South Africans are experiencing unprecedented levels of violence and crime. Over the years the casualties of this violence have become closer and closer. At some time you knew someone who knew someone who were affected by crime and violence, then you knew someone and then you became that someone.
This week one of the family members in Kleipot’s mother was a victim of crime. She was accosted in her house at four in the morning. After hitting her with a revolver repetitively they left her, where she woke up in a pool of her blood. Her story was headline news in the national Afrikaans newspaper (with stories liker hers appearing at least once a week). One of the things that saddens me in addition to this violence is a myth that is being perpetuated that whites are the major victims. It is just not true. My friends who live in the squatter camps report the same saddening stories (their stories don’t get press because they’re … well living in the squatter camps).
So how does this affect us? How do we live as peacemakers in this extremely turbulent environment?
Overcoming evil with good is our only option if we decide to stay (a lot of people who have the means immigrate at an alarming rate). The violence in our country has been described as close to being in a state of war; a fact that is sadly confirmed by statistical data. Last week I read Obery Hendricks’s amazing book "The politics of Jesus", in it he quotes the historian Josephus describing the bandits
"over-running much of the countryside and inflicting injuries on the inhabitants as much as a war would have done" [History of the Jewish wars 1:304]
When I read Josephus’s account I realized how many of Jesus’s teachings actually reflected this situation. Take for instance the well-known story of the Good Samaritan – the setting could easily be described as a modern-day high-jacking scene (a term in South Africa that denotes the forceful taking of your vehicle). At least three people in our congregation have been high-jacked and one of the things debated a lot in South Africa amongst Christians is how our current crime and violent society makes it impossible to follow Jesus like the earlier disciples did. Yet it seems that the milieu was the same.
Retreating therefore is not an option.
We have to continue by forgiving and by doing good.
One of Hendricks’s comments is very illuminating, he comments that in Israel the,
"… economic factors of pervasive poverty, hunger, dislocation, and dispossession that resulted from indebtedness and debt default, along with the debilitating psycho-emotional factors of abiding fear, insecurity, social alienation, and seething resentment of their colonial occupiers, took their toll upon the morale of the people of Israel, and the crime rate skyrocketed." p.66
When I read his statement it pretty much described post-apartheid South Africa with its social diseases. Even though most of our country attempts to live together harmoniously there definitely are still some who ‘resent the colonial occupiers’.
Furthermore there still is a huge discrepancy between white and black in our country and the scale still favors the previous ‘colonial occupiers’ a fact that struck our family with force during this week.
Martha, who lives with our family and works in our house has a sister who became ill and were hospitalized. Because she couldn’t afford medical aid she had to revert to a public hospital. After a day and a half she still didn’t see a doctor and no-one gave her medication. So Lollie phoned the hospital and put some pressure on them. Half and hour later Martha phoned her sister to find out that a hospital sister took her file, gave her medication for the first time and was about to take her for X-rays.
Lollie did classic advocacy – and showed me practically what it would mean to ‘love our neighbor’ here in South Africa. Eradicating crime will take more than just governmental policing – and I think the church can play a huge role by once again taking the role of servants. We can serve by educating, advocating, protesting where necessary, loving our enemies, eradicating hostilities in our own hearts.