Because I set out to provoke introspection, and to cause people (often against their will) to re-examine their positions on a range of issues that they generally take for granted, I often find myself playing devil’s advocate in conversation.
A discussion on Zimbabwe’s political situation comes to mind, where a colleague was castigating the government for its use of violence for political gain.
I responded by saying, “But these are people in pain and for as long as they are in pain, they are going to be causing pain to someone else.” It’s not that I support violence, or even that I endorse elements of the government in how they operate.
It is one of the paradoxes of life that people who have suffered trauma, victimisation or violence are at high risk of becoming perpetrators of violence themselves. This is a disturbing finding of research and a simple fact of everyday life.
In the book Winnie Mandela: A Life, author Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob, tells the story of a woman called Sheila.
“Sheila came from a privileged background. The Mathopengs lived in Orlando West, the Soweto suburb that was home to the black elite, including the Mandelas, the Sisulus, and the Motlanas. Her parents were both teachers, cultured and intellectual individuals. Her father was the first chairman of the Johannesburg Bantu Music Festival. But her supportive family and healthy society were systematically eroded by apartheid. As a result of her father’s political activities, both her parents lost their teaching jobs and were imprisoned, her father frequently. Hundreds of friends, relatives and acquaintances were either jailed or fled the country. Denied the right to earn their living as teachers, her parents became impoverished, and her mother, traumatised and lonely, started beating her.
“Sheila married a classical musician, the only black African with a licentiate in violin tuition, but as the political mayhem grew, both he and Sheila were detained. One of her brothers went into exile, the other became an abusive alcoholic.
At the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), Sheila Masote exposed her deepest anguish to the world when she testified that she had abused her son, as she herself had been abused by her mother. She whipped him so badly that neighbours had to intervene. When he was six, he tried to hang himself.
“The Masotes were one example of the anguish and confusion that infiltrated the lives of millions of ordinary black South Africans.”
Now we know that this is Zimbabwe, and not South Africa. That this is 2011 and not the ’80s. This is you and me, and not Sheila Masote.
But how different are we really? How far removed is the reality of the average Zimbabwean to that faced by “millions of South Africans”, particularly in terms of unresolved pain?
The headlines of this and other newspapers in our country suggest we are not so very different. Stories of domestic violence, sexual harassment and child abuse have become commonplace.
Other stories tell a tale of poverty and its disastrous consequences: Several people die collecting fuel from an overturned tanker; a man dies when he touches a live cable during a fight over a R5 coin; a young man trampled to death in a queue for sugar . . .
Hurting people doesn’t only happen when neighbours take up machetes and attack their neighbours.
Violence isn’t only about toyi-toying through the townships with military zeal. Violence can also be structural.
Structural violence refers to a system where structures cannot deal with diversity. Whether it is in the area of race, class, gender or politics, structural violence causes harm by holding onto rules that do not allow for differences.
Often the resultant labelling, poverty and discrimination breeds a new generation of violence — structural or otherwise.
Thursday I was in Bulawayo, attending an Independent Dialogue where the topic of discussion was youth and its role in rebuilding Zimbabwe.
I sat quietly in the back and listened to young people telling their stories, expressing their hopes, sharing their fears and generally putting their pain out there.
As the young people spoke, this was the overriding thought in my mind: that we are creating a new generation of pain — which will create a new generation of perpetrators — which will in turn cause another generation of pain.
We are hurting these kids by denying them opportunities, using them as cheap labour, depriving them of solid social structures with appropriate role models, and recruiting them in our political scuffles without just rewards.
Tomorrow we will reap the consequences of the hurts we are causing today. Tomorrow these young people will hurt us back. Because hurt people hurt people.
How will we stop the cycles of hurt?
Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to email@example.com. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer