“Isn’t it high time we introduce the Senzo Meyiwa gun law?” South African Football Association (SAFA) president Danny Jordaan asked the day after the Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain was shot dead. Jordaan, like the rest of us, was searching for some positive derivative from the utterly appalling incident that robbed South Africa of one of its brightest sports stars. The SABC television bulletin on Monday night showed an old man sobbing in the street nearby where Meyiwa was killed. “I don’t know what’s happening with this country,” he said through his tears. The shock and despair that has swept the nation has brought to the surface what we all know: Something has gone horribly wrong with South Africa. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Remember Baby Tshepang? In 2001, South Africa reeled when news broke that the nine-month-old baby from Upington had been raped so badly that she needed reconstructive surgery. Initial reports said she had been gang raped by six men but it turned out that she had been raped and sodomised by her mother’s boyfriend. The story shook the nation to the core because of the unimaginable horror visited on a little baby.
Updates about her condition and treatment led news bulletins for some time. There was national soul searching about what was wrong with our society. Nine months later, the perpetrator David Potse was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for the heinous crime.
Did the nation’s shock and horror have any lasting effect? No. If anything, the abuse of children, particularly sexual crimes, has become a common occurrence in our society. We no longer give the victims special names like we did with Baby Tshepang. Most remain unnamed statistics.
There have been several incidents like this that stun the nation when they happen. We stop and ask why, search for some reasonable explanation as to why they happened.
The death of Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen in February 2013 had this affect. The 17-year-old girl appeared to have been gang-raped and disembowelled when she was found on a construction site. She died later that day from her injuries.
For a while, Anene was the poster child for the campaign against violence against women. The extreme violence she suffered was so shocking that it jerked our society’s consciousness about the evil that lurks among us.
But the two weeks later, the pain and horror Anene endured was pushed into the background when Paralympian Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. This time, the worldwide sensation around the killing propelled the soul searching about crime and violence in South Africa.
It is not clear what society gained from the past year-and-a-half the Pistorius trial has spent as a news spectacle. Steenkamp’s family and friends were desperate that her killing should not be in vain and that some greater cause should be served. But now, it is not even certain whether justice was served.
Meanwhile one person, Johannes Kana, is serving two consecutive life sentences for Anene’s rape and murder. To this day it is not known whether the whole truth about Anene’s attack has emerged. Society has, however, moved on.
In July, the country was again shaken by the brutal circumstances in which four-year-old Taegrin Morris died. The little boy was dragged to his death when his parents’ car was hijacked at Reiger Park in Ekurhuleni. His mangled body was found outside the abandoned car.
The community of Reiger Park erupted in a rage at drug-related crime in the area, while the rest of the country watched the horror of the young parents’ suffering. His mother Chantal found enormous strength through her grief to urge a positive outcome from her child’s horrific death. “On Saturday night my child’s life ended and transformation for Reiger Park began,” she said at the time. There was a campaign for people around the country to wear black on the day before Taegrin’s burial to highlight the fight against crime.
After three months, a suspect was arrested this week in connection with the child’s death. But in the three months, the country has moved on to new horrors, new scandals and new issues to feel despondent about. Whether Reiger Park is having its transformation or not is of little concern.
And then Senzo Meyiwa.
His death on Sunday night cast a pall over the country. South Africa has lost great men and women, legends and heroes. In December we took Nelson Mandela to his final resting place in Qunu and left behind the enchantment he had brought us. We know how to grieve.
But we seem not to be sure how to grieve for Meyiwa. It seems almost too much to handle. We are looking for something or someone to blame: National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, the police in general, his girlfriend Kelly Khumalo, his wife Mandisa, the pervasive criminality in our society, illegal weapons, the government, Jacob Zuma, a justice system that is too soft on lawbreakers, the ANC losing its way, the list goes on.
“I want to ask them why they killed my son,” said the distraught Sam Meyiwa, Senzo’s father.
We all want to know that. There are so many questions. Did they kill him by mistake, or is it that when they approach people with a gun to rob them, the default position is to kill? Do they know the enormous pain and loss they brought on our nation? Do they care?
There has also been a sense that Meyiwa’s killing should be some sort of turning point, that someone so talented and with so much to give cannot just be another crime statistic. But what is supposed to happen? What can realistically happen? We all wear black again? We sloganeer against crime? We vow vengeance against the perpetrators and all criminals? What will all this do?
The truth is that Senzo Meyiwa was shot – deliberately or mistakenly – because this is a society in a state of rot. It did not matter that he was a national hero, a young man at the prime of his life and career ready to give his best in service to his club and country. Societies in decline do not discriminate between the best and worst among us when it eats its own.
There is so much wrong with South Africa – the disrespect for human life, for the laws, for authority, for those you are paid to serve, for state property, for other people’s property, for the poor and for anyone more vulnerable than the man holding the gun. There is even disrespect for ourselves, for the past we came from and for the future we were meant to have.
Our society is defined by the mindless pursuit of wealth, whether it means acquiring it through political power and connections, by trampling on other people or by forcibly taking it from others. When those at the higher echelons of our society do not feel the need to account for their actions, those in the strata below adopt the same attitude. When the state kills people and gets away with it, like it did at Marikana, others think they can do the same.
We have lost our way.
The great turnaround we want for our society cannot come from Meyiwa’s death. What we are looking for is an overhaul and reorientation of our society and we hope the shock and loss we feel from his death can spark that.
It cannot. Who will lead that? What will it entail? A political revolution? Social defiance and disobedience? Against what exactly?
What we have is one unrealistic expectation that our true Number One, Senzo Meyiwa, will come to his country’s rescue one last time and save us from ourselves. If you have ever watched him in action, the acrobatic leaps, the springing across the goal-face, the mental and physical exertion he put into being the last line of defence, you can almost believe that he can perform one last miracle in death: to help us find our way home.
But he served his country until the evil that contaminates it stopped him from doing so. It is up to the rest of us to either stop being tolerant of the horror or accept it. Nothing good will come of Meyiwa’s murder. There will be no silver lining to this dark cloud. We will not suddenly discover our moral compass because the depravity destroyed someone so extraordinary in his skill and service to South Africa.
We will feel the pain for a while and remember his greatness on the field.
By now, we all know it: Something has gone horribly wrong with our beloved country. A new horror will emerge. The rot will continue. And we will watch it happen, still questioning, feeling lost in the desert of greed, madness and despondency, always searching, but never finding the way home. DM
Photo: A picture made available on 27 October 2014 shows South Africa soccer team captain, Senzo Meyiwa during the 2014 African Cup of Nations Qualifier match, in Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 October 2014. EPA/Barry Aldworth
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine