Product of hatred

Dorothy Khosa and Snothile Msomi

Dorothy Khosa and Snothile Msomi

The diagnosis of the mother of Johan Nel, the teenager who allegedly cold-bloodedly shot dead four people at Skielek recently, is probably accurate, that the boy is traumatised.

He probably had a bad experience in the past. Criminologists and lawyers will look for extenuating circumstances in his defence during his trial.

But the question everyone is asking is, what could have triggered this callous act?

It is therefore not a futile exercise for us to look at what broader events could have contributed to this "trauma" in South Africa, that shaped the boy's attitude producing intense hatred for blacks resulting in the unnecessary deaths of innocent people.

Psychologists emphasise that the first five to six years of any child's life are critical for the setting of a firm foundation, values and the ultimate moulding of personality towards a specific direction. This period can outset childhood traumas that often produce untreatable perverts. It is important to take stock of the broader environment this boy grew up in then as it may have played an effective role in the nurture and sustenance of this particular abhorrent value and behaviour.

This 18-year-old was more or less conceived and born during the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 after having served 27 years of his life sentence. It was the year when president FW De Klerk had unbanned the ANC and other liberation movements.

Small dorpies such as Swartruggens were reportedly gripped by a sense of fear, anger, disappointment and betrayal by the Nationalist government. What followed was that these communities organised themselves - men such as Eugene Terblanche took charge - and with a huge following they stormed into the Kempton Park venue, attempting to disrupt the Codesa negotiations.

Somewhere in Pretoria, Barend Strydom was on the loose, shooting randomly at black people. Of significance was the "aborted war" organised by farming communities that rocked Bophuthatswana on the eve of the 1994 democratic elections.

Did the Swartruggens community members take part or were any of Nel's relatives involved?

Children learn what they see. Family discussions, church prayers and all other social gatherings were possibly fuelling the sense of hopelessness and despair as the country's ecstatic majority was getting ready to vote for the first time in the country's history.

This could be seen from the rampant beating of black people without provocation after drinking sprees, for which Terblanche himself served a prison sentence.

The chickens have come home to roost; this society, through the Swartruggens community, had passed onto this boy the entire trauma brought upon by the transfer of power from whites to blacks. His peers may have not escaped these experiences and influences; perhaps the difference with them is that they lack the courage to act out their feelings.

It is, therefore, no doubt that there are many who share Nel's sentiments. It is tragic now that there is no one who can trace where all this behaviour came from, his community is calling for the book to be thrown at him. It is even more tragic that there is no single person who is prepared to take ownership that this boy is a product of a particular history from a specific community.

The Swartruggens shooting is a cruel reminder of how far South Africa is from integration and reconciliation. Racism is a cancer that still ravages through our beautiful country. Race is a powerful influence on the way people think, talk and behave. Constructions of "race" and "racial" or ethnic identity are complex and tend to be rooted in notions of "natural" cultural difference. Land and access to land further complicate this fault line, thus becoming a critical potential source of tension.

Our youth, through the Nel act, are crying out loud for help, they have been fed attitudes and stereotypes that will not make them proud citizens, nor will they ever in this context contribute to the country's growth.

The longing for a real equal South Africa through appropriate mediation of the broad environment cannot be over emphasised. The apparent denials and rhetoric from our political leaders unfortunately do not provide any corrective measures, but serve only to buy time in the detonation of this disastrous time bomb.

This should be a wake-up call to the ANC government not to expend all its energies into its internal arrangements. There is a crisis and mayhem is looming. The majority of people in this country, who have tasted the bitter pill of racism, expect decisive steps and programmes to end the scourge.

lDorothy Khosa is a youth violence prevention consultant and Snothile Msomi is a practitioner on race issues. They write in their personal capacity.