Leading change

The senseless killings of women and young girls is a sign of a morally bankrupt society

Percy Mthombeni (former journalist). He holds an LLB degree and is currently studying towards a Master’s in Law, specialising in human rights.

The phenomenon of gender-based violence is on rise, having lately taken a different turn which sees young girls being brutally murdered by the very people who are supposed to shower them with love. The cold-hearted murder of Karabo Mokoena, which left the country deeply shocked, is clearly only the tip of the iceberg.

South Africa is a country with an undeniable history of violence, ingrained in racism and patriarchal relations. In colonial times, our society was maintained through the barrel of a gun, and through the systematic subjugation of women. As is invariably the case, women and children bear the brunt of any form of violence in communities. Sadly, more than two decades into our democracy, the most vulnerable continue to be at the receiving end of racialised attacks, gender-based violence and senseless killings, not only at home but also in the workplace.

The horrific and ruthless manner in which young girls are being killed by adults, coupled with the ungodly rape of young children, point to something much bigger than the mere commission of criminal acts. The #MenAreTrash campaign, founded in response to a recent spate of gender-based violent crime, offers what seems to be no more than a palliative which, by any measure, falls short of addressing the fundamental causes of these horrific acts. This is not to imply that campaigns aimed at discouraging femicide and infanticide are insignificant. We all need to voice our dismay, but we must not focus solely on the symptoms, which manifest as aggression and often make for sensationalist and heart-breaking headlines.

The problem with campaigns of this nature is that when all is said and done, they leave us with unfinished business. At the heart of the matter lies the lingering question: What is the fundamental cause of the senseless violence being perpetrated against women and children?

Of course, there is a strong argument to be made that what underpins some of these heinous acts is the practise of patriarchy or male dominance, which assigns demeaning and lesser roles to women. Yes, patriarchy and power go hand in hand, but it is my contention that patriarchy cannot be the primary reason for the current state of affairs. Not all (powerful) men are sexually attracted to their own daughters or make infants their sexual prey!

Interestingly, some want us to believe that the police are sleeping on the job, and that the growing number of victims shows just how badly the criminal justice system is failing to protect society’s most vulnerable. Yes, the police are overworked. Yes, moral standards are rapidly being eroded in our society, and ruthless competition for wealth lies at the core of many social ills. But the only inescapable conclusion that one can draw from the violent killings which are terrorising the country and have left many communities grieving, is that we as a society are at fault. We have become morally bankrupt. Clearly, as South Africans we have virtually no common values that breathe life into the nation. Rather, this vicious cycle of killings is further sucking the life out of our people.

The social fabric that is espoused in our constitution has been trampled on by the political elites who have turned post-apartheid South Africa into a predatory state. A fish rots from the head, and that rot has infiltrated all spheres of society. Regrettably, even our churches have lost their prestigious, centuries-old status as epicentres of righteousness and providers of moral guidance. Today, many churches are places of spectacle, horror and terror. Certain pastors are hardened criminals, rather than protective shepherds.

The ongoing spate of gender-based violence owes its genesis to the rapid erosion of morals in society and to its twin sister, patriarchy. Our country is limping, and the orthodoxy of ‘survival of the fittest’ has turned the abnormal into a normal situation. The political elites are not ashamed about enriching themselves by dipping into the public purse while the majority of their people languish in a sea of poverty.

To denounce the scourge of violence is necessary, yet it is certainly not enough. The #MenAreTrash and related campaigns cannot be a panacea for our social challenges.

As a scholar once argued, individuals who are motivated by strong ideas can influence not only a people, but also great nations. The future of humanity depends not on the success of one country, but on the preservation of sound ideas and the processes to think about them until sometime, somewhere, the seed is ripe for germination.

Indeed, our soil lies barren as we wait for strong ideas that can influence our people to give birth to a social contract that will free us from all forms of social ill. As communities, it is time for us to prepare the ground and sow the wholesome seeds upon which the future of humanity will depend.

*By Percy Mthombeni, a former journalist. He holds an LLB degree and is currently studying towards a Master’s in Law, specializing in Human Rights