Breaking the Cycle of Violence – A Call for Action

Talk delivered by SHUAIB MANJRA at the Claremont Main Road Mosque, 22 February 2013.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have taught the following:

“The believer with the most complete faith is the one with the best character and the one with the best character is he who treats women with dignity and honour” (reported by Abu Hurayra and recorded in the hadith collection of Tirmidhi)

On the basis of this hadith we conclude that in Islam the level of the believer’s faith is evaluated by his/her ethical conduct and the highest form of virtuosity is affirming the full dignity and honour of women.


South Africa reacted with shock, disgust and disbelief at the brutal violation of 17 year old Anene Booysen. She was raped and brutality murdered in Bredasdorp a few weeks ago.

Her murder was overshadowed in the last week by the case of South Africa’s celebrity Paralympiam Oscar Pistorius’s – who allegedly senselessly murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp –  an act which also left our country aghast.

One was a crime against an innocent girl, largely unknown to the perpetrators or known to some. The other was a crime against a woman who shared an intimate space with the alleged perpetrator. The two cases that I cite involve people that come from different races and different classes. The common denominator in both cases was a crime against women. More importantly they were an exercise in power. An expression of hubris that knows no boundaries – boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, religion or educational level are immaterial.

Both cases are little different in their intent, brutality and the factors which contribute to such violence.

It was the brutality and insanity of the violence perpetrated that shocked. It was a demonstration of a lack of humanity of the perpetrators. An inhumanity that tears at the soul of each and every one of us. Even in the country which has become accustomed to violence and rape, we were brutalised by these gratuitous acts of violence. It was the representation of a moral vacuum.

Our hearts go out to the survivors of this brutaliy – Anene Booysen’s family and friends. Reeva Steenkamp’s family is also in our thoughts. We feel for them, but can never experience their pain.

These events are tragedies. But the greater tragedy lies in the fact that these are not unusual occurrences – but are simply emblematic of a broader societal problem. This is a daily occurrence in many parts of our country – not least of all in the poor working class townships that are a blot on our country. They remain hidden except in the vilest cases.

But there comes a time when society stands up and says this is enough. Jyoti Singh’s brutalisation and murder   represented such a moment in India. India is another country where violence against women is endemic and structural and given legitimacy through culture and religion. The public reaction to Jyoti’s death in India was dramatic with even the Prime Minister present at the airport to receive her body. The public reaction in South Africa was more muted – where at best there were statements condemning the episode. Thousands of UCT students who this week marched against violence against women are to be commended. Aneen Booysen’s murder must represent that moment for us in South Africa.

The knee-jerk response of most of us was to call for increased and improved policing, harsher sentencing and even the death-penalty. These measures are necessary for both their punitive and deterrence value  – but they largely serve to address the consequences of the actions.  We cannot deal with this moral morass, these levels of endemic violence simply through harsher punitive sanctions. We should be asking another question; a more fundamental question: how can this be prevented? What are the underlying causes of such violence. However in addressing the structural causes of such violence we must not detract from personal complicity. And in apportioning personal blame we cannot ignore societal influence. Such actions ultimately are formed by a complex matrix of individual and societal influences.

Unless we begin to address these – the scourge of violence against women will continue unabated. In fact it will only get worse.


The structural causes violence in our country are stark and inter-related. Evaluating them gives us a sense of the enormity of the problem and puts to bed any notion of short-term solutions or easy remedies. We should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities


The first and most important cause of such violence is the way we are socialised –  the way our attitudes and behaviours towards women are shaped in our formative years. Our children learn what they see and what they experience. If our society casts women as inferior, as weak, as objectives, as possessions, as servants – then our children grow up accepting such attitudes. Our boys grown up with such attitudes and our girls grow up accepting such attitudes. In short we do what we learn, what we see and what we experience.  These attitudes are replicated through generations.


The second major cause is attributable to the cycle of violence where those who are victims of violence or even witnesses to violence are more likely to become violent themselves. This is termed intergenerational violence. Such behaviour may manifest through anger issues, criminal behaviour, domestic violence, etc.  Violence becomes a learnt behaviour, which is taught through society:  such violence may be represented by physical violence, emotional, or sexual violence. Children learn that this type of behaviour is normal and may re-enact such behaviour. Problems are managed through violence, which also serves a disciplining role.

In short violence is a learnt behaviour that is passed on through generations unless the cycle is broken.


