MAZWANDILE PLAATJIE | Lawlessness seen in communities is rooted in families where violence is rife

Study reveals that poverty, unemployment and inequality are some of the causes of social problems among the youth

Police and forensic pathologists at the scene where four people were burnt to death in Zandspruit in 2021.The writer says violence within communities is due to brokenness within families .
Police and forensic pathologists at the scene where four people were burnt to death in Zandspruit in 2021.The writer says violence within communities is due to brokenness within families .
Image: Thulani Mbele

What is happening, what is wrong with our communities?

This is a question most of us are confronted with as we go around meeting our compeers. We are thrown with this pervasive penetrating question that provokes our thinking, while equally challenging us to evaluate our stance on issues affecting the life and development of our communities.

It is a daunting question that raises more questions than answers – a discourse that leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the beholder. To ease this uncomfortable state, let me bring afore my little understanding of how we have landed where we are today, and how we have allowed this “little giant” roaming our streets to manifest itself to a level where it shocks us today.

Life is uniquely and fully guided by the experiences we live and for every behaviour that we emit there is a context. People do not just innately respond to situations, but our behaviour is influenced by our experience and the context of our environment. It has more to do with how we acknowledge, validate, interpret and interact with our loading information and experience.

Human behaviour is in most instances described and understood in relation to the environment in which the human spices found themselves and our conduct is derived from the very same context our action seeks to address.

Violence tends to bring violence into the homes and minds of individuals.

The tendency is for members of society to inscribe these violent codes into their mind to use them as a script when interacting with their world and most of the time their reaction will be done recklessly with no rationality and empathy.

The greatest battle with the uncoached youth is the struggle to express their thoughts, difficulties in handling their emotions and their reaction to intervening events.

Young people must be assisted to get to know how to respond to the dehumanising experiences that came their way. Before we can condemn and make value judgment we need to understand that many of these young people come from broken and incomplete families where there are no structures or parental figures to guide them.

They come from an environment with absent mothers and fathers or family set-ups where the only language known to them is violence, where there is little or no comprehension of love.

Most of them grew up living in a state of pity and fear which influenced their worldview or make them to perceive their space as unsafe, unfair, uncaring and punitive. Our young people today are confronted with a tonnage of challenges and as parents, we are not helping them.

A society is a mirror of families – what you see in our society is what you see in our families. We cannot expect our society to behave in a reputable way, when our families are struggling and unable to deal with the small challenges that come their way.

There is no way we can solve societal problems when our families need some fixing. If problems cannot be solved at home, then there is no way that they can be solved at school or by the society.

The reason you see violent episodes and flourishing of disruptive behaviours in our  schools and communities is by design not an accident. It is because of negligence, inconsiderate spatial planning, or a lack of political will to intervene and address the triple challenges faced by our country, particularly by black communities.

Research reveals that one of the causes of social problems in societies is poverty, unemployment and inequality. That is why we mainly see the reporting of these problems in black schools or communities.

In those schools, people will fight because of the mistreatment of one race by another but will have nothing that relates to the poor story of the townships. All that is recorded is the reporting of rife lawlessness in black communities. If we look at the metamorphosis of the problem, black youth is the main piece in the puzzle.

The violence that we see can be perceived as an attempt by young people to free themselves from the psychological bondage caused by dehumanisation and the oppressive structures that condemn them.

After years of living under a dehumanising rule which seeks to negate their identity, young people are then “encouraged” to formulate a new identity to help them reclaim their self-worth.

The violence that we see in our communities is a cathartic experience that is a self-designed coping mechanism to help young people reclaim their self-worth. It could be perceived as a channel through which young people could release their frustration and anger or could be seen as an effort to help them achieve their self-actualisation, which they have been denied for ages. It can be viewed as a response to bring meaning to their meaningless life.


  • Dr  Plaatjie is community worker and psychologist

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