More equal than others
South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 65.0 in 2011 (the Gini Coefficient being a measurement of the space between a nation’s richest and poorest citizens, a rating of zero would mean complete equality between these two groups). I’ve known this for a long time (thank you BA education – I have very few marketable skills from my time with you, but dammit at least I can think).
My country’s disparity makes a lot of sense in our historical context if one considers that the policy of apartheid’s entire aim was to benefit a small group of people (the white minority) at the cost of a large majority (non-whites). It’s therefore pretty logical to assume that this inequality, while technically illegal 20 years into our democracy, has not been completely eroded. Our democracy, after all, was negotiated into being and when revolution finally came, it lacked the implementation of many of the socialist ideals originally envisioned by anti-apartheid activists before the 1990s.
Again, I know all this, and while it’s not right and needs to be changed, it makes a sort of (unjust) sense, and can be understood.
Of late, though, I’ve become increasingly more aware of a new form of injustice that I just can’t seem to understand the root of. For all of you who have lived under a rock for these past few weeks, it’s been an interesting time in the news: firstly the Oscar Pistorius trial wrapped up on October 21 for the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. Secondly Xolile Mngeni, a man convicted of being part of the killing of Anni Dewani in 2010, died in prison of a brain tumour on October 18, even after being recommended (and denied) for medical parole. And thirdly on Sunday night (October 26) Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates Captain Senzo Meyiwa was shot dead outside his girlfriend’s house in Vosloorus, Gauteng. In all three cases I have noticed an alarming trend emerging in these cases – all animals are equal, but in these examples some people seem to be more equal than the rest of South Africa.
In Pistorius’s case…
Once Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide and reckless endangerment, his attorney (Barry Roux) structured his argument for sentencing around using Pistorius’s disability as a strong mitigating factor. The argument went along the lines that because of Pistorius’s “condition”, the South African prison system could not adequately take care of him if he were to be incarcerated.
While raising concerns of the state of SA prisons generally, and the treatment of prisoners with special needs in particular is a noble cause, I took exception to Roux’s whole argument. There are a number of disabled prisoners within the South African system who didn’t have their circumstances considered at all in their jailing. In fact, the Wits Justice Project published a story last year detailing the case of ‘Prisoner A’ Ronnie Fakude, a paraplegic who became both ill and suffered injury during his time in prison, and yet had his ability to walk questioned by a doctor (and wife of a director of that prison – no conflict of interest there I’m sure) who also wanted him returned to a normal cell. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Good Citizen Roux hasn’t rushed to knock on his door (sorry, barred cell) to offer to fight his struggles as a disabled person in the system.
As an aside: this has nothing to do with the over-all arch of this blog post, but I want to take a moment to rant about the Oscar trial
Throughout the court case, I found myself increasingly disgusted with the whole ‘disablity’ card played. “Oh, he suffers from an anxiety disorder brought about from him being disabled and therefore reacted the way he did” “Oh, he CAN’T go to prison, don’t you know he’s disabled?”. As a disabled person myself, I’m actually rather offended. Yes, disabilities are hard, and they mean both he and I can’t do everything able-bodied people can do. But from my side: I don’t want to be treated like I’m made of glass, I don’t want my actions excused or justified by the fact that I’m a little different from others. Having Moebius is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me or my actions. To use a physical defect in such a way is too make the disabled less human, less capable and less accountable for our actions. That’s not the equality that I’m looking for.
In Mngeni’s case…
Xolile Mngeni was found guilty a few years ago for his part of the murder of Anni Dewani, allegedly arranged by her husband, during their honeymoon in the country in November 2010. During his trial, it was discovered that he had a brain tumour. Although he was recommended for medical parole after his sentencing, he was denied for this in July, three months before he died.
The issue of medical parole is a serious one, and I could understand if it was given very grudgingly across the board, but the problem is that in the past it’s been granted to people in far less of a serious situation than Mngeni’s was. Anyone remember dear Schabir Shaik‘s ‘serious illness’ and medical parole? Which was serious enough to get him out of his 15-year jail sentence, but not serious enough to stop him from allegedly beating the crap out of people while golfing. More than once.
Maria Busi Tshabalala, secretary general of the National Freedom Party Youth Movement said it best when she also referenced Animal Farm and said “Xolile Mngeni’s biggest crime was not to have killed or participated in the murder of Anni Dewani, but it was his poverty background and the fact that he or his family were not politically connected.”
In Meyiwa’s case…
I think I should start this one carefully – a young life was lost, a great talent is no longer with us, and my deepest condolences go out to his fans and loved ones, who will now need to find a way to keep living life without him. That is a tragedy, and we shouldn’t be insensitive about it…
At the same time though, this country is full of tragedies. One that keeps sticking in my mind as I write this is the rape and murder of three girls under the age of six in Diepsloot last year. Anelisa Mkhonto (5), Yonalisa Mali (2) and Zandile Mali (3) were their names – you’ll need to look hard on news sites before you find them, underneath more stories of Meyiwa’s death, and updates on the Dewani trial. When you do though, you’ll learn that Ntokozo Hadebe was found guilty of their murders today, and will probably be sentenced tomorrow. According to News24, the youngest girl was still in nappies at the time of her death.
Spare a thought, please, for the horror that they must have experienced – how scared were they? Did they cry for their mother during the rape of tiny bodies? Who of the sisters died first, and did the other one even understand what that meant? It should be noted that, unlike Meyiwa’s case, the police offered no reward of R250 000 to find their killer.
What these news stories have taught me, is there seems to be two sets of rules here: one for you and me – the average citizens of this country who just have to go day by day and hope for the best, and a second set for those who are rich, famous or have friends in the right places. That’s not the country that I want to live in.
Posted on October 28, 2014, in blog updates and tagged Anelisa Mkhonto, Bafana Bafana Captain Senzo Meyiwa, Barry Roux, Gini coefficient of South Africa, Inequality, Ntokozo Hadebe, Oscar Pistorius trial, Reeva Steenkamp, Vosloorus, Wits Justice Project, Yonalisa and Zandile Mali. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.