Thirdly, we are ‘multiply wounded country’. This simply means that we are wounded in different ways and that this wounding is widespread.  This is a term that was first used by Nicaraguan psychologist Martha Cabrera who worked in Nicaragua, a country as wounded as ours,  through her organisation Citizen’s Movement for Social Change.

Our multiple woundedness as a country comes from our experiences of colonialism, apartheid, dislocation, victimisation, racism, patriarchy, marginalization, economic exploitation, violence, torture and other forms of disempowerment that reduces the majority of our population to the level of sub-alterns. We thus carry the weight of this scarring as individuals, families, cultures and communities. This continues through generations.

The effects of this past sits hidden in our souls and the very fabric of our daily existence,  terrorising us with the actions of rapists, murderers, domestic violence, school violence, alcohol abuse, police violence, road rage, taxi conflicts, violence by striking workers and interpersonal violence.

We have not adequately dealt with this scarring of the past. Reconciliation in our country has benefitted the powerful, not the powerless.

We lack the emotional vocabulary to express our feelings and have normalised the abnormal behaviour that comes from these scars – the behaviour of violence that lauds the policy of ‘shoot to kill’,  a return to the death penalty. Or a view that believes it is okay to beat a woman now and then.


The over-arching need to create a dominant masculine identity among our men has resulted in a notion that masculinity means power. And that power needs to be exercised to demonstrate masculinity – that power is most often demonstrated through physical aggression.  Compounding this, when men are traumatised, the dominant way they express their pain is through violence and aggression.

This masculine identity is reinforced through sports clubs, gangs, parental prodding and insults. Don’t be a sissy is one such insult. So sports club may be a solution – they could also become a problem if they over-emphasise a negative masculine identity. How often have we heard of members of sports clubs gang raping women.

While this masculinity is problematic, this problem is compounded where this identity is challenged. Currently in many communities this masculine identity is in crisis.  Men are frequently not the bread-winners and don’t occupy the traditional roles, thus emasculating men. Furthermore boys often have no male role models because of absent fathers. A large part of our communities consist of single parent families. Boys frequently find their masculine identity being formed outside the home where violence becomes a legitimate response in human interaction.


In areas such as Bredasdorp where the violence against Anene Booysen occurred over 50% of the population is unemployment. Unemployment creates a crisis of identity – where there is a feeling of a lack of self-worth, of a sense of time that whiles away, of a sense of hopelessness. In a traditional society it robs a man of sense of supporting his family.

Unemployment eats away at one’s soul – since we all find meaning in productive work. It destroys the morale and leads people to other forms of escape – drugs, alcohol, etc.


These remain a scourge of our society and are major contributors to violent behaviour.

South African drinkers rank amongst the top  five heaviest drinkers in the world with approximately 45% of drinkers classified as risky drinkers – with the risk particularly high in the Western Cape. Alcohol abuse is a major contributor to homicide. SA as a country has among the highest homicide rate in the world. Alcohol is major problem amongst those who carry out homicide, as well as the victims. Trauma consumes one third of our provinces health budget.

While this has been recognised as a problem – little is done to address it.


Last but not least – we face a profound moral crisis in our country. Even the President of this country hides behind the veneer of culture and tradition to demonstrate a lack of respect for women. We have a crisis of leadership. A culture of legalised looting.  A lack of respect for law. Every disregard for law inspires other violations of the law. Everyone begins to act with a sense of impunity.

We also need to recognise that each one of these perpetrators come from a community. Each one of these perpetrators is a son, a father, a husband or a brother. And each one of the victims is a sister, daughter, wife or mother. Each  one of them comes from a community made up of families, social clubs, religious institutions and schools. All these institutions have failed both perpetrator and victim.

So in summary the structural cause of such violence emanate from our SOCIALISATION, it is perpetuated through GENERATIONS. The over-emphasis of an aggressively MASCULINE IDENTITY plays a role in such violence. Other contributors include UNEMPLOYMENT, DRUGS, ALCOHOL and GANGSTERISM. All of these are contributed to, and are indicative of a PROFOUND MORAL CRISIS. We also need to recognise the MULTIPLE WOUNDEDNESS of our society.

