The prevalence and acceptance of violence in South Africa is disturbing. Almost 20 years after the fall of Apartheid, it is still a country deeply divided along racial, ethnic and political lines. The recent attack on a Mozambican taxi driver is simply one such example. One need only look to the police attacks on protesting miners in Johannesburg that led to the deaths of 34 miners and more than 70 injuries in 2012, or the fact that South Africa has one of the highest incidences of violence against women (and children) in the world, to understand how violence threatens this “Rainbow nation.”
Violence is not something only perpetrated in the townships of the country, but rather it is perpetrated at, and by, the highest echelons of society. When a country allows individuals who are specifically tasked to protect its citizens, such as police officers and civil servants, to commit acts of atrocity with little to no reprisal, what is the hope that ordinary citizens will not resort to such violence? Who are our role models?
South Africa has a precious opportunity to address these egregious acts of violence, but it must do so quickly. The violence must be denounced by all members of society and not just in words alone. Yes, the South African Police Commission expressed “extreme shock and outrage” at the nine police officers who dragged the taxi driver through the streets of Johannesburg, but “extreme shock” does not bring these individuals to justice. The South African Police Commission must make a public commitment to end these horrific acts defined by excessive use of force. Furthermore, they must be held accountable to that commitment. Acts such as these must not go unpunished.
South Africa has numerous natural resources, yet it is argued that since the fall of Apartheid, violence and income disparities within the country have worsened. It is country full of people who made a commitment to forgiveness, a commitment to moving forward beyond the past. It has given me hope in the power of humanity, even when humanity seemed to be at its worst. South Africans have been through too much to see it fall into the downward spiral of endemic violence. This is a turning point. These violent acts must be admonished. Only then can the country move forward as was the hope 20 years ago.
Contributed by Linda Harris, South Africa Country Specialist for AIUSA