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No is not an acceptable answer


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which we celebrate on December 10, came at a time when the world was reeling under the devastation of a global war that had seen millions die. But the words from Nuremberg, “never again”, have shown we never learn.

They were repeated a little over 40 years later after 30 000 people were tortured, murdered and disappeared by the military in Argentina. Never again was said after the military, backed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, launched a savage campaign in Chile against leftists. This followed the American-sponsored bombing of the presidential palace on September 11 1973 in Santiago leading to the death of the world’s first democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende.

Exactly 28 years before Muslim extremists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Centre in New York.

Never again, was said after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was said after almost 1 million people died in a savage three months in 1994 in Rwanda when Hutus slayed Tutsis.

Never again has become an empty term because ending human savagery requires more than just words, more than new laws or brave sounding constitutions, it needs more than meaningless quotas, it demands the resources that allow implementation. And that we care enough.

In South Africa a woman is killed every six hours by her intimate partner and only 36% of those charged with femicide are convicted, according to the Medical Research Council in 2004.

Noziziwe Madlala-Routledge, former deputy health minister, noted in 2007 that according to the South African police, women and children accounted for 59% of the victims of contact crime — murder, attempted murder, rape, indecent assault, assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm and common assault.
But in November 2007 the United States accused South Africa of obstructing a General Assembly resolution to condemn rape and sexual abuse used by governments and armed groups to achieve political and military objectives.

Kristen Silverberg, then assistant secretary of state for international organisation affairs, said South Africa was demanding “watered-down language”. She said: “We think there is a real difference between governments that fail to prevent rape and governments that actively promote it. The resolution would also call on the secretary-general to report back to the General Assembly on evidence of government-sanctioned rape. South Africa initially suggested it enjoyed the support of the 43-nation African group at the United Nations. When American diplomats made inquiries, they found this not to be true. Three African countries, Burundi, Congo and Liberia, signed on as co-sponsors.”

Why would South Africa with a third of its parliamentarians women and the highest rate of rape in the world adopt such a position?

Sexual violence is the fastest growing crime in the world. Human trafficking, as an example, almost exclusively in young women and children, is now more lucrative than drug trafficking — 200 years after the end of slavery, trading in humans is a growing business in southern Africa.

Harm against one is an attack against all, and unless we mobilise vigorously against perpetrators we will never end the violence that destroys our societies.
The person who raped and stabbed me had three outstanding rape charges, a murder charge and an outstanding attempted murder charge. He was released on bail after each and police ignored a magistrate’s injunction to link those crimes to the rape perpetrated against me. In my case he was charged only with rape and not the stabbing, theft, nor stalking (we still lack legislation that criminalises stalking).

Resources are not being allocated thoughtfully by governments. I queried my water bill recently and an official at Johannesburg City Council called up a satellite map of my home and every house on the street. The picture was so sharp you could see dogs and people in gardens. But my local police station can’t call up a satellite map of houses in the neighbourhood in the way that Jo’burg Water can.

Human lives are not sufficiently valued.

And without values societies decay.

Honesty is a value we all talk about, but few use. One of the greatest values is enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath that doctors swear to — it is also the value that Google has as their guiding creed — it says, “first do no harm”.

To do no harm demands self-control, respect, commitment and love.

Values also mean regular self-assessment. I may say I am non-sexist, but am I really? Do my actions convey that? Do I feel it when I speak to men? Do I do things that help enhance the rights of men? Values challenge hypocrites.

It is pointless to complain unless we carry solutions that we are prepared to work on. My daughter has just begun environmental activism and she said to me: I never realised before how hard activism is. She said the one thing I’ve learned from you mommy, is that NO is not an acceptable answer. If one person says no, you have to find someone within the same organisation that will say yes, even if to just part of what you want.

Never accept NO, there is always someone willing to say yes. Someone as concerned as you about making this a better world.

  • View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here.
  • Author

    • Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which she has worked have also won awards. She has worked as a broadcast journalist and radio-station manager. Smith's areas of expertise are politics, economics, women's and children's issues and HIV. She lives and works in Cambridge, USA.


    1. Alto Alto 27 November 2009

      As always, I ma hugely impressed by your writing and your views.

      Please write more, much more.

      SA needs more good people like you to punt their views.

    2. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 27 November 2009

      How can we control crime in South Africa if the ruling party gives criminals as much as, or more rights than victims? Criminals have the vote, the right to strike and the right to bail as attested to above ( and there are many many cases of this). Perhaps a vote for the ANC is more important to the government than a woman or child being abused. Either it is right or it is wrong and this does not simply apply to a particular point of view. Laws are there to be kept but in South Africa laws are there to give guidance to those who need a law to break. Our values do not change with a point of view. We should cast our values in stone and not accommodate those who have different values. If your values are different to those of the country that you live in then you must go elsewhere as the country should not be ‘tolerant’, or vote in a government that will support your values. Tolerance breeds contempt for the law and society, as is well demonstrated in our crime and corruption riddled country. A rainbow nations such as ours now applies to a rainbow of crimes that are acceptable. Nothing is learned from history. I wonder if there is at least one ANC government department that is law abiding?

