We live in a world of diminishing meaning – and yet paradoxically we have never been more able to articulate our views. Thanks to social media, every one of us who has an opinion can air it – even if it is just a conviction that Elvis is alive and well and living in Boksburg.
We can all report the news as it happens, and exhort our nearest and dearest to summon help to intervene, as happened to Hugo who was sent to “bel die polisie” (phone the police).
We can all show our solidarity with crises; whether existential or environmental through the easy artifice of changing our profile picture and announcing “Je suis” appending the trend at the end.
It’s something we, as South Africans, are very good at doing, especially on social media where the engagement is limited to a couple of moves with your thumbs to post it, and then the odd desultory flick afterwards to see if anyone has liked it and even retweeted it.
For the older, less millennial types, there’s the enduring allure of a march, complete with T-shirts, a bit of toyi-toying (unless you are Carl Niehaus), the handover of a memorandum and the overwhelming self-satisfaction of a job well done and a conscience salved.
And all of it means nothing.
The latest instalment though will take some beating.
On Monday, our Minister of Police Bheki Cele led 1 500 male officers and trainee constables through Pretoria to Sunnyside police station to march against gender-based violence and violence against children and other vulnerable groups.
It’s incredibly well intentioned – and desperately needed. As expected, the ministry had all the right things to say about getting the officers to understand that they are at the “coalface of combating sexual violence”, that things have to be done differently and an acknowledgement that things have been problematic – which in terms of understatement alone takes some beating.
Things haven’t been problematic; there’s been a gender genocide in this country; women have died after suffering at the hands of those ostensibly nearest and dearest to them because of the failure of the system. Protection orders have been ignored, even when properly registered at police stations, while the reported responses of some police officers when faced with survivors of rape have been breathtaking in their callousness and indifference.
But will a march solve anything? A pledge?
If the Springboks get bundled out of the Rugby World Cup, would we join them in a march pledging better ball retention and ruck clearing?
No, because that’s what they’re supposed to do; hold on to the ball, pass it down the line until they move sufficiently forward to dot it down and score. And if they can’t do the basics, they get dropped from the team – any team.
Why can’t we do that with the police and gender-based violence in particular? It’s their job, to protect and to serve. And if they can’t, they should be fired.
Finish and klaar, as one national police commissioner once famously said. Except in this country it never is.
* Ritchie is a journalist and a former newspaper editor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.