By Whitlaw Mugwiji
Taking a stand: No to Violence
I had initially planned to pen an article challenging Tendai Biti and his party on their proposal of the National Transitional Authority this week but I just could not bring myself to ignore some videos I saw on Facebook. I found those videos quite disturbing. How can a normal human being bash a woman like that for failing to repay $6? Honestly where did our humanity go?
Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to discuss this simmering problem in our society. Violence has become so rampant. It has spread like a cancer to every aspect of our society. Its used to settle social disputes, to whip political opponents into line by the political elites and by the state to suppress dissent. If we are to meaningfully reduce violence in our society, we must look ourselves in the eye, confront some of our behaviours and certain aspects of our social life that have enabled this vice to thrive.
Social learning theory
Sociologists in what they term the social learning theory suggest that an individual learns behaviour, including criminal or violent behaviour by observation. They say our social environment has a direct impact on our values, beliefs and our general behaviour. Children who were victims of abuse or who often witnessed their parents resolving their differences through violence learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict.
Kids also pick up on inconsistencies between what we say and what we practice, which is why I think we need a serious rethink on the philosophy of spanking kids. They say ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, but disciplining a child is not synonymous to spanking them. Spanking sends a message to the kids that violence is a tool to either settle differences or to set someone straight. How can we be surprised by the level of violence in our society, if we are actually teaching our kids that violence is okay?
We must also hold our patriarchal culture to account for some of this violence in our society. It has falsely taught young men that they must enforce their natural rule over their wives and children then as they are the head of their houses. More often than not this justifies and encourages male violence and mistreatment of women. Although women are most often the victims of domestic violence, gender roles can and are at times reversed.
What is more worrying is that this violence permeates right to the top in our society. At one point in time, Robert Mugabe bragged that he possessed degrees in violence, boasting on how he beat Morgan Tsvangirai “takachidashura”. Such statements from the highest office in the land condoning violence can make young people believe that violence is an acceptable behaviour in settling differences.
The stain/stress theory
Let’s face it, everyone in Zimbabwe is under some level of stress. A majority of our citizens are living in abject poverty. Even those who can make ends meet, struggle with the level of uncertainty in our economy. In as much as most individuals can deal with stress in socially acceptable ways, the strain/stress theory argues that stress has the ability to trigger drug abuse, violence and aggression in some individuals.
Thus, as part of the fight to reduce violence in our society, we must also confront our government that has pauperised a majority of our citizens, forcing them to engage in petty crimes and prostitution in order to keep their homes afloat.
It is not surprising that when people who are struggling and in most cases failing to make ends meet catch these petty criminals they unleash violence and dehumanizing treatment. It’s because they have so much stress, anger and frustration bottled inside. Whilst I do understand their levels of stress and frustration, I think they must channel and direct their anger and aggression towards the government which has failed in all its responsibilities.
I hope by paying attention to these social factors that contribute to an increase in levels of violence in our communities, I am not seen as making excuses for those individuals that engage in these violent acts. Rather, my intention is to identify these factors that we can help us reduce the levels of violence in our society.
We are our sister/brother’s keeper
We must stand up and make it equivocally clear that we do not tolerate violence as a tool to settle our differences, emulating that group of fearless women who went and confronted the man who had beaten a woman over $6. However, perpetrators of violence must not just be confronted and condemned, but must also be offered treatment and healing.
Our society must show zero tolerance to violence.
- Whitlaw Mugwiji is a political analyst and social commentator for Khuluma Afrika.