Defend Truth


Of tough minds and tender hearts

John Clarke hopes to write the wrongs of the world, informed by his experience as a social worker and theologian, to actualise fundamental human rights and satisfy fundamental human needs. He has lived in the urbanised concentration of Johannesburg, but has worked mainly in the rural reaches of the Wild Coast for the past decade. From having paid a fortune in toll fees he believes he has earned the right to be critical of Sanral and other extractive institutions, and has not held back while supporting Sustaining the Wild Coast ( ), the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute ( and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (, in various ways. See his blog at for past articles, his YouTube channel for films featuring his work, and order his book The Promise of Justice on

The above headline was the title of one of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s sermons that shaped me as a young student activist 40 years ago. Last week at the judicial hearing into Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s liability for costs over the Sassa litigation, I witnessed the inverse from Dlamini. Tender-mindedness and tough-heartedness.

Judge Bernard Ngoepe adjourned the judicial hearing into Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s liability for costs over the Sassa litigation early, because he was ill. I wondered if his body was reacting to the toxic contagion of deceit and phony authority that was spewing out. It was sickening to me too.

Meanwhile a similar situation was playing out at the Life Esidimeni arbitration before Judge Dikgang Moseneke, as Qedani Mahlangu sang off the same discordant song sheet.

My friend Mark Heywood urged me to spend some time there too.

Mercifully, when I arrived to show support and solidarity with the families of the psychiatric patients who died after their abandonment, Mahlangu had finished her testimony. Smarter minds and more tender hearts were testifying. MEC Barbara Creecy, Premier David Makhura, MEC Gwen Ramokgopa and Minister Aaron Motsoeledi demolished Mahlangu’s case but did not try to shirk responsibility for omissions and lapses that the searchlight of hindsight had revealed.

I spoke to a number of mourning relatives, and was quickly admitted as a participant in their mourning. Tears flowed.

Blessed are those who mourn,” the teaching of Jesus serendipitously infiltrated my smartphone in the form of the Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation.

Aaron Motsoeledi’s exceptionally tough mind incisively perceived the astonishingly perverse contradiction that saw an excellent human rights-based mental health policy on paper fail to prevent a murderous outcome in practice.

His concluding confession and apology came from a tender heart that softened the hearts of everyone.

The tears flowed some more.

Tears are therapeutic and healing, both emotionally and physically. Crying helps the body shed stress hormones and stimulates endorphins. Weeping is a natural and essential part of being human,” the spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran writes.

Richard Rohr explains:

We can spend the better part of our lives attempting to construct the perfect personal environment, a kind of bubble that will insulate us against everything that is unpleasant. But sorrow is woven into the very texture of life. Pain, disappointment, depression, illness, bereavement, a sense of inadequacy in our work or our relationships … the list could go on and on…

Is there meaning in this pattern, in the inescapable mingling of sorrow and joy? The mystics say there is. If tears are a fact of life, they have several lessons to teach us, and the first is to learn to keep on an even keel through life’s inevitable storms….”

In other words, keep a tough mind.

Having established that there was no agreed policy of “de-institutionalisation” nor any cost-cutting imperative, the question posed by counsel for the families to every witness at the conclusion of their cross-examination was the same. “Why do you think this happened?”

The four witnesses I heard were all at a loss to explain, saying that a criminal investigation would need to ensue to establish motive.

Fraud and monetary gain were suspected.

But even if pure criminality does explain the crime, a tough mind must ask why such callous criminality was allowed to take root and spread?

Paradoxically, a radical policy of “de-institutionalisation” is perhaps now exactly what is needed. The de-institutionalisation of corruption.

Cyril Ramaphosa, by all means be tender-hearted toward Jacob Zuma. But if the deaths of the Life Esidimeni patients are to have any redemptive meaning, you have to be tough-minded and do the right thing.

Zuma must be de-institutionalised from the Presidency, given a fair trial and re-institutionalised at a State correctional facility when found guilty.

I fear still more vulnerable and disadvantaged people will die as a consequence of institutionalised corruption unless the Rule of Law returns with vigour. DM


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