JOHANNESBURG - South Africa is an inherently violent country. It’s something we’re really good at. If we want to get things done, we get violent; burn buildings, trash the streets, beat up passers by (or security guards) or break TV cameras.
On Sunday, as the country absorbed the horrendous incident that unfolded at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban following Kaizer Chiefs’ defeat to Free State Stars the previous evening, the former editor of the Financial Mail, Barney Mthombothi tweeted: “There will be no end to violence or hooliganism until its punished, not rewarded. Ppl destroy & burn things in #Mahikeng & Cyril drops everything to pacify them. #KaizerChiefs fans run amok in Durban & Komphela resigns, which is what they wanted. Violence pays (sic).”
Indeed, it does in South Africa, no matter the laws of the land. People who participate in acts of violence know there’ll be no punishment. On the contrary, the reasons for them being violent will, in most likelehood, be placated.
And so yes, PSL chairman (and general football uber-boss) Irvin Khoza’s words on Monday do ring hollow. It will take months for punishments to be handed down, as was the case with Khoza’s club Orlando Pirates after their fans ran amok in February last year, after they were beaten 6-0 by Mamelodi Sundowns.
It took 14 months for the PSL’s disciplinary committee to come to a conclusion in that matter - despite loads of visual evidence - and then the punishment was that Pirates would have to play two matches behind closed doors, but one of those would be suspended for a period of 24 months. What kind of punishment is that?
But then this is South Africa where violence largely goes unpunished and so it escalates because people can see they will get away with burning schools and shops and setting tyres alight in the streets.
Johannesburg and Cape Town regularly feature in those “murder capitals of the world" lists that are published annually. And everyone gets into a froth for a few days, and then we continue being violent; murdering each other, abusing women and raping them.
Thinking that sport should somehow be immune from society’s broader violent nature is just naive.
Tackling this issue isn’t one for football to solve, or Khoza, the PSL or sport; it starts at home and in school, at church or mosque, with parents or guardians teaching kids decency. Just be decent. That may seem a very simple solution, but often the simplest way solves the most complex of problems.
In between our violent nature, we’re also a complicated bunch here at the southern tip of Africa. The potential for greatness is certainly there - our many sports heroes and heroines have showed us that often.