This is an edited ver­sion of the Dul­lah Omar Me­mo­rial Lec­ture,given by Graça Machel at the Uni­ver­sity of the West­ern Cape this week.

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

ISTAND here to­day, along with the mem­ory of ad­vo­cate Dul­lah Omar and the prin­ci­ples of jus­tice and equal­ity he stood for, urg­ing us not to spare the strength or courage re­quired to col­lec­tively soul-search and move us closer to the South Africa en­shrined in the dreams of our Free­dom Char­ter and Con­sti­tu­tion.

As a na­tion, we were spared the rav­ages of civil war as the apartheid regime was dis­man­tled and made a rel­a­tively peace­ful tran­si­tion to a demo­cratic state.

We are at war with our­selves and with each other. We are plagued with deeply en­trenched and fes­ter­ing wounds. The most vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of these can be found in our vi­o­lent, un­equal so­ci­ety.

Bru­tal vi­o­lence vis­its us in our streets and in our houses on a daily ba­sis. Me­dia re­ports of smash and grabs, kid­nap­ping of young women, hor­rific gen­der-based vi­o­lence cases, bru­tal xeno­pho­bic at­tacks, cy­ber bul­ly­ing, ser­vice de­liv­ery ri­ots and po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions are com­mon­place.

I will first speak of the vi­o­lence we visit upon our­selves – our chil­dren, our youth, our women, our el­derly and our im­mi­grants – and then turn to our vi­o­lent out­cry against our in­sti­tu­tions.

Madiba rightly said, “There can be no keener rev­e­la­tion of a so­ci­ety’s soul than the way in which it treats its chil­dren.” Any so­ci­ety vested in its own progress must en­sure its chil­dren are pro­tected and nur­tured. Cu­ri­ously, South Africans show lit­tle re­gard and value for its youngest gen­er­a­tions.

In schools and in their homes, where they are sup­posed to find sanc­tu­ary, chil­dren of all ages are vic­tims of un­speak­able vi­o­lence. They suf­fer sex­ual vi­o­lence at the hands of fel­low students and teach­ers. Abuse of power by prin­ci­pals and teach­ers has made our class­rooms and bath­rooms un­safe for our pupils.

For ado­les­cents, phys­i­cal bul­ly­ing is com­mon­place and now cy­ber bul­ly­ing has be­come fash­ion­able with girls be­ing “slut shamed” on What­sApp groups, Face­book time­lines and Twit­ter feeds. Posts go vi­ral of gang rapes and sex­ual as­saults on school grounds.

There is a high preva­lence of teenage preg­nancy, with around 30% of 15 to 19 year olds re­port­ing hav­ing ever been preg­nant. Ac­cord­ing to the 2015 an­nual school sur­vey, over 15 000 pupils be­came preg­nant dur­ing the aca­demic year, many as a re­sult of abu­sive en­coun­ters.

Early preg­nan­cies pose health risks to the mother and child, make it more chal­leng­ing for a girl to com­plete her ed­u­ca­tion and reach her aca­demic and pro­fes­sional po­ten­tial and put sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial and emo­tional strain on fam­ily mem­bers.

More needs to be done to ed­u­cate ado­les­cents around sex­ual re­pro­duc­tive health and en­sure girls and boys are mak­ing re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions around their sex­u­al­ity.

Chil­dren are also dy­ing at the hands of adults at as­tound­ing rates. In Cape Town in 2016, at Salt River mor­tu­ary alone, at least 30 chil­dren were killed in their homes.

Hav­ing been so­cialised in a cul­ture of vi­o­lence, a nat­u­ral ten­dency will be to op­er­ate in the world from a place of ag­gres­sion and phys­i­cal com­bat­ive­ness. We see this play out in young adult­hood and be­yond through gang vi­o­lence, date rape, road rage and bar brawls.

When a so­ci­ety has lost its sense of bound­aries and lim­i­ta­tions, and has lit­tle re­spect for hu­man life, what re­sults is the vis­ceral vi­o­lence at­tached to what in other coun­tries is lim­ited to petty crime.

Home in­va­sions and car theft es­ca­late quickly here into kid­nap­pings, rape and mur­der.

From 2015-16, over 18 500 mur­ders were recorded – an av­er­age of 51 a day. This as­tound­ing statis­tic makes South Africa one of the most vi­o­lent so­ci­eties in the world and par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous for its young peo­ple, women and el­derly.