    3. Lu Lu 27 November 2009

      Brilliant article…I wish we had more people with insight and will to change the status quo

    4. Plonked Plonked 27 November 2009

      I want to know why crime increases? I don’t believe that the only problems are poverty. I don’t beleive the solution is to ‘hang them high’, once you have to punish criminals it is too late, the crime has been committed.

      Why have we lost our values? Is it linked to our highly materialist very unspiritual society?

      In South Africa could it be the rapid transition from traditional society to urban society where the only values are the clothes we wear, the cell phone we own, and the image we present, no matter how the trappings to present this image are aquired?

      Young men and woman are no longer quided into adulthood by the elders through an age old tradition of initiation rituals. Now if you want recognition as an adolecent, join a gang, they also have initiation rites.

      We need to engage psychologists, criminologists and sociologists in this debate. We have listened to the right wing religious fundamentalists vs the limp wristed liberals mud slinging match for far too long.

      By the end of 16 days of activism I want some real answers please.

    5. Wise Old Joe Wise Old Joe 27 November 2009

      There is more to crime than meets the eye. Moaning about the government is a national past time, you don’t have to be too clever to do it either and all the sheeple nod in agreement, lets get over it and look at the real causes of crime.

      You cannot offer solutions until you understand the cause.

      Why can one sibling be a rapist and the other sibling an ideal citizen? This could even be in a society that chops off hands for petty theft and stones or decapitates its citizens for anything more serious.

      Charlene says “And without values societies decay” – agreed, it appears to be a worldwide problem. Why?

    6. Rory Short Rory Short 27 November 2009

      @Charlene like other contributors to this web site I too am absolutely delighted that your thinking is appearing on Thought Leader.

      @Plonked I do not think that we have lost our values it is just that as a society we have been, over more than the last 100 years or so, changing the ranking that we give them. Now monetary values have gained precedence over all other values certainly over human values.

      Instead of economic conditions being just seen as limiting factors on our ability to express human and other values, such as preservation of the environment, we have given in to the view that monetary gain is the primary and in fact the sole value that does, and in fact should, mean anything to human beings. Many social and individual ills flow from this view and will continue to do so until we change and put human values where they belong, back at the top of our hierarchy of values.

    7. Woody Woodpecker Woody Woodpecker 27 November 2009

      Proven solutions to crime

      This sounds too simple so is often dismissed:

      “Rather, we must investigate what may be the root causes of crime—the factors that predispose an individual to criminal behaviour in the first place. And therein may lie the solution. In the book The Crime Vaccine, Jay B Marcus indicates that deviant behaviour results from imbalances or stress (the physiological reaction) in the brain and the nervous system caused by outside influences or stressors, such as lack of economic opportunities, overcrowding, poor housing etc. ………………

      …………Research has shown that the regular practise of Transcendental Meditation (TM) creates significant physiological changes within the brain and the nervous system. ……………. TM has been used with great success in the rehabilitation of prisoners at many correctional institutions in the US, Senegal, and other countries worldwide…………..

      ……….If as a society we wish to create a situation whereby we can live without fear, it is not enough to simply rehabilitate prisoners, but we must seek to rehabilitate our society as a whole,…………….

      ……….. More than 50 studies published in scientific journals, including the Journal of Conflict Resolution and the Journal of Mind and Behavior, have documented that a group of one per cent practising the TM programme has a powerful effect on reducing the collective stress of society and as a result, significantly reducing criminal activity and violence………..”

      Full report:

    8. kaas kaas 27 November 2009

      No woman asks to be raped, etc. BUT: I knew many women who stick with their overly aggressive arrogant boyfriends – don’t know the reason, maybe they are concerned they won’t get someone else.
      boyfriend turns to husband , and then these “intimate partners” abuse their women. Surprised? duh.

      So, women: WAKE UP AND THINK A BIT FOR YOURSELF. Stop dating the bastards, then you won’t marry them and then you won’t get raped/killed later in life. As simple as that.

    9. nguni nguni 28 November 2009

      ‘No is not an acceptable answer’

      This is what every rapist says,
      so adopt a new mantra.

    10. Dan Dan 29 November 2009

      If I understand Peter Joffe correctly those who opposed apartheid should instead have simply left South Africa because their values differed from those enshrined in law. Values do change, like other aspects of culture. Do we still murder someone because they choose the wrong religion? There’s the law, then there’s right and wrong. Sometimes they coincide.

      It is always amusing when representatives of the US make a pretense at holding some moral high ground. They take no issue with death and mayhem when it suits their purposes. They opposed the forming of an international court. They refuse to stop producing, selling and using landmines. They aggressively promote persecution of certain groups.

      @Woody Woodpecker I’d be most suprised if you could find any proper scientific research supporting the extraordinary claims made for TM.

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