Broadcasting Standards Fall Short When Vigilante Justice is Celebrated

Not long before one of those, “let us know if we aren’t living up to our mandate not to promote gratuitous sex and violence on radio” announcements, East Coast Radio’s morning DJ Damon Beard described in some detail a video that has now gone viral.

In it a man on a street in Gauteng is seen trying to steal a bag – presumably a laptop – from the passenger seat of a car. The driver and him get into a tug-of-war over the bag. Then, as if from out of nowhere, a motorcycle appears and hits the thief causing him to run away in shock. In a post on Facebook the driver later thanks the man for helping him and says that he chased after the thief, ran him over and thankfully, recovered his laptop with only minimal damage to his car. He then thanks Jesus Christ for protecting him. Beard celebrated the motorcyclist as a genuine hero.  In fact, he even called him a Good Samaritan. I read literally hundreds of posts on line all saying basically the same thing – what a hero this guy is. What has happened to us as a nation when we celebrate with such glee a man being hit by a motorcycle and then run over by a car for trying to grab a laptop off the passenger seat of a vehicle? Have we totally lost the plot? I am not saying what he was doing was right – very far from it. I am saying, that we cannot condone such a response as heroic. It is as criminal – more so in fact – than what this petty thief was doing. I have no idea whether the thief is alive or not, but if he isn’t then these guys are going to be up on charges of murder. That’s how serious this is. By celebrating this kind of thing, we are condoning vigilante justice, and this is not the answer to our crime epidemic. We need to slow down and get some perspective and understand that we still live in a nation wracked by poverty and employment. Until this is brought under control, desperate people will steal and riding over them with our motor vehicles is a barbaric and inhumane response that will do absolutely no good in the long run. Back to that announcement about broadcasting standards, was this story not a case of Beard celebrating and advocating for vigilante justice? Is this in line with good radio practice? I don’t think it is. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.  His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers – Part 2

I recently wrote a post about the incidents of rocks being thrown off bridges on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The theory – and I do state in the piece that it is a theory – put forward in the piece is that systemic social injustices – i.e. poverty, unemployment and inequality – prevalent in one area compared with untold wealth in neighbouring suburbs, may be creating a fertile seedbed for resentment which can in turn lead to violence. The piece upset and angered some people. I want to sincerely apologise for this because my intention is always to provoke dialogue and promote an alternative narrative, but never to cause anger and resentment. So, let me try to clarify my position. Rock throwing is a heinous criminal act which I denounce totally. Instances of damage to property due to rock throwing are unacceptable; deaths caused by this act are tragic and criminal and the perpetrators must face the full might of the law.  Is there any excuse for violence? None whatsoever. Are there reasons for it? I argue that there are. As there are with all major crimes. Now clearly not all people afflicted by poverty, unemployment and inequality will get onto a bridge and throw a rock at a passing vehicle. But some might. Is resentment and bitterness a justification for crime and violence? Absolutely not. Perpetrators of crime and violence should face the full wrath of the law. But as a society, we have a responsibility – whilst we are bringing these criminals to book – to be analysing every possible root cause of such violent acts. We have a responsibility to seek out ways that we can create a healthy societal context in which violence is not perpetrated in the first place. For example, research tells us that hurt people, hurt people.  This does not mean that people who hurt others shouldn’t face the full might of the law – they should. But as a society we must seek out and apply the necessary healing treatments to create an atmosphere of peace and non-violence. This will always involve some form of dialogue and the asking of the right (and usually difficult) questions. We dismiss this thinking as bunny hugging/liberal etc at our peril for in our dismissal of the need for social healing, we in turn contribute to the atmosphere of violence and further polarise society. I am delighted that they have apprehended suspects. Now let’s work together to understand why people act violently so we can act together to prevent further violence. I am aware that many of us – me included – don’t want to believe that poverty is itself a form of violence. When humans are told that houses they were promised 10 years ago will not materialize because a zoo is being built, this is a form of violence against those people; it makes them sub-human. And often people respond to violence with violence. Again, I am in no way condoning this. But until we recognize poverty as a form of violence we will always vilify “the other” (rock throwers, violent protesters etc.) and exonerate ourselves. I have come to the painful realization that for me to enjoy the privileged life I do, someone (probably many someone’s) necessarily must go without. That is the real and painful truth of inequality and it tears societies apart as was stated just this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Finally, we can and should put cages over bridges. We must catch criminals. But for this not to be a case of kicking the can down the road, we must engage communities to get necessary insights into why violence happens in the first place – and then put actions in place to prevent or at least diminish the chances of recurrence. For those interested, I am putting together a team that is going to go in and engage local community members on this issue of rock throwing and other forms of violence on the North Coast. Mail me if you would like to get involved.

