Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: A nation beholden to criminals

South Africans are caught between forgiving violence because we understand that the divides in our society are unsustainable, and abhorring violence because we fear that ours will be the next throats to be slit.

Some people are born empathetic. I was not. I never cried for the losses of strangers until I became a mother. Then it seemed, each time I opened the paper, that I might never stop crying. When Anene Booysens was raped and murdered I imagined her as my child and I thought there would be no end to my tears. Tougher and shrewder commentators than I suggested that outrage and grief would not bring her back. They suggested that tears made the crier feel good but didn’t change anything. They were right, of course, but their correctness didn’t stop my tears.

Last week I was teary again. I sat in a café with two colleagues, blinking foolishly as we spoke about the death of little Taegrin Morris. Embarrassed, I asked if we vould change the subject. My colleagues were probably a bit baffled that a seemingly self-possessed grown woman was so inexplicably close to tears. Graciously, they agreed that we turn our attention to other matters.
But because it is impossible to talk about one violent death in South Africa without speaking of another, we didn’t change the subject. We didn’t mention Taegrin again, but we spoke gingerly around his ghost.

Huddled in conversation in a chic Cape Town eatery we spoke – incongruously – of murder and mayhem. We spoke in the kind of heart-wrenching detail that makes all tales of loss unbearable to listen to and…

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