These problems have no simple solutions. And don’t be fooled by those who offer such simple solutions. The rhetoric of politicians, the preaching of the clergy, the marches of the activists and the selflessness of the NGOs are not sufficient to address this profound crisis. We need to all work together and declare a STATE OF EMERGENCY in this country. We need every resource to work towards rebuilding the shattered fabric of this society. We may not feel it in the surburbs, the evidence in the townships abound.


Against this background of the multiple causes of violence we could become disempowered. We all do not have the tools to change these historical injustices. I do not have the answers. All I do is echo and add to some very practical suggestions by  Carol Bower, former head of Rapcan.

  • Ask better questions and use these to educate and inform ourselves and our actions

Do not ask what we can do to stop this – as this couches the narrative of us (good people) against them (bad people). Rather we should be asking the question ‘what is it that we are doing that creates the possibility for these things to happen”. How do we as a society contribute to such violence?  Why is it that our sons, brothers or fathers can commit such acts? For example how do we construct gender and gender roles and the unequal power relations that characterise such roles.

Why is it that rape happens? How is it linked more broadly to violence? We need to understand why rape is  not about sex or lust but more about power and control. So to focus on women’s dress does not address the issue.

  • Raise our kids differently

We need to raise our kids with self discipline, the ability to make sensible decisions and live as free and equitable human beings that respect the rights of all others. Don’t allow them to become abusers or victims of abuse.

We need to teach our children that violence is not a tolerable response. That men and women are equally deserving of respect and trust and equally contribute to society without these genders determing strength or power.

Teach them the Quranic essence that both men and women were created from the same spirit (nafsiw waahidah) – deserving of equal respect.

  • Develop intolerance for certain behaviours

Do not tolerate attitudes or behaviours that create the environment for a sexist society to exist. Do not tolerate sexist jokes; harassment or violence against women.

Provide support to those who are abused and counsel them to seek help without fear.

Religious communities should declare a zero tolerance for abuse and violence. Whether this related to paedophilia in the Catholic Church; or where a Saudi celebrity preacher violently rapes, tortures and kills his five-year-old daughter and then is released by paying blood money, or the case of a Jewish Rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who likened sexual molestation to diarrhoea and has said victims of sexual abuse ‘should get over it’.

We should develop a zero-tolerance for Imams, Shaykhs and Moulana’s who abuse their power against women and children.

  • Provide support to organisations delivering services to survivor of rape and violence

I believe that in the absence of adequate social services in our country, the NGOs are the glue that hold our society together. Without them millions of people will be left to drown in the sea of neglect. Just recently Rape Crisis, the Saartjie Baartman Centre and the Trauma Centre for Survivor of Violence and Torture faced imminent closure because of a lack of funding. These organisations play a critical role in supporting our communities and turning victims into survivors. They counsel abused women and men, they introduce violence prevention programmes in schools and many other interventions that seek to reduce the levels of violence in our society. We need to support all of them. Without them we will all be poorer.

We need to support them financially, with our time and our power to get government to allocate funding to such valuable institutions.

  • Interrogate religious texts

Cultural and religious traditions play in socialising and legitimising human behaviour. These are consequences of religiously sanctioned gender roles – when one gender is seen as more powerful than the other. It creates a culture of patriarchy which is essentially a power construction. We need to critically examine religious texts within the broader spirit our of faith to ensure that the dignity of all human beings is equally affirmed.


Are issue that demand action both by civil society and the state.

In conclusion our country faces a profound moral crisis.  It is not sufficient to bemoan politicians. Rather we all need to believe in our own power to change this society. And societies change through individual change. Deep within each one of us we need to rekindle a spirit of equality, fairness, justice and respect for all people. We need to specifically focus on respect for women in our communities.  We all need to invest in rekindling the morality that our society so desperately needs. The immorality of corruption, of poverty, of homelessness, of sexual violence are all inter-linked. Thus this struggle is a long and difficult one. I repeat that we should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities.

As Gandhi said – we must become the change we want to see in the world.

The Quran says: ‘Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change themselves’. (13 : 11)

This is a long and difficult road …. but this is one journey we must begin …. and we must begin NOW. We should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities.


Reflections on the 21st Anniversary of our Democratic Elections

Talk delivered at the Claremont Main Road Mosque on the occasion of the 21st Anniversary of the first democratic elections

With a landmark 21st anniversary of our 1994 watershed democratic elections upon us, I want to use this opportunity to reflect on this critical conjuncture of our history.

