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The anatomy of violence and confrontational politics

The nature of social arrangements among black people appears to have been severely disrupted by their unflattering history. It is troubling when programmes for regenerations of morals are instituted, when you would have assumed that morality is an intrinsic virtue of mankind. Human relations have been ruthlessly distorted by varied pursuits for survival and the need to extricate oneself from unforgiving and vile existence.

The philosophical value system of ubuntu; that “I am because you are”, has lost expression among black South Africans. I have observed that often black people are much harsher in their response to one another than is necessary; and they are prone to violent reaction than they would if it were a person of another race group. Africa is embroiled in unending conflict that often is inspired by factionalism; black-on-black violence is not an uncommon feature in this continent; and these are greatest impediments to social and economic development.

Colonialism did have a devastating impact on Africa; and decades of apartheid similarly had negative impact on black people in this country. The adage that out of nothing comes nothing is supported by a weaker form of determinism which suggests that man is a product of his environment. Is the erosion of ubuntu owed to and justified by the current political environment and consequence of our history? Logic would dictate that man ultimately possesses the power to influence and change his environment. We must shoulder some measure of blame for where the country finds itself.

I speak of black people in this article as they represent the majority; and it is by no means an exoneration of any other race group from blame. Apartheid sent a specific message to oppressed black people that their lives were worthless and expendable. The violence that has plagued society may be attributed to the need to act on the beliefs that none of our lives are precious. The swiftness of the response by the authorities to acts of violence against the white community when perpetrated by a black person also imprinted the absurd notion that black lives are expendable. During apartheid, black-on-black crimes were often ignored or the perpetrator let to escape with a light slap on the wrist. Unfortunately the situation has not changed drastically since the dawn of freedom.

I do not espouse the belief that black people have a greater predisposition to violence than members of other race groups; as we are impacted in varying degrees by inexorable forces that may provoke violent behaviour. We all possess some intellectual ability to alter aggressive predispositions in favour of peaceful arrangements. Like all things, that intellectual ability is not equally distributed. Acts of aggression are rooted in man’s abandonment of reason and his overwhelming desires which cloud his reason.

Dr Martin Luther King (1929 — 1968) once reminded African-Americans that those who have been constantly abused and humiliated can still hold the moral high ground. In 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela from captivity, and the months that followed during the negotiation process, black people aptly demonstrated their ability to rise above historical grudges and chart a future full of promises of hope and prosperity. Mandela presided over what the world referred to as a miracle; but none of it was a miracle but a revelation that we, as Africans, are not incapable of being tied by common humanity.

It was the absence of that common humanity that stirred the Rwandan genocide in 1994, which could have been prevented. South Africa could have a chosen the path of war but reason prevailed. In preface of the book written by Reuel Khoza, Let Africa Lead, former president Thabo Mbeki said, “understanding who we are as Africans and what we imagine ourselves to be capable of must be enhanced by intellectual analysis and then applied with conviction”.

Mandela, in foreword to the same book said, “respect for human dignity and freedom of thought are the hallmarks of the humane approach towards political and economic development … leaders must lead and not be steered by the whims of whoever shouts the loudest”.

The collective capacity of human wisdom and its application in response to factionalism and criticism is conspicuous by its absence in our current political arrangements. The state of black political parties leaves nothing that inspires confidence and provokes ardent hope about the future of politics. Our politicians have elected the path of less resistance — populism and intimidation; abruptly abandoning principles for political expediency. It is not unreasonable to have had an expectation that factionalism within the ANC at this time would have been ended; but we have leaders who are destitute of ubuntu and lack the conviction to follow the dictates of their conscience, if any, and do what is right.

The burden of responsibility to transform current circumstances in order to shape the future as it ought to be, is imposed upon society by failure of leadership. Failure to restore the country on the path constructed during the first democratic election would be an indictment on society. Society cannot at this moment abandon the task of ensuring that we have leadership that represents who we are and we stand for, not what it assumes us to be and stand for. Armed with a full might of a vote, nothing can stop us.


  • Sentletse Diakanyo

    Sentletse Diakanyo's blogs may contain views on any subject which may upset sensitive readers. Parental guidance is strongly advised.