Lizette Rabe
Lizette Rabe

How does ubuntu rhyme with crime?

The role the media have played in forging a feeling of national unity after the rugby victory is commendable. And indeed, it must have been an inspiring change for editors to devote so much space to good-news stories.

But imagine what change we can bring about if the same amount of space is devoted to that one thing that is tearing — ripping — South Africa and all her communities apart?

It is not a coincidence that Lucky Dube was murdered the day before the rugby victory. As part of the statistics, he was yet another South African who could not expect to drop his son off at his brother’s house and survive the drive, despite the protection and right to life our Constitution promises.

The fact that he was (yet another) well-known personality to be a victim of crime was the coincidence.

Or: not even any more, as so many well-known personalities have become victims.

But maybe the media should now also say this was one murder too many.

Maybe we should use this moment of national euphoria to address our too many moments of national shame and agony: a society living under the fear of crime and violence, instead of one walking in the light of a liberal, and liberating, Constitution.

We know the clichés. Here’s one: we are suffering from an orgy of crime.

If women in middle-class suburbs are constantly living under the fear of becoming a victim of rape, imagine the constant trauma women in informal settlements have to deal with. Am I going to be lucky to wake up tomorrow? Maybe “only” raped? Maybe my life will be spared?

What is it like for a wife, a husband, a mother, a father, children — whole families — who have to live with the constant pain of having lost someone who was the light of their lives? Maybe, also, the bread on their table and the blanket on their bed? If we think of that loss, that constant agony of yearning for a significant person who gave meaning to your life, but who have also provided you with sustenance in a literal way, what can we as the media do to try to avoid a next murder?

How can we affect on a micro scale the lives of South Africans? And, on a macro scale, the values, and respect for life, in our country as a whole?

We see the results of shocking studies. The latest is called “The child rape epidemic”, published in the latest edition of the South African Medical Journal. At the same time, the Human Rights Commission has called for a body against crime, to be managed from the office of the deputy president.

In a recent journalism competition, some of the judges’ comments were the following:

  • “The judges were faced with countless stories covering violence in its many guises.”
  • “… The situation is of great concern for the next generation, and how we are failing them.”
  • “… We have a Constitution which enshrines children’s rights, but these pieces reflect that as a society we are failing them abysmally.”
  • “… To expose the plight of children raped by known adults.”
  • “The power of the media is to act as a watchdog, to draw our attention to action which needs to be taken, to rectify a wrong and to ensure that we are constantly aspiring to meet the tenets of a humane and democratic society.”
  • “… focused on the exploitation and abuse of children in a province and country where the rights of children are protected in our Constitution.”
  • These are just some extracts from citations in only one region in this competition.

    The question we need to ask ourselves is this: When are the media going to act and not only react in terms of covering crime and violence?

    The media were a significant tool to foster change under apartheid. The media have immense influence to change a society. But it seems as if we are becoming a toothless watchdog in this respect. Maybe an absent watchdog, indeed, is a more apt description.

    There are no easy answers. But we, the media, should start to make our contribution in eliminating this agony from our society, so that we can be that ideal society that is described in our Constitution — the one we know we can achieve.

    We have always been the consensus-seeking, pragmatic nation. There is consensus — an outcry — that crime should be addressed. The question is how we as the media can play our part to tackle the issue.

    How else can we say we are proudly South African? How can we say I am because of you; human beings are human beings through other human beings; our Afro-humanist spirit guides us? Because: How can ubuntu rhyme with crime?