Among the sweetest voiced choirs in heaven is that comprising all the Western Cape children who have died violently over the decades, but here on earth our voices should be raucous with outrage write DESMOND TUTU and MPHO TUTU.
This week a Delft family is preparing for the funeral of their nine-year-old daughter. Little Lihle Hlanjwa was raped, set alight and abandoned next to a freeway in January.
Lihle’s death on Tuesday capped 10 days of extreme brutality and violence in Cape Town.
· Two weeks ago, five people were killed in Mitchell’s Plain, including 12-year-old Jucinta Matroos and two teenage boys.
· Last Wednesday, a Delft father handed himself over to police after killing his wife and three-month-old baby.
· Last Friday, 59-year-old Ms Anne Marks and 18-year-old Mr Ebrahim Daniels died following a shootout between rival gangs in Kewtown. In the same incident, three children – aged six, 14 and 16 – sustained multiple gunshot wounds.
· On Monday, we cried with Mr John Abrahams in Delft, a father-of-three whose 16-year-old son Edwin died in his arms after being shot four times. “My son wasn’t a gangster. He had his ups and downs, but he wasn’t a gangster,” the heartbroken man reportedly told the Cape Argus.
Last month, a teenage girl was gang raped in Manenberg, allegedly for straying beyond her home territory, controlled by one gang, across a field in territory controlled by another.
Last year, when we heard about the attack on Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen we hung our heads in shame.
It is an epidemic that has been coming on for decades. As a society, we are guilty of not providing appropriate treatment and allowing it to spread.
Evidence of collusion between apartheid police and Western Cape gangsters in the 1980s was presented to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While the evidence was not always definitive, it was clear that the authorities of the day had no interest in eradicating anti-social activities – provided they were kept away from neighbourhoods reserved for white citizens.
Then democracy dawned in South Africa, with the attendant task of building a new country on a foundation of equal rights, justice, dignity and compassion.
Looking back 20 years, South Africa’s freedom meant many things to many people. At the most fundamental level, our attainment of democracy officially acknowledged that apartheid was sinful, and that the dignity of all people – irrespective of race or gender – was paramount.
If there was one factor that unified all South Africans, it was “hope”. We were high on hope. We gloried in the triumph of humanity that the new South Africa represented. We basked in the bright expectation of what we and our nation would become. And, in Mr Nelson Mandela, we had a leader who embodied magnanimity and reconciliation. We experienced those massive symbolic nation-building moments, such as when we won the Rugby World Cup. Regardless of pigmentation our skins tingled in unity and joy. We truly felt that the sky was the limit.
Of course, hope manifests in a myriad of ways. Some people would have been concerned that there should be no deterioration in the quality of their lives; others hoped for material improvements in the quality of theirs.
As priests, however, ours is not only the material but also the spiritual domain. We care about bread and butter; we also care about matters of the heart and soul. For people do not live by bread alone.
South Africans were profoundly wounded by apartheid and we continue to carry the scars. The level of violence within our families attests to that. The progress of our healing is – unlike counting the number of houses that have been built – is difficult to quantify.
Once again, Madiba comes to the rescue: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” he said.
Wherever one is in the world, the avoidable death of a child is considered a disgrace; the rape of a child is considered an abomination. Yet, in Cape Town, a world class city voted by New York Times readers as among the top travel destinations on earth, it’s impossible to tell how many children have been brutally violated and/or killed over any given period because nobody appears to keep such records.
Not all of the victims are affiliated to gangs, or fall direct prey to the gangsters who appear to control many working class and poor communities.
But all are victims of the environments in which these communities are forced to subsist, environments that are fundamentally unsuitable to developing our children or our society, environments that are conducive to the breakdown of respect for ourselves and therefore for others, and to crime.
We debate whether policing has let us down when the debate should be: What are we to do in order to build sustainable communities? What are we to do in order to inculcate sustainable dignity and hope in our people? What are we to do in order to ensure that law-abiding citizens, the majority of citizens in all communities, have the opportunity to improve the prospects of their children, our children?
The reality for citizens across broad swathes of the Cape Flats and the surrounding region is that 20 years into South Africa’s democracy they have yet to receive a freedom dividend. They have yet to be freed of the yoke of oppression wrought by gangsters and sex-fiends and other criminals. Most of these communities remain as fundamentally dysfunctional as they were when they were first thrown together as racial enclaves in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than the authorities managing to contain it, the scourge of gangsterism has spread from Coloured communities to neighbouring, dysfunctional – predominantly African – communities.
And thus, each year, the police release crime statistics showing that the Western Cape is the most violent place in the country, with the highest proportion of murders and rapes. It’s almost as if this is normal service. But it is grotesquely abnormal, and the sweet lament of our young heavenly choir is proof of that.
It is easy to blame others for our malaise. All are guilty. We blame the government, and the various levels of government blame each other. We blame the police, we blame teachers, we blame poverty, we blame apartheid – and we tend not to take any responsibility, ourselves.
During the 1980s something quite remarkable happened. Hundreds of organisations, representing millions of people, agreed to work together to bring the apartheid government to its knees. Most of these people were not hardened activists; they were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. They were young and old, and their skin tones ranged from 70% cocoa to milky bar.
The power of common purpose that the UDF achieved was unstoppable. Such unity of purpose is unlikely to be replicated any time soon – it was the culmination of more than 350 years of organisation against racial oppression in South Africa. But the lessons that the UDF taught us are nonetheless relevant. And primary among them was the power people wield when they join hands.
On your own your best protection may be installing thicker burglar bars and making sure your children never walk out of the door unless accompanied by an adult. It is when the whole neighbourhood is switched on to looking out for its children that a community can begin to heal. It is only then that the village can raise the child, as it should.
People were created for inter-dependence; among our greatest gifts are our abilities to reason, to know right from wrong, and to love. The human chain is as strong as its weakest link. When some of the links show signs of faltering, those around them give them strength. That’s how we work within our families. And it’s how the human family, God’s family works.
We know that we cannot turn anti-social behaviour around in a day. But if we make a concerted effort we can change anything. Let us make a beginning – starting with our own children, in our schools and sports clubs and community centres, in our mosques and churches and temples – we can begin to heal our essence, our compassion and restore our Ubuntu, our humanity.
What occurs in Manenberg or Khayelitsha does not only affect the people of Manenberg and Khayelitsha. It affects each and all of us. Rape, brutality, bullying and fear undermine schools, they place a severe financial burden on state hospitals, they require police prioritisation in one area to the detriment of policing in other areas. The mayhem in Manenberg spills across our city in the form of property crimes, drug sales, human trafficking, car-theft…
Rather than make God smile, God hears our children singing and cries.
Let us create an earthly chorus of undeniable protest. And enliven in the heavenly choir a song of unsurpassed joy.
* Desmond Tutu is Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. Reverend Mpho Tutu is Executive Director of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.
This article was first published in Saturday Argus on 22 March 2014.