Fr. Zweli OMI reflects on recent January 2015 tragic loss of lives and looting of shops owned by foreigners in Soweto, South Africa. Fr. Zweli is currently working in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, South Africa.
The revolution devours its children, in many a society the children are the direct victims of social upheaval and dis-functionality. In 1976 Soweto children in South Africa went on the rampage to protest about the government system of poor education for Black children; police responded by shooting live ammunition; the youngest and first victim of the protest was one Hector Peterson, he was only 13 years old.
In the 1980s the social and political scenario was on fire; children once again were devoured by the chaos. One child Stomie Moekesti became a symbol of the devoured children. The police detained him when he was only 12 years old. He became a member of the infamous Mandela United Football club, but he did not play soccer. Instead the group was known more as the bodyguard of Mrs. Nelson Mandela. It is this same group that is alleged to have killed him because he was accused of and suspected to be a police informant. His little dead body was found in the open field where rubbish is dumped, he was only 4 years.
Incidence of stigma and discrimination towards people with HIV/AIDS has decreased in South Africa, but this was not always the case. Nkosi Johnson is I think a symbol of children and people who suffered discrimination. He was born with HIV 1989 when he came to the public eye around 1997, he became known as the longest surviving child born with HIV.
“Care for us and accept us — we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else — don’t be afraid of us — we are all the same!” These are the words he said responding to the stigma faced by those affected by the disease. He died in 2001, he was only 12 years old.
The 22nd of January 2015 will be the day when most people of Soweto will remember with shame. It was reported in the news that an informal shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy who together with his friends attempted to rob him. The shop owner case is under police investigation.
The death of the child sparked a ripple effect series of violence and looting. People and especially young people responded by looting and harassing shops and informal mini martsowned by foreign nationals especially who have become the leading owners of shops in most South African townships. The whole of Soweto stood on edge as people watched children going wild looting shops and causing general mayhem.
South Africa Law enforcement are reported to have said that some people have arrested in connection with looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto, among are Children who will appear in court. People arrested are accused of public violence and custody of stolen property after looting incidents in Soweto.
Catholic Bishops in South Africa have condemned the looting, burning of shops in Soweto and call on the people involved not to allow themselves to be incited to such destruction.
Below is the Bishops statement about Soweto:
Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC)
“The Roman Catholic Bishops meeting in Pretoria condemns the looting, burning of shops and businesses in Soweto and call on the people involved not to allow themselves to be incited to such destruction.
To those who encourage and benefit from such looting we say that you are not only destroying buildings but the moral life of young people and the very name of our country. It is tragic that people have lost their lives and we extend our prayers to their families. To our brothers and sisters whose businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed we reach out to you in sincere sympathy. What has happened to you deeply disturbs us and we call on all Catholic and Christian communities and leaders to offer you all the practical help which they can muster.
We call on all parents in a special way to step in and offer guidance to their children and to all young people involved. We call upon all our faithful to offer full support, co-operation and information necessary to the police and community leaders in their defence of those who have been victimised. We assure the victims of our prayers. We want to say that this behaviour is not typical or acceptable by the majority of the Southern African people.”
Issued at Pretoria, St. John Vianney Seminary, 23rd January 2015
This reflection is not a debate of foreign nationals in the country but a lamentation of the suffering of children during social upheaval. It is important that South Africans take a step back and ask themselves, the root causes which is driving these children to act in this manner.
These children are a symbol of how in a dysfunctional society children become the not just the collateral damage but actually become the target itself. There are children who are forced to be soldiers, carrying guns bigger than their growing shoulders, strapping bombs in their little bodies and fighting systems much bigger than them. These children continue to shame us the adults because they reveal how we continue to fail as a society, how we fail not only to protect them but actually send them to solve our adult problems.