Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .
If you believe in God, I ask you to pray for the soul of Thato Radebe.
This child, this flower still blooming, was brutally murdered two weeks ago.
Her body was found in open veld in Emdeni by a passerby.
There were bottles, condoms and sticks around her lifeless body. She had not just been murdered; she had been raped and brutalised in unimaginable ways.
She was 14 years old.
On the Sunday morning after she was found I spoke to Sowetan editor Thabo Leshilo.
"I cannot even begin to tell you about the horrific pictures we have here. I feel like vomiting. These criminals are destroying our country," he said.
So the next day I did not read the story of how she died.
I avoided all the stories about Thato Radebe. What Leshilo had told me was too horrific.
Last week I called a company which I sometimes deal with and asked for the sales executive I had dealt with in the past. I was told she was off.
I went there to deliver some paperwork a few days later and the sales executive's colleague told me the reason Happy Radebe was not at work was because her daughter had been murdered.
That is when I realised that I knew Thato's mother, that this was not a murder that far removed from me.
I do not know what a parent feels like when they lose their child. I do not know how a parent continues to exist after going through what the parents and relatives of this child are going through now.
When I spoke to Leshilo two weeks ago I could feel the emotion in his voice. I could feel his pain and anger.
It was so powerful that I knew what he had seen in those pictures was barbaric.
So then, how do the parents and relatives of that child feel?
I had to stop my car and close my eyes for a while just thinking about Happy Radebe, the mother of that child. What does her pain feel like, I wondered? How could anyone inflict such horror and pain on a fellow human being?
Readers of this column know that I have decried the handling of crime by our leaders on numerous occasions.
Yet even as I criticise them, we must ask ourselves this question: What has happened to us, black people, that we can do such barbaric things?
These are not questions for our leaders to ask. These are not questions they can answer. These are truths that we, ordinary men and women, must look at and answer.
The police have arrested several men in connection with the murder of Thato.
We all hope that justice for her will be as swift as that meted out to the murderers of KwaZulu-Natal historian David Rattray.
But those arrests and the ensuing court case must not deflect the self-examination that we, as a people, must undergo. We cannot continue to call ourselves human if we do not examine the barbarism that lives with us, around us and even inside of us.
What has gone wrong? It is at these times that I scrabble around the words of our leaders and philosophers to find answers. It is at these times that I wonder where the voices of the likes of Sam Mabe and Steve Biko are. Because, my God, we need them now. We need them to remind us of who we are and where we come from.
Biko once said: "It becomes more necessary to see the truth if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity; to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth."
B iko is right. If we can kill a Thato, then we are truly empty shells, there is nothing of value inside us. We have lost ourselves and we have lost any connection to our humanity. We are doomed.
The challenge is stark. We need to reclaim our humanity. We need to speak to our young and old and remind them of a time when we were proud of ourselves, when we had dignity.
There was a time, surely, when we respected life. There was a time when we respected our young and our old. Where has it all gone?
I am tempted to say that the Moral Regeneration Programme, led by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, should help us here.
But I also know that this is not really a problem for politicians.
It is a problem for us, ordinary people, and our broken communities and broken families.
It is a problem that needs us to do something - to speak to our children, our brothers and sisters, and our grandmothers.
Africa, we need to wake up. Our communities are burning, our people are eating themselves up. And we are sitting here, doing nothing.