Defend Truth


Our society is sick. We must find our common humanity and free the frightened child


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.

I keep on hearing everyone asking, ‘What have you done, what has the government done?’, when in fact, our societal problems can only be addressed once we find our common humanity, once we know who we truly are, what we stand for, aspire towards and where we want to go. Until then we are wasting our time.

The gruesome killing of a female Fort Hare student this last week has left the university in shock and resignation. Resignation, because we have been informed, in Women’s Month, of other killings of women as well. The rape statistics are off the chart and point to a serious sickness in our society.

Yes, our society is sick!

The latest crime stats further affirm this. We are told that contact crimes have risen by 60.6%. In other words, murder, attempted murder, sexual offences and all categories of assault. Police registered 10,006 cases of rape between April and June 2021. This was an increase of 4,201 cases, 72.4% more than the same period in 2020. It defies belief, it’s horrific, to say the least.

We have:

  • 5,760 people murdered in South Africa between April 2021 to end of June 2021;
  • 10,006 cases of rape registered during the same period;
  • 487 of the rape cases were domestic violence-related, while 164 murders were linked to domestic violence; and
  • A Grade 1 pupil was raped in Soshanguve. A Grade 1 pupil, my God! She must have been five or six years old.

Our society is sick.

The beauty of Cape Town is overshadowed by the fact that this city remains the murder capital of the country. When faced with this depressing situation, when asking pertinent questions, one of these must be: where is our humanity? Did we ever have it? Many have already come to the inescapable conclusion that our society is broken, that our young are being educated, yes, but a core and necessary component must surely be lacking. Do we fully comprehend the psycho-social impact of apartheid on our black men? Running the risk of “blaming apartheid for everything”, surely we must interrogate this issue?

Being demeaned every day, being treated like a little boy at your place of work every day, having children defer to their mother rather than you because you are a migrant worker and don’t really understand them any more. Having no dignity because it is stripped from you every day. Could this explain in part why our men have such disdain for our women? Do they feel the need to exert their authority at home, demonstrate their masculinity, beat women and children into a pulp because then they feel like real men? Is it latent trauma and anger?

Is it why some white men immersed themselves in becoming fitness freaks, particularly post-1994? Because they can hardly relate to or accept the changes in our country? Run, cycle and spin so you may not have to relate to the reality of a non-racial South Africa. Pent-up frustrations perhaps? Where white women now equally get courted by black men and vice versa. It’s all so confusing and maybe too much. Is this why the suicide and family murder rates are also on the rise? Alcohol abuse and domestic violence are equally problems among our white folk.

Our society is sick.

I’m reminded of the late 1990s when we as university students were grappling with this very matter. What is the underlying fabric of our society and how do we instil such? Some students from Potchefstroom University who at the time were steeped in Christianity suggested the answer lies with God. Christianity is the answer, to which the almost immediate retort from other student leaders was, Marxism is the answer, religion is the opium of the people. Teach each one of us historical and dialectical materialism and all shall be well.

Needless to say, there was a stalemate.

Fast-forward to 1990 and a school principal, John Gilmour, in Pinelands, Cape Town, noticed that something was amiss in the school curriculum. He decided to do something about it and faced enormous obstacles. Eventually, he set up an independent school, and in January 2004 the Leap schools were born.

These schools employ the philosophy that social transformation starts with personal transformation, one person at a time, one room at a time, one school at a time and one community at a time. They value being kind, honest and healthy. Working hard and never giving up. Working together and sharing. These are but a few of the values they cherish at these schools. Does it have the desired outcomes? Well, the learners are certainly excelling in their individual endeavours and can only but make a positive contribution to society at large. But the point is, someone tried to instil a particular fabric within our society.

Another active citizen, Taddy Blecher, also attempted to provide a university experience with a difference when he started CIDA City Campus, and introduced the Eastern philosophy of meditation to all the participating students. In the end, it did not work. Why, you may wonder? I think it’s because it was a foreign philosophy and not necessarily rooted in our local context.

Black Consciousness, I would argue, was another such attempt to provide us with some sort of humanity, a common fabric. It advocated for “an attitude of mind”, a “way of life” of black people who believed in their potential and value as black people. Who saw the need for black people to work together for a holistic way forward. This too suffered a blow in the path towards finding our humanity. Why?

The latest attempt at finding it, “I am because you are”, is the philosophy of ubuntu “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. A person is a person because of others. Ubuntu can be described as the capacity in an African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interests of building and maintaining communities with justice and mutual caring.

Well, how far the apple has fallen in comparison to our ancestors.

Instead, we attempt to address this scourge in our society through plans and policies. I keep on hearing everyone asking, “What have you done, what has the government done?”, when in fact, this societal problem can only be addressed once we find our common humanity, once we know who we truly are, who we are as a people, what we stand for, aspire towards and where we want to go. Until then, I’m afraid, we are wasting our time. We pay lip service to all the above attempts to instil some sort of fabric in society; we point fingers and say things like, “It’s in their nature, what do you expect?”.

We hear retorts such as, “Men must just stop raping and killing women, period. Mothers must step up in terms of how they raise their boy child and fathers must lead exemplary lives as it relates to their partners and daughters. All men are trash!”

So we are made to understand and accept. But where must the change really be effected, at what stage must we make a difference in our children’s lives? Because, it seems to me, whatever we have been doing thus far falls far short.

As we continue searching for our fabric, that which must bind us together, that which must guide our humanity towards each other, let us sit and ponder this very important matter.

Let us not be the ones that walk away from Omelas but let us attempt to free this frightened child. DM


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  • RICHARD Worthington says:

    Thank you. To progress from the grim dose of reality (including horrific manifestations of patriarchal entitlement frustrated into abuse of those closest to hand), and move to a hopeful invoking of ubuntu / humanity and consciousness… finding / creating our fabric, within which all threads play a role, is certainly an inspiring image and aspiration.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    It is about rewards for behavior. To improve society the good in society must be rewarded. Crime, gangsterism, and brute force must not pay. Cream must rise to the top. And people must stop being traumatised, e.g. by cruel service (non-)delivery.

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