South Africa undergoes periodic paroxysms of serious debate around transformation when a signal event occurs or a dramatic eye-catching one. The rest of the time this debate simmers in the background by the malcontents – and rightly so. This current paroxysm has been initiated around the statue of Cecil John Rhodes and to a lesser extent the inclusion of Vernon Philander in the Protea’s Team that lost their World Cup semi-final match to New Zealand. Then of course we have the current outbreak of xenophobic violence. Common to all these is the issue of marginalization and exclusion.

After reading the thousands of words written on this issue and the question of transformation, one thing is patently clear: that transformation means different things to different people. Or, as Lewis Carroll put it in Alice through the Looking Glass – ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean’.

So Xolela Mangcu thinks it’s race that is the fundamental issue, in response to others who think that class has been missing in this debate. Others think that the economy is the fundamental question; others think that land is of primary consideration. And then there are others who think that if we create an open and equal opportunity society the consequences of the past will right themselves automatically.

Historically the idea of transformation emerged as a response to the inadequacy of the binary opposition of reform versus revolution in the post-1990 conjuncture. Revolution would have seen the old system destroyed and a radically new system replacing it; reform would have seen an adaptation of the existing order to accommodate the demands of the majority of South Africans. Thus the notion of ‘transformation’ is the outcome of a negotiated compromise settlement at Codesa which ensured South Africa’s stable transition to democracy. Transformation within this context was the weapon meant to ensured that a compromised political transition translated into a broader and more fundamental social change in this interregnum, where to use the words of Antonio Gramsci –‘the old has not yet died and the new had not yet been born’. This is a delicate time in the history of any nation in transition where there is a contest for hegemony by the old and the new – where the new want a stake in the system, or to transform the system, and the old want to preserve their power and privilege and the status quo. Of course one can never predict the outcome of this struggle or that of transformation. There is always the danger – one which Gramsci called transformismo – which roughly equates to the cooption of threatening ideas in a particular social context, in order to create consensus and maintain the dominance of the hegemonic group. Put another way the leading class in society absorbs, translates and articulates the demands of some of the dominated sectors in order to better defuse them. In Gramsci’s analysis the formation of a new ruling class through transformism ‘involved the gradual but continuous absorption … of the active elements … from antagonistic groups’ in a process whereby ‘the absorption of the enemy’s elites means their decapitation’. This meant that the new system gave the ruling elite a stake in the new system in what passed for transformation. Some would call this necessary to maintain stability, as happened in Italy where the leftist radicals were coopted into government and which informed Gramsci’s analysis. Jeff Rudin puts this in the context of our debates around transformation at UCT:

‘Collegial governance has, on balance, reinforced rather than undone white domination and it has sheltered racist attitudes and practices. Many black staff and students find the university to be a hostile space in which a degree of mutilation of the self is part of the price that has to be paid to keep going’.

Transformation is thus both a process and an outcome to ensure that society fundamentally changes the way in which it operates in order to grant the majority (or disempowered) population an equal stake in the system. Of course what this system constitutes requires another critical discussion. Democracy is one aspect of this change – but democracy here refers to democratizing all spheres of social life and an empowerment of those hitherto disempowered; not the democracy that actually disempowers.

This is where the liberal notion of ‘equal opportunity society’ falls flat. One cannot simply take a society with a long history of racial discrimination, marginalization and dispossession, and the next day expect them to compete on an equal footing with those who have had access to the best education, finances, health services, resources, networks and experiences. That power relations reproduce themselves is axiomatic. Historical resources are used by the dominant class to enter, entrench, extend and perpetuate their positions of power and privilege, consequently keeping the weak and marginalised out of this circle of privilege. Poverty similarly reproduces itself through unemployment, poor housing and health care, poor education, lack of role models and networks. This cycle, as is historically evident, is reproduced through generations benefiting a particular class and/or race – where the rich become wealthier and remain largely white, and the poor become poorer and remain largely black. This has been scientifically confirmed in Thomas Piketty’s landmark published study, Capital in the 21st Century.  It takes a momentous committment and process to change this vicious cycle of exclusion so that all members of society have equal access to resources and, importantly, realise their full potential. Trickle-down economics will not make a dent in the transformation process.