You, me and Bheki Cele

It was moments after the Boks trounced Scotland at St. James Park. Spirits were running high and flowing liberally. The family – along with the nation – were elated. My Uncle Reggie was in good form but I noted with some concern that he was getting quiet. This always suggests that one of his famous political proclamations is not far off. And so it came. Somewhere between a Nick Mallett technical tirade and a Naas Botha – well, a Naas Botha, Reggie murmured: “They must just bring back Bheki Cele.” We all turned slowly, jaws slightly ajar. It was not this bewildering non sequitur that elicited our collective bemusement but rather the fact that Reggie had learnt how to pronounce “Cele” properly – click and all. (Like most English speakers he would usually pronounce it Chelly as in “Jelly”). This new-found respect spoke volumes. Reggie clearly meant business and we could tell that it was time to turn off the tellie. The most recent crime statistics have caused justifiable shock. The details are well documented, suffice to say that we are slowly but surely turning the tide on nearly two decades of solid progress in reducing most categories of crime. Our National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s head is being called for and the general vibe is that people want Bheki back. Of course on paper this makes some sense. The man served for only three years and managed to reduce crime in nine out of 10 categories. His predecessor the lake Jackie Selebi was also relatively successful in reducing crime. He wasn’t as successful as Captain Fantastic but he was certainly more successful than Phiyega. Now let’s be honest the only thing that she currently has going for her over the other two is that she hasn’t been found guilty of any crimes or serious misdemeanours. Selebi died in disgrace having been jailed for corruption. Cele was also found guilty of maladministration by a Commission of Enquiry and relieved of his duties by the president. “Reg,” I ventured tentatively; “Bheki Cele was found to be unfit for public office” I knew I was in trouble the moment I said it. Twenty minutes later we all excused ourselves and went our separate ways. You see we South Africans do many things well; braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and international TV personalities. But we are Olympic when it comes to double standards. Without any hint of irony, we can call for Jacob Zuma’s removal from the presidency for alleged corruption and in the same breath call for Bheki Cele’s reinstatement as Police Commissioner in spite of his guilt not being alleged. How does that work? Well, it’s quite simple really. Our values hold no value. Simply put, we are willing to flip-flop our way through life going wherever we can get the best deal. What is the result? A nation bedevilled by some of the highest crime rates in the world. Get it? We are the problem. Now you may ask what the connection is between our nebulous values and the soaring crime rate. Well if lawfulness is our value – which I am trusting that for most of us it is – then we have to hold to that value (not simply hold others to that value!) in spite of what benefits there may be to compromising it. This means that there are some things that we are not permitted to do. Here are some of those:
  • We are not permitted to call for the return of Bheki Cele as Police Commissioner – however much we may believe his approach to policing worked – because to do so would be to endorse maladministration.
  • We are not permitted to break the law however “small” we may feel the infraction to be.
  • We are not permitted – however tempting – to act on the question; “everyone is doing it so why can’t I?”
  • We cannot withhold revenue or information from SARS.
  • We cannot pride ourselves on doing the right thing “most of the time”.
  • We cannot work in an environment that is corrupt or unethical without either speaking up or resigning.
  • We cannot give or receive bribes even if to do so would prevent us from being imprisoned.
  • We cannot take revenge when a wrong is perpetrated against us.
This list is not exhaustive and hopefully you will already have noted one or two that I have missed. Now remember these points only apply if lawfulness is your value. If it isn’t then not to worry about any of it. The law may or may not catch up with you. But if – like me – you are passionately concerned about peace in our country then the above points need to be adhered to as a minimum requirement. It begins by putting an immovable stake in the ground when it comes to living our values. Then it takes us acknowledging the double standards we have got so used to living by, and ridding ourselves of them. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.

