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While parties were correct to condemn the Diepsloot killings, turning the area into a political battle zone was not, says Ray McCauley.
Johannesburg - This past week I visited the families of toddlers Yonalisa and Zandile Mali and five-year-old Anelise Mkhondo in Diepsloot.
The toddlers were raped and murdered about two weeks ago and Anelise was found under a pile of rubbish early last month.
The pain of losing their children is still etched in the faces of the parents, relatives and neighbours.
But it is the grief of the parents that pierced my heart.
It is said that the loss of a child is the most devastating a parent can face. I saw it in their parents’ eyes. No parents deserve to lose their children in the manner the Diepsloot parents did.
Following these terrible incidents, Diepsloot is a traumatised community going through deep pain and fear.
Parents are fearful for their children and go to work with anxiety when they leave their children behind.
Those who are trapped in poverty and unemployment will not let their children leave their sight.
Given the fact that some of the toilets in the area are communal, women and children are now scared of going there alone, especially at night or early in the morning, the residents told me.
Fear and trauma have gripped this community. And, of course, we know that this horror has not just been confined to Diepsloot. The murder of two toddlers in Katlehong was also reported during a period that was depressing for the nation.
Something has gone terribly wrong in our society. Even the inhabitants of the wild Kruger National Park do not treat their offspring in this manner.
A herd of lions will protect their cubs and the vulnerable among their own.
When a society loses toddlers to rape and murder, a nation should be outraged and draw a line in the sand. And indeed we all were appalled at the senseless killing of these innocent children.
Their lives were brutally cut short by what can only be described as beastly acts committed by people with a seared conscience and whose human feelings have been emptied.
What manner of a human being commits such an act against children?
We are comforted – though this will never bring back the children – by the fact that the police left no stone unturned in their determination to arrest the perpetrators.
Their swift action and dogged determination have seen five men charged and appear in court.
I commend the police and the co-operation of the community led by its councillors in ensuring that the perpetrators were traced and arrested. It does show that if we work together, we can beat crime.
But one must express disappointment with some political formations that tried to score political points out of this tragedy.
While political parties were correct in condemning the killings, turning the houses of the bereaved families into political battle zones was distasteful.
Death and tragedy, especially of this nature, must not be politically owned.
As religious leaders, we condemn this behaviour and appeal to political parties to respect the privacy of bereaved families and treat them with respect.
While I was in Diepsloot, a point some residents raised is that of the incomplete police station. Those of us who live in suburbs and estates within high walls and the protection of private security firms may not take such a concern seriously.
But for a community whose only line of defence between itself and marauding criminals is the protection provided by the state, the police station is their only hope.
The people of Diepsloot cannot fathom, and neither can I, why they are left so exposed to crime when this country has enough money to finish that police station.
They do not understand why it had to take four years for the police station to be completed.
They do not understand why they are left vulnerable to a few criminals while there are hundreds of able-bodied young men roaming the streets of Diepsloot who, with a little imagination and show of leadership from the state, can protect the community.
I challenge all of us – the government, corporate South Africa and civil society – to start thinking outside the box in addressing the challenges of Diepsloot and other similar communities.
Let big business resource the area through its Business Against Crime initiatives. Let civil society structures form street patrols.
Let churches and other NGOs run workshops for the community on responsible parenting and self-empowerment.
And let the state recruit from the community the 150 or so policemen I am told the area needs.
Too much is at stake here.
* Pastor Ray McCauley is the senior pastor of Rhema Bible Church and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council.