Ac­cord­ing to the Vic­tims of Crime Sur­vey Data report re­leased by Stats SA, most of these crimes are likely to oc­cur ei­ther in the home or among peo­ple who know each other and with the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol or drugs.

This im­plies that re­gard­less of what crime strate­gies the po­lice adopt, many of these crimes will con­tinue un­less be­hav­iour and value change takes place in our so­ci­ety.

Alarm­ing rates of bru­tal­ity against the el­derly turn of­ten de­fence­less care­givers and ma­tri­archs into vic­tims of hor­rific vi­o­lence. Rape, sex­ual grop­ing and as­sault of el­derly fam­ily mem­bers is of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by the use of drugs and al­co­hol of the per­pe­tra­tors.

We have not only turned against our own, but against those who have found refuge in this coun­try. Waves of xeno­pho­bic at­tacks in 2000, 2008, 2013 and 2015 saw the killing of for­eign na­tion­als from Nige­ria, Zim­babwe, Kenya, So­ma­lia, Pak­istan, Ethiopia and Mozam­bique.

We are a na­tion at war with it­self. At war with our fel­low cit­i­zens, and at war with our in­sti­tu­tions.

There is still a com­mon no­tion that vi­o­lent protest is an ac­cept­able re­ac­tion to state ac­tion (or in­ac­tion). Ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests and strikes of­ten turn vi­o­lent. Mu­nic­i­pal IQ, a data ser­vice that mon­i­tors hotspots, says 86% of ser­vice de­liv­ery protests on its radar were char­ac­terised by vi­o­lence in 2016. Burn­ing, loot­ing, ston­ing and de­struc­tion of prop­erty are com­mon­place. There is also se­vere mis­trust be­tween law en­force­ment and com­mu­ni­ties.

Ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions have also be­come a tar­get of vi­o­lence. Students with le­git­i­mate de­mands around free and ac­ces­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion should not feel they have to turn to vi­o­lence by burn­ing li­braries and de­fac­ing prop­erty to have their de­mands met. While cit­i­zens should and have the right to protest and de­mand change, vi­o­lent protest should not be the first and nor­mal course of ac­tion.

We have in­her­ited a vi­o­lent past and legacy of dis­re­gard for au­thor­ity. As a so­ci­ety, it is clear we have nor­malised vi­o­lence and we have yet to un­learn how to in­ter­act with each other from a space of ag­gres­sion.

We live in a cli­mate and cul­ture of hos­til­ity and vi­o­lence that needs to be se­ri­ously dealt with.

While we put in place a sys­tem of gov­er­nance to re­place our old po­lit­i­cal frame­work and gave great thought to our po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, we did not give the same con­sid­er­a­tion to re­vamp­ing our so­cio-eco­nomic land­scape.

Clearly, more work needs to be done as eco­nomic in­equal­ity is still a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem. The gap be­tween rich and poor is one of the widest in the world, the rich­est 1% of the pop­u­la­tion own­ing 42% of the coun­try’s wealth.

We have yet to dis­man­tle the con­tempt-breed­ing in­equal­i­ties apartheid cre­ated. The stark di­chotomy be­tween Alexan­dra town­ship and Sand­ton City, or Langa and Camps Bay, is heart­break­ing and un­ac­cept­able this far into our new dis­pen­sa­tion.

State cap­ture and cor­rup­tion have taken over our news head­lines. We feel be­trayed by some who we have elected to lead and gov­ern us with re­spon­si­bil­ity, ac­count­abil­ity and re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tion, yet opt to put them­selves and their cof­fers ahead of the well-be­ing of the coun­try.

Again, the re­sponse to the chal­lenge of na­tion-build­ing and gov­er­nance has been vi­o­lence.

The preda­tory men­tal­ity and mind­set of “get rich at all costs” is not com­mon to cor­rupt gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and business alone, how­ever. Even in our re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions, we see a lead­er­ship cri­sis and lack of moral for­ti­tude. We see ex­ploita­tive pas­tors en­rich­ing them­selves at the ex­pense of their fol­low­ers.

The no­tion of ubuntu is un­der­pinned by the recog­ni­tion that a per­son is a per­son through other peo­ple. Our hu­man­ity is af­firmed through the recog­ni­tion of other – I am be­cause you are.

The re­spect for hu­man dig­nity is an obli­ga­tion and con­di­tion of be­ing hu­man. The in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness and in­ter­de­pen­dency of our hu­man­ity make such ills as vi­o­lence against women, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and op­pres­sion dif­fi­cult to ac­cept.

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