12 August 2010

We, the broken people of South Africa

South Africa is not at war, but the scope of cruelty and disrespect for human rights in our society is too disturbing to ignore

A year or two ago, after yet another weird atrocity committed against an infant hit the headlines, I commented on a blog that we need a few planeloads of Psychiatrists Without Borders to visit South Africa.

There is (as far as I know) no such organisation – MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières)volunteers represent all medical disciplines – but the fact that war crimes are being investigated in countries across the whole world tells me that there should be. Sure, South Africa isn’t at war, but the scope of cruelty and disrespect for human rights in our society is just too disturbing to ignore.

Whether it’s the shocking report of two girls being raped on their way to school, in separate incidents by different perpetrators, but in the same town and in the same week – or the case of the 11-year-old who appeared in court on Thursday, charged with the alleged rape a four-year-old child – these cases should function as very bright red flashing lights on the dashboard of our nation’s emotional health.

I purposefully avoid listing farm murders, house invasions, ATM bombings, hijackings, muggings, armed robberies, cash-in-transit heists and smash-and-grabs (what a diverse menu of crime we have), because it can be argued that these crimes are economically motivated – although a recent study has called this premise sharply into question.

No, my call for some kind of psychiatric intervention focuses mainly on the rape and/or murder of women, children, grannies and infants because these crimes are about cruelty, rage, impotence and power.

Included in the list of crimes committed by the emotionally-disturbed, I might even number head-boiling cases, muti murders and corrective rape – none of these crimes can be explained sanely in the clear light of day. And before anyone hits me with a cultural clause, the fact that the perpetrators of such crimes hide their deeds and cover their tracks tells us they know that these actions are profoundly wrong.

While my wish for parachute-drops of benevolent volunteer psychologists and psychiatrists is just a dream, there are things that can, and must, be done.

Perhaps simplifying the language of our constitution, and teaching the basic rights it enshrines to Grade 1 learners would be a good start. And doing the same in workplaces, on factory floors, to groups of traditional leaders and street committees, to police and blue-light brigades, and in high schools and hospitals.

It’s what happens when one emigrates to another country – before being naturalised, the candidate has to learn the basic law and constitution of the new country. Well, we South Africans need to be given the opportunity to learn the same basics about our own country and the laws that ensure peace and safety.

According to all their latest speeches and addresses, the government is hastening to right many of the economic, housing and education wrongs that have created such a fertile setting for cruelty, but spending 30 minutes a week outlining why we don’t hurt, maim and rape our family, neighbours and friends would be time very well spent, and an intervention that’s likely to save at least some of us.

(Joanne Hart, Health24, February 2010)



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