SA is a country at war with itself: NMMU Professor

MAY 24, 2016

In South Africa, you can get killed for a cell phone: What underlies the extraordinarily violent crime that is so rampant throughout this country?

“We are like a country at war with itself,” says NMMU Associate Professor and Head of Department of Political and Conflict Studies Lyn Snodgrass, who believes the high rates of violent crime stem from a deep emotional well, carried from one generation to the next, of feelings of humiliation and hate that have never been voiced or addressed – and that continue to bubble over, two decades into democracy.

“In 20 years, we haven’t made much progress. The government thought that with transformation, they could put in the structures and the people would follow, but they haven’t dealt with the emotional baggage.

Head of the Department of Political and Conflict Studies Prof Lyn Snodgrass is researching the role of past hurts in South Africa’s violent crime.

The only solution we have is through dialogue,” says Snodgrass, who marries her academic background in Psychology, Conflict Resolution and Politics in her trans-disciplinary research into deep-rooted, intractable conflict.

She has published 15 peer-reviewed articles.

“I want to know how we manage violence in South Africa, and how we can stop the escalation of violence. We need to look at the emotion.

[When we think of criminals], we think of the rational person, sitting there making rational decisions, but we are an emotional country.”

Snodgrass’s research has led to her teaching conflict resolution and negotiation skills to peace-keepers in war-affected countries such as South Sudan and Ethiopia.

She has also delivered papers on conflict processes at conferences in Kenya, Turkey, and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and was part of a Summer Peace Academy in Germany.

Snodgrass said violence was influenced by factors such as poverty, patriarchy, inequality, stagnant economic growth, high rates of unemployment and low levels of education.

“These factors also exist in other post-war and post-colonial African countries. But they don’t have the same extraordinary violence for which South Africa is known.

What makes us especially violent? What is that aspect of apartheid [that has led to today’s situation]?

I tend to look at humiliation … Apartheid was the ultimate humiliation.”

She said in South Africa, the so-called “born-frees” grow up hearing their parents’ and their grandparents’ stories – and it becomes their story.

She said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at the time, was the best thing South Africa had. “It was one of our finest hours – but there should have been an ongoing dialogue. The TRC didn’t deal with humiliation.”

In the absence of meaningful dialogue, Snodgrass said South Africans had also learned that violence leads to results – thus just about all protest situations typically led to the destruction of public property.

“This behaviour forces the government into dialogue and negotiation with communities.

So, the violence becomes a learned response because it garners results.

“For violent crime to be addressed, it needs to be approached from a position of emotional and spiritual intelligence. We need a paradigm shift in this country.”