Today, October 2, marks the International Day of Nonviolence. The occasion is intended to share the message of nonviolence through education and public awareness, thereby encouraging a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding.
Fairly recently, South Africa experienced a harrowing week of events that sent shockwaves around the country, shaking the core of men and women far and wide. Taking a stand against gender-based violence and crimes against children, surely the questions on everyone’s lips right now are: Where has our humanity gone and what are we teaching the future generation with such extreme violence?
The horrific stories brings to light just how little is being done to safeguard women and children. In August this year, the first draft of the National Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Strategic Plan was released for public comment, nine months after the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide was convened. We understand that strategic and sustainable change takes time. But women and children continue to be victims of violence while plans are formulated, reviewed, revised and re-formulated, too often becoming dust collectors while waiting to be implemented.
We adopted the Constitution in 1996 and 23 years later, we still aren’t protecting the rights of children adequately as stated in section 28. Migrant children, some who have already experienced trauma in their home countries, continue to be denied the same freedoms and benefits as South African minors because of funding problems and red tape.
Another spate of xenophobic attacks recently drew global condemnation, with individuals and governments from the continent so upset by the actions of our people that they began boycotting the country. This, despite the launch in March this year of the National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Again, surely this framework had its roots in the excessively violent attacks that gripped the country in 2008. Why was it more than 10 years in the making?
The Global Peace Index 2018 ranked South Africa 125th of 163 countries in terms of their peacefulness, below Zimbabwe and Kenya. In 2019, we ranked 127, dropping two spots in only 12 months. This same 2019 index reported the economic cost of violence to the country to be 13% of our overall gross domestic product. In our current financial climate and with South Africa already moving towards junk status on international credit rating reports, can we afford to be acting so slowly?
We mark occasions such as the International Day of Nonviolence and Child Protection Week annually, which increases awareness of the problem. But awareness alone cannot create change; action creates change. We should be highlighting and acting on the intentions of these short-lived marked occurrences 365 days of the year.
So, the next big question is: What are we to do?
Formally, multisectoral conversations, which bring together men, women, young people, civil society organisations, development partners, private sector, academia and government bodies on a solution to violence in the country, need to continue. These should not be limited to physical spaces but also in the media and on virtual platforms. Bringing young boys and men into these conversations is a critical element in the fight against gender-based violence in particular.
Informally, teaching children that violence is not the answer and to speak out and stand against it improves the outlook of a peaceful future, and is essential. Research shows that children who are exposed to violence are more likely to suffer from being numb to future violent experiences or becoming violent themselves.
The saying, “prevention is better than cure”, is timeless and can be applied to almost every situation, including the prevention of violence. Prevention must begin at home. If you are aggressive in any way, you need to break the cycle and take responsibility for your actions. Set an example, show children how to change their behaviour and teach them about personal accountability by letting them know their responsibilities.
Young people are at the centre of the nonprofit organisation Afrika Tikkun. Section 28 of the Constitution is entrenched in its mission and culture. With a focus on children, we see many abused and struggling mothers. Working in townships, we interact daily with people from the rest of Africa. We see how violence is affecting the young people in Afrika Tikkun’s Cradle to Career 360° programme. In every single encounter we strive to live up to the “do no harm” principle and to breathe “responsible kindness”. Our central goal is to create a sustainable future for the youth of South Africa, part of which is providing safety and love to the young people in our care, educating them on personal responsibility and alternatives to violent behaviours as well as equipping them with coping mechanisms.
We have proven within our own ecosystem that it is possible to reduce violent crime significantly and to improve children’s sense of safety. If we can do it in our small world, why can’t our model be emulated nationally?
Before it’s too late, we need to begin the process of establishing constructive individual thought and behaviour patterns for ourselves and the leaders of tomorrow. This crisis is in need of both a prevention and cure. It must be a priority for everyone in South Africa.
Marc Lubner is the chief executive officer of Afrika Tikkun, a nonprofit organisation founded in 1994 with the goal of uplifting underprivileged young people