Pather’s Point: You Are A Criminal If You Remain Silent

I would like to think of myself as an optimist but the truth is, like most South Africans I live in a state of perpetual anxiety.

I get onto the M1 to work and for the last two years, it’s been reduced to two lanes and so it takes me an average of 45 minutes to cover 10 kilometers. Often I make that journey more than once a day, 7 days in a row sometimes and it has become a daily reminder of how lawless a society we are… almost every car I pass has the driver chatting on the phone or texting or just plain unconscious about how their inattention slows down the traffic further.

Very few drivers practice common courtesy like allowing a motorcycle enough space to pass or a pedestrian to walk on the green light, allowing other cars to enter the road, obeying stop signals. No one including women and old people obey the orange or red signs resulting in gridlocks across the city.

Lawlessness is contagious and filters down from the very apex of power. When that happens, a society becomes dysfunctional and all the values that allow us to live together peaceably disintegrate.

Demonstrators protest against South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, April 7, 2017. Protesters are marching against president Zuma decision for dismissing the finance minister, last week. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

‘So Solo’ is a festival of one-person plays this year reflect our deep discontent with so many aspects of our lives. Art is a reflection of our society and if the plays are anything to measure our health by, we are an extremely sick society.

In a ‘Man and a Dog’ with Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, directed by Penny Youngleson where the actor tells his story about growing up without a father and being rejected by his stepfather. The play ends with the lines…where are the fathers? 62% of South African children are growing up in single mother households without any strong, sensitive men to guide them into manhood. Often their notions of masculinity are modeled against the worse possible versions of manhood and so we have the shocking statistics of rape, child abuse and femicide.

Cultural values and the deeply entrenched chauvinism in our traditional norms have created models of femininity that elevate behavior were women are subservient, obedient and whose futures are ultimately tied to the fortunes and whims of men. Any woman who challenges those stereotypes becomes a target in every environment.

Questioning the status quo can be dangerous. In our country teetering on junk status, steeped in corruption… a deep-seated morality that guides your thoughts and actions is becoming increasingly rare. The despicable state looting by those in power, often inept, inefficient and frankly stupid has deprived millions of South Africans of any hope of a better life. Half of our population lives below the poverty line. Power mongers are dictating a future that is characterized by nepotism, entitlement and a disdain for the law.

Our civil servants sleep on the job…literally. And while they sleep, the country simmers…

University students or at least some of those I come into contact with feel an enormous sense of entitlement. Learning has been reduced to confrontation rather than true intellectual engagement. The hard tough work of acquiring an education has been sacrificed to hollow bite-sized rhetoric devoid of any real grappling with concepts or ideas. Being able to substantiate your postulations is going to become another foreign concept. I am not surprised.

If the President and his cronies articulate the most inane, insane, idiotic, unintelligible nonsense on public platforms, why should we be surprised about how it has invaded classrooms and lecture halls?

The violence, bullying and browbeating that educators are subject to is a sign of the times. I absolutely believe that the student should be central to the process of generating knowledge but if the concept is so misunderstood and twisted beyond logic, what is the future of education?

Respect, integrity, valuing real worth and not empty symbols of material success, hard work, diligence, truth -all are subject to a gradual erosion of the very fabric of our society. And it frightens me and makes me fearful of the future. Individual people who feel powerless in the face of the lawlessness and corruption get sucked into the system in order to survive, one that characterizes many of the moribund countries of this continent.

I am terrified that this moral and intellectual lethargy will cripple the efforts of those who aspire to and believe in a better world for everyone. We live in a society that condones the worst possible behavior. Compounded by a strong anti-intellectual stance evidenced by attacks on “clever blacks” and the media, the criminals of all hues and persuasions will prevail.

All of us need to understand our place in this incredibly important time; where do we stand in this continuum of criminality.

Do we not pay the bribe, do we speak the real truths, and do we stand up for what we believe in, do we teach our children to be moral, do we by our deeds and actions contribute to stopping this all pervasive rot?


About Gita Pather

Gitanjali Pather is the Director of the Wits Theatre at the University of Witwatersrand.

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