Apartheid was no simple racism or separate development that can be righted in a short space of time.  It was social engineering on a grostesque scale. Apartheid was a form of racial capitalism that simply treated black people as cheap labour and nurtured them as ‘hewers of wood and carriers of water’ – this was the biblical phrase used by Hendrick Verwoerd to describe black people . It was a form of capitalism that used legislation including the poll tax to force black people off their subsistence farms, forced them to engage in wage-labour, and dislocated males and females from their families through pass laws. Men and women saw their families once or twice a year: fracturing families, destroying traditional family relationships, child-rearing, African traditional life and decimating local economies. Starvation wages and illnesses associated with mining were the lot of the miners eking out a pitiful existence on the margins of urban localities– and who were simply dumped back to their homes when they were too ill to continue working. Marikana in its dastardly form was a picnic compared to the lot of mineworkers and other workers over centuries.

Transformation in this context requires reverse social engineering to level the playing fields so that those who are excluded are included, those who are denied opportunities are given them, and those whose access has been blocked are given first access. This assumes critical proportions in a society as unequal as ours. Our societies are variously divided into the pre-modern and post-modern, rural and urban, the employed and unemployed, black and white, rich and poor. Within this context the tools of transformation that we seem to rely on are Black Economic Empowerment, Employment Equity, preferential university admission and quotas in sports teams. Unfortunately these mostly benefit the already privileged.

We would be mistaken to think that those born into privilege or those who have acquired it (some through their own enterprise) are going to relinquish it easily. Of course none would question the legitimacy of transformation, but few would be willing to give up their privilege or at least share it. As Steven Friedman writes about the Rhodes Statue – and here may I remind you that Friedman is not speaking about the right wing elements, but rather about liberals:

But the controversy is really about something deeper — the racial denialism of a strong strand of South African liberalism. Black students and academics are angry because, 20 years after the end of apartheid, they remain second-class citizens on most campuses: black academics remain a small fraction of teaching staff, while the writings of black thinkers are relegated to the margins. Most students are black but the world in which they study is distinctly white. This shows how deep-rooted the attitudes that underpinned apartheid are — and it points a finger at a form of liberalism that has washed its hands of racism while continuing to practise it. It is no accident that the protests are happening on the campuses of English-speaking “liberal” universities, which have long claimed to be victims of racism: it is precisely at those institutions that race is kept alive by denying it’.

So transformation importantly requires an acknowledgment of the black experience, black hurt, its pain, its consequences and its reproduction and the exclusion of its culture, values and history in our discourse. Without that transformation would remain superficial and not address the core issues that cause periodic ructions in our communities. Having said that, we need to remember that fundamentally there will be no substantive transformation unless socio-economic transformation occurs. It is ultimately about the economy.

This brings me to the second point regarding transformation, which is that by purely focusing on race, we miss the dimension of class and power. This is important because the GINI coefficient demonstrates that South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies on the planet. BEE has created the enrichment of a few not the empowerment of the majority. Capital has granted access to those in political power in order to leverage some privilege rather than empower ordinary workers, foremost amongst them their own labour force. How much more effect BEE would be if it compelled employers to grant some stake in their business to their own workers. Creating black millionaires and billionaires through BEE simply entrenches the existing class and power structure without addressing the upliftment of the majority of black people. These black capitalists are simply absorbed into the system doing little to empower other black people as predicted by Gramsci’s transformismo. Cyril Ramaphosa and Marikana are a case in point – where he seemingly played a role in the massacre of striking workers. Show me one beneficiary of BEE that has changed the nature of power relations, of labour relations or bucked the system (unless they have been personally aggreived).

Similarly much of the concern around the Rhode statue and the ructions at UCT and elsewhere are largely, but not exclusively middle-class concerns. Black academics want promotion, students want access and privileges. Of serious concern is exclusion of black students as a result of not being able to afford the fees. Working people and the unemployed, who are stared down by Rhodes from his perch care less whether his statue falls or remains. Killing and removing the dead is easy – hence UCT’s easy capitulation on the removal of Rhodes statue. More difficult is to challenge and eradicate the ideas of Rhodes which are very much alive at UCT – of racism, liberalism, of privilege and workers exploitation. Symbolism does not translate into substantive transformation. Will promoting black staff and students at UCT make for a better society or a society that cares for its poor and really disadvantaged or like BEE just create a stake for them in the existing power system. Thus Xolela Mangcu is fundamentally wrong in simply invoking race as the most important arbiter in this conflict. As Jeff Rudin says of those obsessed only with race:

Colour-coding access to scarce resources is the main hallmark of the new, post-Apartheid, non-racial South Africa. This colour-coded access to wealth and/or promotion is, of course, enormously important to those who benefit, many of whom are not without legitimate grievances. But for everyone else – the vast majority of South Africans – it makes not a jot of difference, for as long as the class structure of South African capitalism remains untouched. Creating black billionaires and millionaires through BEE further entrenches this class structure. Similarly, making university staff all black is plainly important to the people concerned but, in itself, does nothing to promote the interests of everyone else that’s left behind in the inequality that makes our country a world-beater.

