The events unfolding in Senekal speak to the imperative for a radical practice of non-violence to become embedded in the national consciousness. The rage we see manifesting in Senekal is rooted in South Africa’s history and in its woundedness, and we have to contemplate the harsh reality that there will be more pain and more trauma as already desperate lives become more desperate as the full impact of COVID-19 plays out in the years ahead. Already the spectres of nativism, populism, nationalism and xenophobia are haunting our society. It is time to be asking what kind of future we are making for our children and grandchildren.
Over the last two years the Nelson Mandela Foundation has been involved in litigation around hate speech, precisely because we believe that it is one small step from a language of violence to the use of violence against human bodies. The rage in our society is understandable, but it is precisely now, when too many voices are flirting with violence, that we must choose the course of non-violence. In a Foundation dialogue yesterday, historian Jacob Dlamini warned that “violence always assumes a life of its own; in that sense it’s a lot like fire.” Too easily it becomes an end in itself, often with terrible unintended consequences. South Africa still carries the damage of what happened in the last decade of the apartheid era. It is imperative that we learn from our history.
In this moment we need leadership. We need leaders who will step up; who will not dismiss the anger felt by ‘ the other side’; and who will find empathy for the pain of those they disagree with. We need leaders who will resist the temptation to exploit situations and people, but instead will reach for what Madiba named in 2004 when he said: “Human beings will always be able to find arguments for confrontation and no compromise. We humans are, however, the beings capable of reason, compassion and change.”
Senekal will only have a future worth being part of if all its communities find a common purpose. “Our society needs transformation, and it needs peace,” said Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang. “It is time for us to be making both simultaneously. It is time for radical non-violent interventions.”
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