News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
6 May 2017
7:31 am

Society sadly lacks humanity

William Saunderson-Meyer

The scale of the inhumanity can be seen in the Marikana massacre in 2012, where police shot dead of 34 demonstrating miners – and the so-called Esidimeni tragedy, which also should be called a massacre.

AFP/File / Mujahid Safodien
People gather on August 16, 2014 in Marikana next to the hill where, two years ago, miners where gunned down by South African police during a violent wave of strikes

South Africa is a country singularly lacking in humanity and compassion.

Forget ubuntu, the feel-good schmaltz that asserts African societies have an innate inclination to fraternity and care.

Forget, similarly, the delusions of whites who think themselves to be the in loco parentis of a Judeo-Christian tradition of charitable giving and succour.

We confuse the fact that we are hospitable and often spontaneously generous, with a self-serving myth that this is a caring nation.

Truth is, we’ve probably always been mean and selfish, with racism-fuelled antipathies blunting our humanity. And such humaneness that we have retained, is hemmed between ethnically defined borders.

This patchwork quilt, already weak along its myriad stitchings, is further strained by the intolerance and greed that characterises President Jacob Zuma’s years of power.

The comforter is tearing as it is increasingly put under intolerable strain.

There are dozens of examples; they can be plucked with ease from the grim media reports on violent crime. But we can take some comfort in the fact that these are the grisly acts of individuals.

What should worry us far more is the slow transformation of the state from bulwark against violence, to the condoner – eventually perhaps to be a tacit conspirator. For that is what is happening.

Calls for the forcible dispossession by blacks of the property of whites – increasingly, also coloureds and Indians – have become so commonplace they barely elicit comment.

Sometimes the language is overt, as with Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Other times it is coded.

This week, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s controversial advisor, Chris Malikane, warned us to “prepare for the worst” if radical economic transformation is to succeed – even if it means South Africans taking up arms against South Africans.

At least these machinations are politically understandable. What we are seeing is a textbook example of an incompetent government, having failed to grow the economic cake sufficiently.

What is more difficult to comprehend is the degree to which the Zuma administration has become alienated from many citizens that traditionally are ANC supporters.

Populism is slowly transmogrifying into despotism. The scale of the resultant inhumanity can be seen in what became known as the Marikana massacre in 2012, where police shot dead 34 demonstrating miners.

The other is the so-called Esidimeni tragedy, which also should be called a massacre.

For it was a direct result of the indifference of officials, combined with the cruelty of greedy individuals. More than 100 psychiatric patients died of prolonged starvation, malnutrition and dehydration.

They had been transferred from the Life Esidimeni group’s private healthcare facilities to dozens of community organisations, most hastily set up to rake in the fees Gauteng Health would pay for their “care”.

Despite the ombud naming the doctors at Gauteng Health responsible, the Health Professions Council of SA has yet to act. No consequences. No humanity, no compassion.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer


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