Decent people are rightly appalled by what happened to Ms Ina Bonnette in Modimolle. Her estranged husband is alleged to have forced three labourers at gunpoint to gang-rape her, and to have mutilated her terribly. As if this were not ghastly enough, he tied her up and allegedly forced her to listen while her son Conrad begged for his life. Then he is alleged to have shot the boy three times, including a fatal shot to the head.
Those are dastardly deeds, barbaric and monstrous in extent and we are quite right to condemn them roundly, unequivocally. I join all decent persons in expressing deep sympathy and condolences to Ms Bonnette.
What is disturbing, however, is when our outrage leads us to dub the alleged perpetrator, “the monster from Modimolle”, as the media has been doing.
He may indeed be guilty of inhuman, ghastly and monstrous deeds, but he is not a monster. We are actually letting him off lightly by calling him a monster because monsters have no moral sense of right and wrong – and therefore cannot be held morally culpable, cannot be regarded as morally blameworthy.
No, Mr Johan Kotze remains a child of God with the capacity to become a saint. This may shock some of us. But have we forgotten, those who are Christians, the story of the repentant thief on the cross? This was a man who had spent his entire life committing crimes punishable in their day by excruciating death by crucifixion. But Jesus Christ promised the man that they would enter paradise together on the basis of his deathbed repentance!
Have we forgotten Peter who denied his Master not once but three times, but nonetheless becomes the chief of the apostles. Or Mary Magdalene, the prostitute, who became the Queen of Penitents as St Mary Magdalene? Or Saul, who approved of the stoning to death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Saul who harassed and arrested Christians for being members of the infant Church, who after his Damascus road conversion becomes St Paul the leading evangelist and theologian of the faith he had formerly persecuted?
We could go on and on. Remember how Augustine of Hippo, who had led a reckless and immoral life, became the leading theologian of this faith. And remember Francis of Assisi, who led a profligate life as a happy-go-lucky Italian youth before his encounter with the leper led to his becoming one of the most popular of our galaxy of saints.
We should condemn ghastly acts of awful cruelty but we must, as they say, hate the sin and love the sinner, or hope that he may change for the better.
In many ways, that was the basis of our Truth and Reconciliation process.
We heard bloodcurdling stories of how people had been murdered brutally and yet we saw some extraordinary scenes of magnanimity when perpetrator and victim or relative of victim embraced publicly.
If it were true that once a murderer always a murderer, then we should have had to shut up shop straightaway.
But we believed then, and I hope we still do, that it was possible for people to change for the better, that the worst criminal could become a good and virtuous person.
My plea is that we stop calling Mr Kotze a monster.