Daunted by the prospect of a New Year?

It is not to everyone that a new year delivers possibility. Amidst the revellers and the makers of hope-filled resolutions there are those to whom the prospect of beginning again – resetting if you like – the game of life, is a daunting prospect. And once the anaesthetic effect of the holidays has worn off they are left – as in the seminal movie “Groundhog Day” – beginning the whole thing all over again. “Once more, from the top” as they say in the theatre business. Some may be facing the prospect of another year of physical illness or pain; others might be considering their age and failing strength. For many the start of 2015 might be overwhelming as they contemplate how they will manage life – an entire year – without a loved one. For some this darkness is financial; can I live another year barely making it to the end of each month or maxed out on debt? Others will wonder how they can continue in a job they hate. And many South Africans will be feeling despondence at the possibility of another year of corruption, immorality, and ineptitude on behalf of our leaders. For me personally I feel a sense of trepidation at the thought of another year doing battle with depression, the ongoing management of my physical well-being and resolving how to be a good father when at times I don’t have the energy. You may be confronting some of these darkness’s – or any number of others – right now. You may be fortunate enough to be far from this point. But as sure as night follows day 2015 will bring darkness as well as light to all of us and for South Africans this is not simply metaphorical. How will we see our way through the dark times? The great irony is that most of us have back-up plans for when physical darkness strikes. The recent round of load-shedding has seen a dramatic rise in the sale of generators, solar-powered geysers, emergency lights and candles. These are all installed, charged and/or placed in easily accessible places just waiting for that moment when Eskom will once again throw us into darkness. We do this for physical darkness but very seldom do we ready ourselves for the inevitable occurrence of metaphorical darkness in our lives. This readying to which I am referring is not a neurotic thing; it is not about sitting around catastrophizing what might happen and manically trying to pre-empt and negate bad things – “stocking up with Bully Beef” as I call it. It is also not fatalistic. That said I am not convinced of the proverbial “3 point plan to dealing with life’s challenges”. These are a dime a dozen which should tell us all we need to know about whether or not they actually work. But for me there are a couple of things we can do to navigate or prepare for dark times. We can consciously set ourselves free of the need to control everything, solve every problem, have every question answered and every pain relieved. This freedom – to live gently and peacefully within life’s myriad discomforts and uncertainties – helps to create personal resilience. It is about understanding that the darkness is not in opposition to the light; it operates in harmony with it to create the colour of life. This shift in perspective may help us to stop pushing against the darkness and begin harmonizing with it. The other necessary perspective shift – and this is really an extension of the above point – is to embrace darkness. This is not something that I say lightly as pain – physical, mental, emotional or spiritual is seldom if ever welcome. But – as is the case with muscular development – without it we cannot grow. Does this imply that we should put on fake smiles, hide the pain from the world and chant mantras like “no pain no gain”? By no means. It simply suggests that whilst we are experiencing darkness – whatever that might be – we can navigate our way through it by having the courage to ask; “what is this dark time teaching me?” This mind-set can also apply to how we deal with our country’s problems and shift us away from blame and negativity towards optimism and solutions; perhaps load-shedding might encourage us to enjoy quality time with our family; perhaps corrupt leadership might inspire us to assume personal responsibility for conducting our lives in a moral fashion; perhaps the crises we face in terms of our nation’s youth might encourage us to become involved with kids as a tutor, mentor or friend. As we begin the journey into 2015 perhaps the darkness’s we all at times experience can become a new light in our – and others – lives. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.