So far – with all too few exceptions in some universities – there’s precious little to show that black staff are any more disposed to promoting the radical societal changes required by workers – who still suffer the legacy of Rhodes’ cheap labour policies and practices – the unemployed and the other battalions of the increasingly restless poor and disadvantaged.

Economic transformation is fundamental. Racial desegration will not bring about economic transformation. But economic transformation will go a long way in desegregation and bringing about substantive social transformation.

My third point is that transformation requires a fundamental restructuring of how power is constituted in our society. We cannot simply reproduce the apartheid power relations with black faces. We need a fundamental shift in how power is exercised and diffused throughout society. Currently we have a ruling party instead of a serving party:  A party that operates as a democratic dictatorship (or democratic centralism) instead of a model of participatory democracy. Majoritarianism has been falsely equated with democracy. While acknowledging the merits of the proportional representation system we currently have, the major problem is that no individual is accountable to his or her constituency or the public– but is rather beholden to the party and all of its policies. These parties are in turn beholden to its funders where such funders are hidden from the public. We thus need to support the current campaign for transparency in political party funding, which all the parties currently oppose. Our current power elites have simply fitted into the model of the past with all the trappings of privilege. We expected better. Even the Trade Union leadership, currently consumed in its own battles is oblivious to the dire circumstances that people in Khayalitsha daily confront, for example – with no access to santitation, high crime rates and poor policing, poor schooling and poor amenities. Those in power are far removed from people’s daily realities. Our ruling party spends more time defending the President than serving the nation. In doing this they could destroy all the institutions that protect our functioning democracy: SCOPA, the Public Protector, the NPA, the Hawks, the judiciary,  SAPS and the Intelligence Agencies. Through cadre deployment and corruption we have seen the destruction of Eskom, SAA, the municipalities and a host of other institutions where corruptions seems to be the norm with no firm visible action taken against perpetrators. Political cover is given to the guilty – the Amigos case just one such example. We also currently view with alarm the decimation of COSATU.

This new form of power has avoided any degree of political accountability by using its power as the majority party and through the use of a simple obfuscatory mechanism called The Commission of Inquiry or what Dale McKinley sarcastically calls the Omission of Inquiry. He further states:

“Amongst its many other attributes, South Africa could arguably be called the Commission capital of the world. While there is no official list of how many Commissions of Inquiry there have been in the 20 years since 1994, suffice to say that the numbers are impressive. In the last 14 years alone there have been no less than 10 national-level, high profile Commissions of Inquiry – five of which have yet to run their course – accompanied by scores of others emanating from the executives and departments at national, provincial and municipal levels. What is a great deal more in doubt though is whether all these Commissions have achieved anything other than to soak up large amounts of public monies, to control and manipulate public opinion and attention, to avoid political accountability and individual responsibility, to cover-up criminal behaviour, and generally act as vehicles for doing little to nothing?”

 The findings of these Commission’s are presented to the President and executive, who more often than attempt to conceal their findings through invoking state security legislation or use it to fight political battles. These commissions include the Khampepe Commission into the 2002 Zimbabwean elections; 2004 Hefer Commission – set up to investigate allegations of spying against the then head of the National Director of Public Prosecutions; the Khampepe Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions) in 2006. The 2006 Matthews Commission on Intelligence; the  Seriti (Arms Deal) Commission which has racked up a bill of over R300 million rand with a limited mandate in order to protect state employees; finally there is the Farlam (Marikana) Commission of Inquiry into the 2012 massacre of striking miners – the report therefrom is currently sitting with the President.

As Terry Crawford-Browne has noted “Commissions of Inquiry have traditionally become places to park a hot potato until it gets cold.”

The one Commission of Inquiry which did achieve some success was the Inquiry into Policing in Khayaletsha – which was forced by civil society actors including the SJC and Ndifuna Ukhwazi. Interestingly this Commission was opposed in court by the Minister of Police when established by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. There have been notable successes out this Commission because it was independent and initiated and monitored by Social Movements, but much more has to be achieved. This is an example of grass roots activism and democracy.

