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Brutal responses to suspected theft a sign of deep damage - Letter to the Editor Cape Times 27 March 2012

Brutal responses to suspected theft a sign of deep damage - Letter to the Editor Cape Times 27 March 2012

Children and adults watched this week as an enraged crowd necklaced three men in Khayelitsha. Their crime - allegedly stealing a generator - was negligible compared to the punishment. No one stepped in to stop the killings.
In our Healing of Memories workshops, we are still seeing people traumatised by having witnessed necklacings during the 1980s. Are we beginning the cycle all over again?
Last week, three men’s bodies were found on a beach in Macassar after they were killed for allegedly stealing a plasma TV set. This week, residents of Grabouw tried to torch a school in a neighbouring community and went on a rampage of assault, allegedly because they themselves wanted a better education for their children. It is tragically ironic that this happened on the week we celebrated Human Rights Day. Education, and the opportunity to live in safety, are basic human rights, as is the right to a fair trial.
Most of us probably let these shocking news reports pass us by, overwhelmed by the brutality. As a nation we have become desensitised to horrific violence. Violent retribution is becoming a common response to social problems in South Africa, and we need to sit up and take notice, as individuals, communities and leaders.
Where the brutality of the response far outweighs the severity of the alleged crime or problem, there is a sign of far deeper damage. Layers of pain lie behind an anger so extreme that it propels people to seek out scapegoats for their own problems, and then commit murder.
Residents of Khayelitsha who are prepared to kill in an attempt to improve their own safety are motivated by frustration on many levels. They feel they are at the mercy of criminals, and of police inaction.  They are also acting out layers of anger fuelled by their present and past pain - the majority of people were disempowered in our country’s extremely painful past, and a large proportion is still impoverished and struggles to provide for their families.
If we leave these wounds to fester, we condone and invite further social violence, which threatens the country’s future stability. Our problems and wounds need to be acknowledged and addressed by all of us, with honesty and courage.
Allegations against the police in Khayelitsha must be investigated, and dramatic action taken to clean up any negligence or wrongdoing. Churches, mosques and community leaders and non-government organisations must take an ethical stand against violence, and at the same time help communities to deal with their own trauma.
Crucially, our national leaders must speak out to condemn the violence and must promote and exemplify ethical behaviour, while being seen to tackle the underlying problems that keep communities mired in poverty and at the mercy of criminals.
At a recent Healing of Memories workshop, a young girl said: “I don’t want them to burn down our school, but when it’s happening, I don’t see what I can do to stop it.” Thousands of children are watching, suffering and being traumatised by these acts of social violence. For their sake, as well as the sake of the damaged communities in which they live, we must stop the damage.
Only by acknowledging and addressing our old and recent wounds and taking conscious steps to remedy the situation, will we stop South Africa’s cycle of violence.
Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM
Director: Institute for Healing of Memories

About Us

The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

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  • Institute for Healing of Memories
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    Cape Town, 7708, South Africa

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