe that (almost all) South Africans have no sense of self worth and that lives are cheap. And these ideas are compounded by the way people live, travel, work and communicate. The slogan of “ubuntu” is a band-aid, the AIDS calamity gets a pop concert, corrupt government gets a slap on the wrist. People feel valueless. People feel like their lives have little cost.
So, the big question is, where can we get some dignity fast? And I think that we need to demand it from government and we need to demand it from our public broadcaster and from our law enforcers and from our care-givers and from our waitrons and from shop assistants and nurses and families. But mostly, we have to start GIVING it. We need to give our families, friends, colleagues, neighbours, a sense that we value them. I make that my way of giving this silly season.