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Editorial: Words of care, brutal actions

The government under President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize have been rightfully lauded for their sterling work in trying to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Their rapid and decisive action has stood in stark contrast to the rambling, contradictory messages from the orange buffoon across the Atlantic.

And the South African public must also be commended. For the most part, people have bought into the necessary deprivation of their liberties. But there are scars that run deep and that don’t easily recede, especially not in a time of crisis.

These come to mind when we reported on the case of Collin Khosa, a resident of Alexandra in Johannesburg who was allegedly killed by members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the Johannesburg metropolitan police department for drinking alcohol in his own yard. His family has gone to court to ask the president what he intends doing about the brutality being meted out by the people with guns authorised to keep “order”.

“They poured beer on top of his head and on his body; one member of the SANDF held his hand behind his back, while the other choked him; slammed him against the cement wall; hit him with the butt of the machine gun; kicked, slapped him, punched him on his face and on his stomach and ribs; and slammed him against the steel gate,” reads the account of Khosa’s death, pieced together by attorneys.

On Thursday afternoon, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula reiterated the government’s condolences to the Khosa family and the residents of Alexandra. She and other ministers offered the mantra of being a “caring government”.

The problem is the disconnect between that language and what else has been said. The kind of language that accommodates the violence meted out on Khosa is easy to find. It’s in the utterances of General Solly Shoke, who has previously said that his troops are not trained to fight crime and when they come in they “skop en donner”. That was ahead of the army’s deployment to the Cape Flats. It’s in Free State mayor Nkosinjani Speelman’s encouragement to soldiers to deal brutally with “boesmans” they find on the streets.

What is not lost on us is that these are exclusively black bodies enduring violence synonymous with the apartheid era, but now meted out under a democratic dispensation by black authorities.

This speaks to a sense of self-loathing, a hatred of self to the extent that the jackboots are unable to see the humanity in the person who is ridiculed through mock drills, kicks and punches, the terror recorded no doubt for the tormentor to entertain and impress similarly inclined friends with.

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