But the public is not easily fooled. South Africa has an extremely high rate of social protests that take place on a daily basis, which remain largely unreported until they affect functionality or more affluent areas. They are largely based on local issues – lack of service delivery, non-performance by local officials, crime and corruption. It is only a matter of time where this rebellion of the marginalised becomes an organic crisis and becomes more organised, more political, more widespread and more coordinated – where we begin to see a move such as the Occupy Movement or the Arab Spring which may give rise to new political formations or exploited by existing ones such as the EFF or the United Front. We have seen such protest movement remove traditional liberation movements around the world – where sentimentality gives way to disillusionment and common interests.

As Abraham Lincoln famously remarked: you can fool some of the people some of the time; all of the people some of the time; but not all of the people all of the time. That time will surely come if this government continues to ignore the poor and marginalized – a time where popular rebellion by the marginalized will engulf this country on an unprecedented scale – far worse than the high number of civil protests that we currently have.

Talking about the poor and marginalized brings me to the next point regarding transformation and that is the burning issue of xenophobia.  We have witness the most dastardly acts against people from other countries who have come to ours for various reasons – as political, social or economic refugees. These people would rather die or drown in oceans than stay in their home countries – so dire is their lot. These are acts of criminality driven by a hatred termed xenophobia. We have targeted people simply because they are different to us (or more successful). Nothing can justify such attacks against innocent people earning an honest living who come to our shores out of desperation. But these attacks don’t occur in a vacuum. They result from discontent among people regarding their lot and rather than blame those responsible lay lazy blame on outsiders. Such thinking is fuelled by those in power: be it the Zulu King or Ministers in Government who either inspire such attacks or create a veneer of justification for them. In fact the Khayalithsa Commission of Inquiry into Policing heard that crime against business owned by foreigners was twice that of local shop owners and that police stood by as Somali, Zimbabwean and other foreign owned shops were attacked and looted – pointing to a complicity by the police force.  That foreigners are succeeding in business on our shores is due to our failure to create entrepreneurs or skills for people to succeed where others can. We should not begrudge the other, but rather aspire to their successes and learn from them. Most of these people came to our shores with very little but have succeed through hard-work and establishing networks for mutual benefit. There is no reason why we cannot do the same. I will give you simple case: my helper at home spoke about a Somali trader in her area who she used to purchase from. She described him as one of the kindest people she knew. She had numerous burglaries in her house and he used to voluntarily come and fix her gate and other broken items without cost. When he was attacked she showed some sympathy but  laughed about it –  not the outrage one would expect in such circumstances. This was because regardless of how good he was, he was of the ‘other’. This ‘othering’ creates a banality in our evil. It robs our country of a civility. Xenophobia is world-wide phenomenon, it’s just that with our experience of apartheid we expect better.

This ‘othering’ and consequent demonization is a historical phenonemenon with catastrophic consequences. Frightening is that those who have been victims become its perpetrators. But more importantly there is an ever closing circle of ‘othering’. As UCT Social Anthropology Professor Francis B Nyamnjoh writes:

this diminishing circles of inclusion dictates that the next amakwerekwere, foreigners or strangers, is always one layer below the obvious one’.

Today it is the foreigners, tomorrow it could be Indians and Coloureds, then it could be gays and lesbians, then it could be the disabled, then women …. This hierarchy of race, class and ‘othering’ continues to close down on those who are more vulnerable, as if the dehumanization must be a continuing cycle: that because I am dehumanized, I must similarly act in an inhumane way towards others below me in the social hierarchy. This ‘diminishing circle of inclusion’ is poetically and presciently captured by one of Hitler’s victims, Pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Professor Nyamnhoh invokes the Nando add which was banned by the SABC to demonstrate our common history:

The ad starts with black Africans illegally crossing a barbed-wire border fence into South Africa. There is a voiceover and each time the voice calls out a name, the group of people who represent that particular identity are transformed into a cloud of smoke, as follows: You know what is wrong with South Africa: all you foreigners. You must all go back to where you came from – you Cameroonians, Congolese, Pakistanis, Somalis, Ghanaians and Kenyans. And of course you Nigerians and you Europeans. Let’s not forget you Indians and Chinese. Even you Afrikaners. Back to Swaziland you Swazis, Lesotho you Sothos, Vendas, Zulus, everybody. In the end, only one person is left standing, a San man who, armed with a bow and arrow and ready to explore the wilderness, confronts the voiceover with these words: “I’m not going anywhere. You found us here.” The ad concludes with the voiceover saying: “Real South Africans love diversity.”