Are you a recovering racist?

The recent spate of cases involving racist attacks is cause for deep concern. Last week Cape Town resident Andre van Deventer was found guilty of common assault and crimen injuria for spitting in the face of domestic worker Gloria Kente and calling her a k…r. In October five young men allegedly attacked and racially abused Cape Flats resident Delia Adonis. One of the youngsters is a student at the University of Cape Town. And in a separate incident another UCT student – former Boss model Djavane Arrigone – is also charged with assault and crimen injuria for allegedly urinating on taxi driver Michelle Puis Nomgcana from the balcony of Tiger Tiger nightclub in Claremont. Apparently he saw nothing wrong with his actions telling the driver; “I am rich, you are poor. I am white, you are black.” It is particularly concerning that two of these cases involve white youngsters who were born after the end of apartheid. I often hear it said that we live in a new era of diversity and equality. People base this pronouncement on the fact that our youngsters are ‘colour blind’ and happily befriend, hug and kiss children of all races and religions. If this is the case – and our soon-to-be four year old gives me no reason to contest this view – then we urgently need to reflect on what us adults are doing to turn our children from innocents who gladly kiss people different to them into young adults who piss on them? Now let me be clear from the outset that I – as much as anyone – need to constantly examine my attitudes towards people different to myself. This is not about guilt or shame. This is about all of us having the courage to ask ourselves the difficult questions and challenge our perceptions and prejudices. But that said I also do not believe that we should make assumptions that let us off the hook. It is too convenient to wallpaper over these horrendous acts by labelling them “exceptions to the rule”. Make no mistake; racism – overt and subtle – is going on every day in South Africa. We all have race demons to face. We should also not make the mistake of assuming that these kid’s adult role models would dress up in white cloaks and pointy hats and set fire to crosses. It is more likely that they look quite ordinary – just like you and me. So what is going wrong? You see most whites don’t use the k word (this highly offensive racial slur originally had the connotation of ‘one without religion’, primitive, uncivilized or heathen) out loud anymore – but in our hearts and in the way we treat black people we scream “primitive” at them at the tops of our voices. It is in the way we roll our eyes when they speak of their ancestors; the way we take them off to our GP when traditional medicine is being used or even discussed. Our children see this and they learn to view black people as backward and inferior. It is in the seemingly innocuous things we say; “was she black or white?” we ask when someone recounts the story of a fatality on the highway. What does this question tell our children? Does it not suggest that lives have different values? “Are they Indian?” we might ask when discussing the neighbour erecting the large new home next door to us; “you know what they’re like,” we add with a disdainful squint of the eyes. And incidentally I am not for a moment suggesting that racism is just a white thing. People from all walks of life are – consciously and often unconsciously – derisive, condescending and patronising. And young minds absorb it all. So we should not be surprised when – a few years and a good few Tiger Tiger cocktails later – junior decides to relieve himself on a black persons head. In Andre van Deventer’s case he used a variation on an old chestnut to defend himself against claims of racism telling the media that he had once had a relationship with a coloured woman and they had had kids together. Now I can tell you from personal experience that having children of a different race does not mean you are not a racist. As an adoptive parent of a black child I can tell you that I have to challenge my attitudes on race as much as the next guy. It also does not matter if you have friends or business partners of a different colour. Our challenge is to “go there”; admit – in the words of a friend of mine – that we are all “recovering racists”; challenge our stereotypes on a daily basis; spend quality time with people different to us; have tough conversations with them; visit their homes; meet their families; eat together. If we don’t then we are simply deluding ourselves that we are free of prejudice and the born frees under our care will grow up with exactly the same baggage as we have. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.