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Cape Town - Graça Machel has described South Africans as “ill, hurting, bleeding”.
“We are harming one another because we can’t control our pain,” she says.
Anyone who would rape a woman, child or elderly person was “so damaged that they feel the need to inflict pain and hurt on others”, she said. “They are trying to destroy the humanity in their victims. I think we need a vision on how to build a healthy society. How to heal the character of the sons and daughters of our beloved nation.”
Machel was delivering the second Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture at the University of the Western Cape on Tuesday night. About 400 people gathered to hear Machel speak.
She called for a new version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that perpetrators and victims of violence could look each other in the eyes and forgive one another.
Eighteen years into democracy, SA had not started to understand its deep societal crises, the international women and children’s rights activist and humanitarian said.
Both men and women in SA had not been healed of the emotional and psychological damage that had been inflicted on them. Families, which should be the building blocks of society, had been torn apart for at least three generations.
“It may sound presumptuous but I have observed, as a South African and a Mozambican, that we have huge difficulty in communicating in a serene, peaceful, accommodating manner. We have a lot of anger in our communication.”
Machel said gender violence was not something to be discussed just 16 days a year.
Recent studies had shown that 61 percent of fathers in Johannesburg had not paid maintenance and that 40 percent of households in SA where headed by women, not because the fathers were dead - they were absent.
“The SA family structure has changed dramatically in recent decades,” said Machel.
She attributed this to HIV/Aids, migration to urban areas and migrant workers.
The recent unrest in Marikana had highlighted the way in which miners were living.
Machel said universities should use their research facilities to come up with a deeper picture of SA society.
Addressing Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, she said: “Arch, you led us to confront our demons with the TRC. It sounded like it would be an impossible job. But perpetrators and victims were able to look into the eyes of one another.”
Such national dialogue, a social movement with a similar sentiment, would be beneficial to confront the past, she said.
In a lighter moment, at the beginning of the lecture, Machel thanked Tutu for forcing her and Nelson Mandela to marry.
She said at the beginning of their relationship, they were being “a bit naughty” and living together, when Tutu called and said they should get married.
The lectures were instituted to honour Tutu’s contribution to SA’s democracy and also to introduce important issues into the national discussion.
The theme of this year’s lecture was: Women, democracy and freedom.
Machel’s topic was “Is it scaling the highest peaks of political and economic power or safety at home and in community, that is the true measure of a society’s liberation?”
Machel has served as the Mozambican education minister and was appointed as the expert in charge of producing the UN report on the impact of armed conflict on children.
She also serves as a member of The Elders, a group of former heads of state, which promotes international dialogue.
After the lecture, Tutu was presented with a cake in celebration of his 81st birthday this weekend and also his wife Leah’s birthday the following weekend.