He sees this advert ‘as articulating an idea of identity and belonging in South Africa that is both conscious and cognisant of the histories of mobilities of peoples that have made South Africa possible, and that remains open to new and ongoing mobilities. capturing the spirit of our nation’.

These xenophobic attacks are not only against foreigners, rather they attack all we stand for as a rainbow nation, including the notion of inclusion The justification provided for these acts of xenophobia are vacuous. Firstly foreigners make up only 4% of our workforce. Secondly those are targeted are black foreigners not white foreigners (or what we rather call expats) – not that, that would be acceptable. Secondly, the challenge to local businesses in the townships come from the monopolies and big supermarket chains, not the Somali or Nigerian businessmen who are only small time traders – yet are targeted. The point I am emphasising is that xenophobia feeds on the already marginalized.

The issues I have raised today, including the need for transformation in dealing with race, economic disparity, the constitution of power and xenophobia point to a South Africa where we are struggling to find and adhere to a common set of values and to forge a shared sense of national identity. Instead of maturely engaging, debating and discussing around our painful, complex, and uncomfortable past seeking genuine transformation, we use this past as an excuse to mask our current failures, corruption and incompetence.

We have failed to include the majority in this new dispensation – who continue to feel dispossessed, marginalized and alienated. As a result of this sense of frustration and despair, despite our peaceful transition to democracy violence is part and parcel of who we have become. As Barney Mthomboti puts it:

 We are a damaged society. Violence is part of our DNA. We resort to violence at the slightest provocation — in our homes, at work and in the streets. People are killed for a cellphone or a few coins in their pockets. Women are abused and murdered by their partners. We resort to violence as an alcoholic turns to booze for solace. And we’ve learnt to justify it. When people commit crime, we say it’s because they are poor. A form of redistribution, I guess.

 In conclusion I quote extensively  Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela since I cannot put the challenges before us more eloquently than him when he spoke at the Universities graduation ceremony a few weeks ago describing those who were running our country ‘as people of questionable moral and ethical character’. He says:

‘The noble qualities and values of personal integrity‚ honesty‚ humility‚ compassion‚ respect for each other‚ fairness‚ forgiveness‚ empathy‚ selfless dedication and willingness to put others first‚ that were so beautifully exemplified by President Nelson Mandela‚ have given way to venality‚ a complete lack of integrity‚ moral decadence‚ profligacy‚ rampant corruption‚ deceit‚ and duplicity.”

He continued:  “SA had lost its moral compass by voting in people who have no sense of the difference between right and wrong‚ just and unjust‚ fair and unfair‚ ethical and unethical to positions of significance‚ power and influence. We have become a society in which obscene and unbridled opulence exists alongside debilitating poverty and deprivation; a society that relentlessly promotes a culture of untrammelled greed and conspicuous consumption above the public and common good; a culture that judges one’s worth by the amount of personal wealth amassed.”

 “South Africa had become a society where far too many people were mired in desperate daily routines of survival‚ while at the same time‚ crass materialism and vulgar and ostentatious displays of personal wealth had become fashion statements for the political elite.

 Speaking directly to the 2015 graduates he said: I urge you to go out and make a difference in a society characterised by incertitude‚ cynicism and despair. My appeal to you is that you become an active‚ engaged and concerned citizen who takes a special interest in and concern for those who are living in the social and economic margins of our society. We cannot fail them; we dare not fail them.”

 This is also our challenge.

I end with a prayer for peace, justice, reconciliation, hope and freedom; a prayer I hope all of you recognize:

Lord bless Africa May her glory be lifted high Hear our petitions Lord bless us, your children

Lord we ask You to protect our nation Intervene and end all conflicts Protect us, protect our nation Protect South Africa

Out of the blue of our heavens Out of the depths of our seas Over our everlasting mountains Where the echoing crags resound

Sounds the call to come together, And united we shall stand, Let us live and strive for freedom, In South Africa our land.

 To those who have no recognised it, I remind you that this is our beautiful national anthem to which we do violence every single day.

Shuaib Manjra, Cape Town, 24th April 2014