Opinionista Greg Nicolson 20 October 2013

Watch. Pray. South Africa.

After a week of horrifying violence, I let the trauma sink in and am left with more questions than answers. What can we do when the causes of violence continue to feed off each other? Sorry, but I don’t know right now.

If you follow the media, you see a lot of shocking things. You see more if you work in it. Yonalisa and Zandile Mali were found dead last Tuesday in a Diepsloot toilet cubicle. The cousins, aged two and three, were sexually assaulted, killed and dumped. The where, what, who, why, when and how explains a senseless atrocity, but it’s almost too surreal, a tragedy that’s hard to comprehend, like the endless reports of fatalities in foreign countries.

It took Prince (the artist formerly known as) to remind me of the horror. When I was sitting down on Wednesday to write, as police were narrowing in on the key suspect, iTunes shuffle played “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”. When the first of my sisters got married, she walked into the reception with the song playing. Her smile beamed across the room as she moved towards a new phase in her life, with a family of her own, a house, bills, nappies, and new dreams. We’d spent most of our childhood together in various stages of warfare and peacetime. On that day, she felt she was the most beautiful girl in the world and at that moment everyone in the room knew it.

The song is a corny love jam. Heart-fluttering, 17-year-old blind love, and 27-year-old jaded, broken-hearted-but-somehow-found-love love. Sing it to an infant. Parody it with your friends. Get some candles, play it for your partner and hope he/she doesn’t laugh (at you). Innocence, hope, joy, freedom, love, laughter – all that was taken from Yonalisa and Zandile when they were molested and murdered.

The toddlers won’t ever know the feeling of getting married. Nor will they experience their first day of school, or a playground kiss. They won’t have the chance to decide whether they want to be a doctor or teacher, a pilot or chef. They won’t graduate, not from primary school, not from a university, not an FET. They won’t fall in love and they will never raise children while struggling to pay school fees and worrying about the safety of their kids. These are all gone.

Yonalisa and Zandile’s parents won’t see their daughters alive again. Their most beautiful girls in the world are gone. I didn’t see the Mali’s family anguish, didn’t go to Saturday’s funeral. I haven’t discussed it with friends. But once I breathed the misery into my lungs, I couldn’t help but feel the country’s soul has been slashed open to release a reservoir of tears. Or maybe that morality has been stabbed so many times that the tears are dry so we can no longer cry.

How much can we stand? This piece is already soaked in emotion so let me not hide the hurt. This year there have been public reports on the killings of Anene Booysen, Mido Macia, and a whole family in Etwatwa. The last time I was in Diepsloot, it was because two men were killed, supposedly for making too much noise. The senseless silencing of life also continues beyond the front pages and after headlines. The Marikana massacre has spiralled into a war of assassinations. Rape, horrendous, unbelievable and gruesome rape, and the assault against women and children, continues. Political murders rocked the lead-up to last year’s ANC Mangaung conference. There have been multiple deaths in Cato Crest, where residents just want to keep living in their informal settlement. When we were processing the news of the deaths in Diepsloot, we heard another two young girls were found dead in Katlehong, allegedly poisoned.

The crime stats show that the worst violence, the crimes the cops need help from society to prevent, aren’t seeing enough change. For the first time in a decade, the 2012/2013 crime statistics saw a rise in murder. “Serious and violent crime is increasing in South Africa,” Gareth Newham of the Institute of Security Studies told Mail & Guardian. Chandre Gould, from the same organisation, told Daily Maverick she believes “violence is the most serious and pressing problem that South Africa faces right now”. UNICEF’s SA homepage hurts: “Violence against women and children in South Africa is extreme.”

Sitting in the old Women’s Gaol, a monument to a legacy of brutality, oppression overcome, and the rights of the modern Constitution, last year I heard multiple explanations for SA’s violence. The migrant labour system. Breakdown of family units. A failure to confront the trauma of colonialism and Apartheid. Inequality. Poverty. Unemployment. The whole system that blends it all together, spits it out for people to consume, and mixes and blends the horror all over again.

Right now, I can only think of another form of violence in Diepsloot and across the country. A scared mother told us on Wednesday, “Our children are now not able to play freely. As you know, Diepsloot doesn’t have the luxury of privacy. Will we now keep our kids in our one-roomed shacks? We are forced to use the same communal toilets. Things happen in those toilets late night or early morning, but it is our reality.”

What’s a mother to do? How can she protect her kids so they can live fulfilling lives, so they can live long enough to get married, to feel what it’s like to watch their own siblings get married, to not get married, to have the choice? How can she fight the violence of poverty and the violence of individuals so that her children will not get killed before they can learn to read and write?

What escape is there when unemployment is rising and in many places the education system is a crippling rather than enabling offering? Who do we run to when politicians make election promises but the state’s busy building the president’s house rather than a local police station? Protest? There’s a quick sniff of teargas and the sting of a rubber bullet. Mob justice? It’s hardly going to teach anyone that violence is the wrong option.

What the fuck can we do but watch and pray? WHAT THE FUCK? DM


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