Defend Truth


The evil of indifference: Hidden and concealed suffering leads to truncated truths


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

As someone once said, ‘indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself’. And if we are to say that the comparisons between the situation in America now and our own material conditions here in Mzansi are similar, it begs the question: What happens when you live in a society that sees the escalation of indifference – people just not caring for the most vulnerable? And this cuts across race; cuts across class. What happens then?

Whether we do it through protest, or whether we choose to do it through poetry, the written word (journalism) or song, unless we speak about the harsh realities of those who suffer, those who fear and those who experience indifference daily, the truth shall never prevail.

For, hidden and concealed suffering leads to truncated truth and solutions. In this fragile experiment, namely South Africa, we have a lot of these truncated truths and solutions and, hence, we’re not making much progress 25 years into our young democracy.

The Intellectual Provocateur, Cornel West (distinguished professor at Harvard, Yale and Princeton) always makes the point that most African-American music, for instance, advocates for how to love. He states that, black music was always at the centre of the black struggle. Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Coltrane, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis and so many more. And that’s just music or song. James Baldwin’s essays on love, Maya Angelou’s poems, the writing and teachings from Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, all about the export of love. West then asks the question: “What is it about these people, after 400 years of being traumatised and stigmatised and terrorised. They still dish out these love warriors?”

He goes on to say that “when talking about black freedom, you’re not just talking about justice. Too narrow, too emaciated.” 

The Isley Brothers’ song “A Caravan of Love” is one such song that advocates spreading the love among us as citizens, they contend:

“Are you ready for the time of your life
It’s time to stand up and fight
(It’s alright) It’s alright (It’s alright, it’s alright)
Hand in hand we’ll take a caravan
To the motherland
Every woman, every man
Join the caravan of love
(Stand up, stand up, stand up)
Everybody take a stand
Join the caravan of love”

As South Africans, are we joining the caravan of love? What are we really made of as a nation? Do we, like our African-American brothers and sisters, advocate for “Love of truth, love of goodness, keeping track of evil, undeserved harm, unwarranted hurt. No matter whose it is.” Do we?

It’s a profound commitment to a love of beauty and a love of goodness and a love of truth-telling. Instead, we place a premium on wealth and accumulation – everybody for sale, everything for sale.

West advocates and I agree with him, wholly for, honesty, decency, integrity and courage.

It’s about “integrity facing oppression, about honesty facing deception, decency facing insult, and fortitude, courage plus magnanimity facing brute force. All four pillars fundamental for the spiritual and moral awakening that is required for prophetic fight back, against ‘spiritual blackout’ and imperial meltdown.”

Instead, there’s this “joyless quest for insatiable pleasure”, according to West.

He goes further to say that: “In a moment of spiritual blackout, you get the normalising of mendacity, the naturalising of criminality, the rewarding of indifference, and the encouragement to callousness.” And that, he says, “are the makings of a catastrophic condition at various levels that cannot but produce more and more neo-fascist sensibilities, neo-fascist policies and neo-fascist ways of being in the world”.

West, with indignation, reminds us all that “our people [are] turning their backs on the poor, with their dilapidated houses, and educational systems, massive unemployment and underemployment, dealing with trauma and shattering families, hungry for love and often not getting any. And, oftentimes, going to the gangs for a sense of belonging, drugs and the guns continue to flow in search for economic sustenance.”


Someone once said “indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself”.

And if we are to say that the comparisons between the situation in America now and our own material conditions here in Mzansi are similar, it begs the question: “What happens when you live in a society that sees the escalation of indifference, people just not caring for the most vulnerable? And this cuts across race; cuts across class. What happens then?”

As we continuously observe, catastrophe meted out against black people (farmworkers in particular), catastrophe meted out against women, where shall it all end?

Let’s tell the truth!

And before you think I’m only taking issue with our white compatriots, West also reminds us of ourselves, as black people. It becomes more of a problem to resolve, he says, “when black folk themselves become more interested in career, and spectacle, money and status. Rather than what their grandparents were teaching them, ‘you be a person with integrity, honesty and decency and even if you get defeated at the moment, you still win spiritually with your integrity because you refuse to be a gangster like those that are gangsterising you’. That’s the tradition we [are] talking about.” Something we black people have forgotten it seems.

And so, when talking about active citizens and what you are doing to contribute to change, allow me to quote another song, this time by Sylvester Steward, better known by his stage name as Sly Stone, when he says:

“Stand, you’ve been sitting much too long
there’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong.
Stand, as a midget standing tall and
the giant beside you about to fall
Stand, there’s a cross for you to bear,
things to go through, if you goin’ anywhere.
Stand, for the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
Stand, all the things you want are real
You have you to complete and there is no deal
Stand, stand, stand.”

There’s a cross for you to bear, South Africans, to make a difference, if you care, if you love! Remember, you don’t have to be an optimist, nor do you have to be a pessimist, like brother Cornel West and myself, just at least be a “prisoner of hope”.

But remember, hope without courage, without action is meaningless. We must act and what must always remain our guiding light, is truth.

The truth shall set us free! DM


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  • Gorgeous piece, thanks Oscar. Check out Ruby Sales for some further insights into ‘black folk religion’. Powerful and real stuff.

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