Dion's random ramblings

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Could this be one of the reasons why we have so much VIOLENT crime in South Africa?

I'm busy writing a book with Prof Loiuse Kretzschmar and Dr Andre van Niekerk from UNISA. The book is intended to replace the current ethics text "Questions of life".

Andre is a specialist in Moral formation (with a particular interest in the work of van der Ven).

We were discussing the issue of crime in South Africa at a meeting for the editors when our conversation turned to violent crimes (such as the murder of Lucky Dube, and the woman here in Pretoria who was not only robed, but also raped, and then murdered).

I came with the retort that I had blogged the other day, which Wessel rightly asked a few questions about in the comments (see my posts, and Wessel's comments, here). My retort was one that is quite common to 'liberal white South Africans' i.e., that crime is a natural consequence of the aftereffects (and current effects) of racial segregation and deliberate oppression of the majority by the minority.

  • Here's the reasoning behind such a statement: Person A is poor because under apartheid he and his family were deliberately denied access to education, certain jobs, and so the ability to earn (via regular means) a decent income. Person A has three children in this example. One of them is sick and needs medical attention. Person A does not have the money to provide for this care.
  • Living a few kilometres away is Person B. This person is wealthy (i.e., has a house, two cars, a few television sets, cell phones, clothes etc.) The primary reason for this person's wealth is that he has had access to a good education, which was paid for by his parents. He could go to University (since he was not excluded by his race), but also because his parents could afford to send him to University.
  • The reasoning is this, if my child was sick and I could not care for her, yet there was someone nearby who has an excess of possessions, not because they are brighter, better, or any other ontological difference between us, but simply because I was dissenfranchised and he was not, then it may be justified for me to 'relieve' him of a few of his excess possessions (perhaps one of his cars, a TV, and some clothes).
This reasoning seems quite clear, in fact sensible and fair.

However, what Andre reminded of, is that in South Africa we don't suffer from crime, we suffer from violent crime...

He reminded me that there are many other nations with similar problems of wealth and poverty across the world. In fact, there are some with a greater problem - such as India. However, while there is crime in India, it is NOT violent crime. Sure, people are robed, houses are broken into, cars are taken. But, seldom will you hear that a person has been beaten to death for a cell phone, or raped and brutalised for R20.

So, then what's the difference? Well, I think one of the primary differences is that apartheid is still alive and well in South Africa. There is still an underlying mistrust between the races (and this goes both ways, I know black persons who are fanatically racist against whites, Indians, and Coloured South Africans. Of the same goes for whites).

When one objectifies another person it is easy to mistreat and abuse them since they are no longer a parent (as happened with Lucky Dube who was murdered in front of his two teenage children), or a husband, or a wife, or someone's child, or a sister, or a brother. Rather, they are 'white', or 'wealthy', or 'an oppressor', or a 'Tswana', or a 'Nigerian'... The list can go on.

However, there could be another much more subtle reason for violent crime... That is, moral formation.

Moral formation has to do with how we form people to be moral beings i.e., what we say and do to get people to behave in a certain way, and not to behave in another way.

Both black and white South African culture has a problem with the manner in which we discipline people - . It has long been assumed that the only way to get a person 'to behave' is to beat them (either physically, or with your words).

The assumption behind such an approach is simply this: one assumes that a person is BAD and must be MADE GOOD! This is not the way of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel of Christ says that people are created GOOD by a Good God, however, we need to help people to rediscover and develop that goodness that is within them.

This is the conflict between being as primary, and doing as primary.

I watched a foreman speaking to his workers the other day. It was clear that he wanted them to do good work, and when speaking with them he wanted to help them to become good 'workmen'. Yet, his assumption was that he had to shout, criticise, and be hard to get the best out of them.

I often see parents doing the same.

Heck, I am glad that God has a different approach to moral formation... God helps me, and does not harm me, when I am wrong. Thank goodness God does not bully me to goodness!

Maybe we can learn to deal with our children, our staff, our colleagues, and ourselves, a little differently? Maybe, just maybe, that is one thing we could do that would help one less person to think that violence, dominance, and abuse, are acceptable means of getting what one wants in this world.

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  • Well written article, and i do agree with most of what you say, but not all. Liek to just raise some points (if i may).
    The majority of crime is not perpetrated by medicine seeking parents. Most are single young men, doing it for fun, or to finance a drug addiction.
    This is not a racial issue, and even apartheid i don't believe was racial, but economic. These days its easy to see, since the criminals are multi coloured, as are the victims. The common factor is the perceived wealth of the victim.
    And lastly, as much as we were created good, is not the teaching that created good, but fallen, and BORN INTO SIN? ie bad from the start?
    And i do beg to differ, when God wants your attention, He's not afraid to shout. Doesn't usually have to ... but ignore Him for a while and see what happens ... ;-)

    By Blogger abraxas, at 11:50 AM  

  • Thanks for the comment! Your points are all valid!

    I agree about the issue of economics... It does seem that money is the new dividing line (not only in SA, but even on a global scale)... Sad, but true!

    As for original sin - indeed that is one view, first put forward by St Augustine, later developed in Catholicism to support the notion of the necessity of infant baptism for salvation.

    Sinful, yes, but not all sin is a moral issue! For example, fear (which is lack of loving faith) is sinful. However, it is not morally wrong to fear.

    So, goodness is not the antithesis of sinfulness. To be sinful means to be devoid of the image of God, to miss God's mark.

    But, this is a good point nonetheless, and it is one that I feel many would share with you.

    Thanks again for the post, and by the way, I love the pictures of the bikes on your site!



    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 12:19 PM  

  • I posted a response on gruntle you inspired a rant in me.

    PS.. why you blogging so much? I can hardly keep up!

    By Blogger Gus, at 1:48 PM  

  • Yep, very true.

    I think this is one axis of the problem. Nat's cousin did a study on crime and rehabilitation. Some of the findings were very sobering. First, most of those involved in violent crime are male and under the age of 25. Most operate in groups and crimes are committed when under the influence of narcotics. Well over 90% grew up in a home with an absent or abusive father figure. Compared to other single-parent families, the overwhelming difference is the absence of a good male role-model. Other single-parent families where there is an uncle or grandfather, children tended to grow up less prone to participate in crime. The absence, or having a poor mother-figure did not have substantial negative influences on boys.

    There is a lot of work to be done on family development, especially empowering fathers to be good role-models.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    By Blogger Wessel Bentley, at 8:51 AM  

  • Sorry, about my second last sentence. The negative influences centered more around DSM-IV-TR Axis II disorders (Personality disorders) than Axis I (Clinical disorders), whereas the father's influence has greater cross-spectrum repercussions.

    By Blogger Wessel Bentley, at 4:42 PM  

  • Hi Wes, put politely WTF?

    Check the urban dictionary if you're saying the same about WTF!


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 7:54 AM  

  • I'm glad you enjoy ;-)

    What i read from Wes, and agree with, is that these things are learned, not preprogrammed.
    Lack of a father figure i've seen mny times is the cause of much suffering and confusion.

    By Blogger abraxas, at 3:43 PM  

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