It’s not up to us to feel offended when a politician visits the family of a victim of crime. These victims, honoured in their absence by a political bigwig, are in many cases children and their murder a cause for righteous public outrage.
In 2017, it was Jacob Zuma who visited the family of three-year-old Courtney Pieters in Elsies River. Missing for several days, her body was found in a bag. She had also been sexually assaulted.
This week, three years later and another president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is in Elsies River. This time to visit the family of Tazne van Wyk. She was eight years old and had been missing for two weeks. She was found in a drainpipe outside Worcester. Her suspected killer was out on parole at the time.
In December last year, Minister of Police Bheki Cele attended the funeral of five-year-old Valentino Grootejie, who was shot while cowering in his Lavender Hill back yard trying to avoid gangsters’ bullets.
This week seven-year-old Emaan Solomons became an innocent gunshot victim of the gang war plaguing Cape Town’s Ocean View township.
During his visit to the Van Wyk family, Ramaphosa repeated what he has said on several occasions, more recently during a nationally televised address after the murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana: the criminal justice system will be reformed, rapists and murderers will be denied bail and specialised courts to fast-track cases involving gender-based violence will be established.
For many of us, these visits by politicians are simply a performance of grief, outrage and humility for the benefit of the community and the wider public.
But many times these visits mean something to the grieving families. The victims of crime and people in under-served communities often feel invisible. Unseen by a policing system that doesn’t keep them safe. Unseen to an economy in which they often don’t participate. And out of sight to a middle class who only see their grief and hear their stories during TV news clips featuring township violence or gang shootings.
So when the president, or the premier, or the mayor visits these families after a tragedy, they feel seen. Whether or not the promises that are made in the confines of those meeting are ever kept, the families feels seen.
These visits and outpourings of condolences are undoubtedly sincere and heartfelt.
But, if their actions are to be taken seriously, politicians should also show concern and comfort to the families of victims of crime in rural communities, far away from traditional media attention.
It is understandable that policy and legislative changes take time, but politicians should not wait for the grieving over another dead child before making promises again.