Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ubuntu, individualism and crime in South Africa

I have yet to read the full text of Mbeki's speech yesterday on Steve Biko, as the transcript is not yet up on the ANC website, but I must admit an ambivalence to the current reports on it. The Mail and Guardian headlines "Mbeki: Crime a symptom of 'rapacious individualism'", a sentiment that I agree with in spirit if not letter, but the calls it thereafter reports for "moral regeneration" trouble me. Morality is such a slippery space, bounded as it is by essentially individualist religious constructs and conceptions of the "normal". A clash of moral sensibilities led to several acts of voilence against women during the time I was back in South Africa, and debates about morality are heavily implicated in almost all terrorist and geanocidal actions. Even the current war in Iraq is justified on a moral premise, despite the various ecomonic issues implicated.
And I don't want to get into word games about the difference between morality and ethics, either. I do think that is a useful way of framing this, but really it's just too abstract for the current circumstances.
Crime is, I believe, more about an inability or unwillingness to see the humanity in others than about a lack of moral compass, because when you can't see how your actions hurt someone else, you can't see the immorality in them. I always have believed that everyone wants to be good, or at least to feel good about themselves, and that knowing that you are hurting someone else doesn't feel very good. That is why child molesters tell themselves that the children they interact with actually want, or enjoy, what is done to them. And the idea of "for the good of the community" becomes an excuse to ignore individuals who are hurting. The apartheid government believed that it was acting for the good of the country, but it had to ignore the humanity of black people to do that.
I'll read the speech fully before I comment more on this, but I just wanted to put that out there, as my initial response to the reports I've been reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blogg accidentally, and was blown away. There is going to be a big New York South African Music Day taking place at the Manhattan School of Music on September 23rd All Day! (www/ page for details) There will be panel discussions with UCT Live via video-conferencing (audience can speak with Cape Town directly), 2 concerts, a workshop with Dizu Plaatjies and a talk with Kevin Volans. My e-mail address is Would love to make contact. Thanks! Kathy