A 19-YEAR-OLD youngster in police uniform beats up a 62-year-old woman who could be his grandmother. A political system marked by such inhumanity needs to be investigated. What is wrong with it? Or the people who run it, what kind of spirit has taken hold of them? Do they not see that it is their doing when old and helpless people are being humiliated and disgraced?
FR OSKAR WERMTER SJ
What have these young police officers been taught at home? To assault their own grandmothers? How do they behave towards their own mothers and women in general? What has happened to our culture of humanity (unhu/ubuntu)?
If upholding the political ‘status quo’ needs sheer cruelty, is it worth it? Do these young men realise that being brutal brutalises, and being inhuman de-humanises? The elders of the nation who use the young as tools of their merciless force and violence, what do they expect this nation to become? Are leaders embroiled in partisan conflicts and political jungle warfare prepared to let the young turn into vicious animals?
The children of their victims, brought up in a world without mercy, will they have any idea of humanity, any vision of decency and compassion, any moral standards? Will they not just burn with the desire for revenge, having been caught in the vicious circle of violence causing more violence?
We observe in our country and elsewhere that the leaders are prepared to pay a huge price for the power they enjoy and for holding on to that power. Corrupted by their ambition to be in absolute control and their craving for power, they are corrupting the young, whom they use and abuse in the defence of their privileged status.
What vision do we have of the society we are going to create? The public service gives us an indication. Are the servants of the State concerned about the welfare of the citizens? Or are they our oppressors, hostile to the common people, intimidating and threatening them?
Are trainees for police and army taught by professionals to exhibit professional behaviour? Or are they used by party bosses for the advantage of political factions? Are we going to be a united citizenry, where everyone is given due respect and equal treatment, regardless of race, sex, religion or party? Or will we be a class society, divided by political hatred?
We should be one on the basis of our common humanity, children of one and the same Father. As such we should be able to feel for our fellow citizens. The pain they suffer should also be our pain. This is what we mean by compassion, which means literally translated “suffering with (someone)”. There is an ancient saying, a gem of wisdom, quoted several times in Scripture: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Matthew 7: 12). Or: “Do to no one what you would not want done to you“ (Tobit 4: 15). This is the foundation and first building block of any humane society.
In ancient times, in traditional villages, people had a high regard for hospitality. Strangers were always welcome. There was always some food left for visitors. In some houses an extra plate was laid for an unexpected guest. People knew what it was like for a traveller to go hungry or have “nowhere to lay his head”. They felt for each other.
In early Christian communities care of the sick was institutionalised. They set up houses where sick people could seek refuge and get medical care and attention. This care was given by people who remembered the word, “In so far as you did this to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me” (Mt. 25 : 40). They took care of the sick, well aware that they might need such care themselves. We share the same humanity and have the same needs.
We are all in need of sympathy, compassion and mercy sometime. If we treat our fellow citizens with naked brutality, how can we expect to be shown mercy ourselves when we are in need of it ?
Tear gas, batons, water cannons and guns are never going to build our nation. They are never going to weld us together as one nation.
The violent ones have nothing to offer. Those addicted to power will sell their very humanity to hang on to their privileges.
We need a new generation of young people brought up in a new culture of unhu/ubuntu/compassion based on our common humanity, with a vision of working for the Common Good, i.e letting all have a share in the blessings of this country, maybe with skills acquired in the “diaspora”, but benefiting even those at home.
The other day, some people facing teargas and water cannons offered flowers to their persecutors. We wait for the day when these signs of peace will be accepted and the batons thrown away.