Racial oppression and exploitation as well as apartheid in South Africa has created a context for violent crime, writes Tsoaledi Thobejane.
AS THE year 2017 tapers towards a point of conclusion and merry making, let us all hope that we will have a sane festive season devoid of crime, domestic violence and sheer madness unleashed by the euphoria of Christmas and New year celebrations.
The ideology of racial oppression and exploitation as well as apartheid in South Africa created a context of violent crime where the perpetrators of this scourge do not hesitate to go at length to cause untold harm to the victim even after helping themselves to the latter’s belongings or assets. Research has shown that people who are exposed to poverty and de-humanization are prone to commit heinous crimes such as murder and theft.
Crime and violence are the inextricable twins. Human history contains a great many descriptions of how people have used physical violence, both individually and collectively, to control and assume power and authority over others. Violence can be attributed to the destabilization of economic patterns in society. Macro-economic policies such as structural adjustment programmes, globalization and the growing inequalities have been linked to the increasing levels of violence.
Violent crime in SA
In SA, violence against women (and children) is endemic and pervasive. Domestic violence has a devastating effect on the physical, emotional, spiritual and financial well-being of the victims, and threatens the well-being of most of the families.
It is estimated that one in six South African women is battered by a male partner in places such as Western Cape, Gauteng and the Free State Provinces. Almost 48% of sexual offenses take place in the home, whereas 25% of South African women are assaulted by their boyfriends or husbands every week.
This phenomenon is said to cut across all economic groups, but widespread amongst township and city dwellers. It is argued that some of the factors which exacerbate domestic violence are (amongst others), economic dependency by women, on men; polygamy and patriarchal family systems (both in Europe and Africa).
The figures elicited above may have risen when one checks the present statistics.
Some salient issues
SA has reached an epoch of human predicament where the society does not fully understand or know what good governance is all about. Our people are gradually disenchanted by the present political climate, and are seeking ways to vent their frustrations. Crime can be another way of doing this.
Guns can also be used by thugs as an excuse to further their ill-perceived notions. Liberty is the power which compels a person to do no harm to his/her fellow human being. But if it is lacking in our communities, violence will without a doubt, be deeply ingrained in our psyche. Security is the supreme social concept of a civil society. The society exists only to guarantee for each of its members the preservation of their personhood.
Hegel calls the civil society “the state of need and reason”. A human being, regardless of race, colour or creed, has imprescriptible rights to be free. We have moved from a feudalistic mode of existence where mankind would simply threaten the livelihood of another for the sake of appearing powerful like the biblical Goliath. Political emancipation behoves upon us the right to self-determination in the present human polity. Unfortunately, this is gradually becoming a myth in the South African socio-economic context.
When a people have suffered many years of oppression and exploitation, they gradually lose the moral fibre that defines them as human beings. A closer look at Fanon and Bantu Steven Biko’s ideologization of Black people’s collective suffering (and dehumanization) is worth critiquing. Their writings speak of millions of Black men who were skilfully injected with an inferiority complex and despair to an extend that they loathed everything black (i.e. their culture, norms and value systems).
Fanon argues that for the former oppressed to attain true humanism, they must break the mental chains that hold them to perpetual servitude to their white counterparts. He further argues that a Black person is not a person because he/ she always emulates those who are superior to him/her. If there is an inferiority complex, argues Fanon, it is the outcome of a double process: primarily economic. Subsequently, the internationalization or the epidermalization of this inferiority (Fanon, 1968:11).
Fanon says that this lack of esteem of self as an object worthy of love has grave consequences. It keeps the individual in a state of profound inner insecurity, because of which it inhibits or falsifies every relation with others. The lack of effective self-valuation is to be found only in persons who in their early childhood suffered from a lack of love and understanding.
Affective self-rejection invariably brings the abandonment-neurotic to an extremely painful and obsessive feeling of exclusion, of having no place anywhere, of being superfluous everywhere in an affective sense. To be the “other” is to feel always in a shaky position, to be always on guard, ready to be rejected and loathed.
No wonder today’s younger Black priests feel glorious and sanctified when they preach against their own cultural and religious practices. Some of them go to an extend of cursing Ancestral spirits and calling these “Devils” which should be condemned. As if this is not enough’, they will also sing songs that only glorify Israel and unashamedly pronounce that the God they worship is the God of Israel. This alienation from their immediate material condition stems from the colonization of the mind that needs to be liberated.
In psychiatry, there are latent forms of psychosis that become overt as the result of a traumatic experience. But this form of psychosis (i.e. where the preacher feels glorious by preaching against him/herself) is a resultant form of mental hypnosis. It is documented and researched that the majority of South African criminals suffered a traumatic experience under apartheid rule.
This experience reduced them to a level of sub humanity. Most of them do not see the value in human life anymore. This is exhibited by the way in which they commit crime. The brutality and violence that characterizes their criminal acts bear testimony to this.
Apartheid shattered the psychological mechanisms of the oppressed majority. There are relationships between consciousness and the racial context. The social context of the formerly oppressed majority is filled with squalor, poverty and dehumanization.
Respect for life is therefore minimal, if not nullified. This happens in all despondent societies around the world. Their collective psychological inferiority therefore unleashes a violent reaction that is witnessed by the nature of their criminal acts on their unsuspecting victims.
Imagine having grown up in a situation where you are robbed of your self-worth on a daily basis and being told that you are a parasite of the world – and that you are of no use to the world.
You will obviously suffer from an inferiority complex. Your psychic structure will be in danger of disintegration. Imagine, again, having a pastor who preaches Black love, and sees content in people practicing libation ( a practice loathed whole heartedly loathed by the born again Christians as by so doing, you will be seen as worshipping evil spirits ,trees and grave sites which are just full of stones ). This form of preaching can bring back live to a Black person who has been alienated from him/herself.
The following have been proposed by Ludsin and Vetten to be pointers to the root cause of violence:
l A history of subjugation to totalitarian control over a prolonged period of time,
l Alterations in controlling how one feels and behaves, including suicidal thoughts, self-injury, explosive or severely inhibited anger, and /or compulsive or inhibited sexuality,
l Alterations in self-perception, including a sense of helplessness, paralysis, self-blame guilt, and aloneness (Ludsin& Vetten, 2005:27).
Amongst these criteria, the history of subjugation to totalitarian control over a period augers well for analyzing the socio-economic and political landscape in South Africa. The victim (of domestic violence) may experience the trauma of living in a household that is dominated by totalitarian control, while the perpetrator might have suffered under a totalitarian regime (in this instance, an apartheid regime) which has dehumanized him/her.
The writings of Biko vis-a-vis dehumanization
Bantu Steven Biko, a human rights activist who was killed violently by the former apartheid regime, on September 12, 1977, asserted that the system of apartheid saw Blacks as additional levers to some complicated industrial machines waiting to be exploited. In this system, blacks competed with fellow blacks, using each other as rungs up a step ladder leading them to white values (Biko, 1998:155).
Blacks, most of whom were/ are involved in violence, need to realize the need to rally together to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. Group pride and self-determination to attain the envisaged self is dead within black communities. How can this be visible in Black communities which are led by adventurous leaders who are more interested in self-aggrandizement and self-fulfilment?
Biko further argued that a man who succeeds in making a group of people accept a foreign concept in which he is expert makes them perpetual students whose progress in the particular field can only be evaluated by him.
Biko asserts that in being forced to accept the Anglo-Boer culture, the Blacks have allowed themselves to be at the mercy of the white man and to have him as their eternal supervisor.
Most of Blacks have been part of an exploitative society and culture in South Africa. No wonder that they react so shamelessly and violently to anyone who threatens their being.
Biko says that capitalist exploitative tendencies, coupled with the overt arrogance of white racism, have conspired against the Black man. Furthermore, violence (be it domestic or otherwise) can be seen as a continuous process influenced by socialization toward gender roles, cultural beliefs or practices, law and politics.
Once again, as we close this year, we could do ourselves some good by invoking the self-love that our martyrs preached about, so that we can have festivities that are devoid of all the evils that have ironically characterized the celebration of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Tsoaledi Thobejane is an Associate Professor and Head of Department within the Institute for Gender and Youth Studies at the University of Venda.