BUILDING THE PEACE: A KAIROS ON VIOLENT CRIME
As leaders from civil society, faith communities, business, the media and politics, we declare that the time has come to intensify our efforts for building peace. This is our kairos moment - a moment of choice - to turn the tide on violent crime. Across our nation we must forge constructive and comprehensive partnerships to reverse the unacceptable levels of crime. Our reflections on what we have achieved within South Africa must go hand in hand with identifying and addressing the challenges we still face in pursuit of common human dignity for all our citizens and, particularly, the most vulnerable. These challenges and their solutions are the subject of the stand we are now taking, and the call we are issuing to all of society to stand with us, and act.
South Africa is rooted in a "culture of peace", reflected in both our strong traditions and our history. This creative and life-giving culture of peace shaped the birth of our democracy in the early 1990s when all the indicators pointed towards violence. Such a defining moment is again upon us. We must light the candle of peace in our communities. Our focus is not so much on what we seek to combat but on what we plan to build: communities of peace. We call on all leaders to join us in inspiring and re-energising the culture of peace that is latent among us.
As leaders from faith communities, civil society, business, the media and politics, we reaffirm the appropriateness of our current criminal justice system and of initiatives aimed at curbing violence and supporting survivors. However, we also affirm the need for more effective implementation and for better co-ordinated strategies of co-operation between the public sector and civil society. Affirming the appro- priateness of our criminal justice system also requires our continuous vigilance in interacting with the formation of new laws and policies by parliament. We will pursue solutions, rather than merely calling for more police, more prisons, harsher sentences and a different criminal justice system.
We also underline that nothing is solved by people taking the law into their own hands. We need comprehensive measures to tackle violent crime. Our communities should not be increasingly afraid of and, in some places, trapped in cycles of crime. What is happening is unacceptable. Theft and verbal abuse are being compounded by rape and assault, resulting in serious injury or death. The abuse and murder of women by their partners seems tragically to be on the increase. Criminal aggression is flaunted in direct attacks on our police and other security forces. The prevalence of firearms in our society fuels increasingly violent crime. They are used in a significant proportion of crimes, family deaths and suicides. We call for sanity to prevail, and a change of mindset away from the gun culture.
Our common human dignity is at the heart of what is at stake. Crime diminishes everyone involved - perpetrators, victims and bystanders. Our objective is a crime-free country for everyone. Yet, perpetrators of violent crime should get this message loud and clear: an attack on any individual is an attack on our common and shared human dignity. Such a violation is aptly exemplified, in our tradition of struggle, by the dictum "an injury to one is an injury to all". We deplore the exploitation of current levels of fear to generate political capital. Human dignity should not be politicised for any party's political ends. Politicians and civil society must work together, in mutual confidence and trust, to tackle to the roots of the dangers which our society faces.
The assault of violent crime on our common human dignity detrimentally impacts on our value systems and whole social fabric. Much of our fear for violent crime results from our perception of its presence, regardless of statistics. Tackling crime requires acknow-ledgement that numbers do not tell the whole story. We must address perceptions, and the fears they arouse, alongside violent crime itself. All three directly affect our quality of life. As a nation, we must give urgent and continuing attention to the quality of life of everyone. Everyone is deserving of dignity, especially the most vulnerable, regardless of gender or race. Special attention must be paid to the situation of foreigners, women, senior citizens, children and youth.
Quality of life is affected by other forms of crime. Substance abuse (for example, liquor and drugs) and the drug-traffic require particular attention as they ignite much of the aggression in violent crime. The relationship between violent crime and poverty is a serious matter for reflection, though we stress that poverty cannot be used to excuse crime, and also that crime is not characteristic only of low-income communities. Poverty does not translate directly into crime. However, we must underline the fact that the reduction in overall poverty levels will, in the long run, reduce the amount of crime related to poverty.
We commit ourselves to be proactive in working very hard at changing society's attitudes towards women. We have talked enough - now we must change our beliefs and our behaviour. Those of us who are leaders of faith and other communities acknowledge that we bear a particular responsibility. We will ensure that our sacred texts and traditions are rightly understood and manifested in ways that fully reflect the honour and dignity that should be accorded to women, instead of giving undue importance to aspects that appear to privilege men at women's expense. We admit that too often some of us have wrongly allowed patriarchal mindsets to dominate, and conspire with patriarchal tendencies within wider society, to the detriment of women and girls.
Call to the nation
We, therefore, call on all South Africans to join in our reflections. We are all, as citizens, in partnership with the government and the media, the key to building peace in a situation of violent crime. In our endeavours to reclaim our human dignity, we need to live out our common values, have compassion for others and care for one another. Every August is celebrated as Women's Month and by some as the Month of Compassion, when we remember especially the leading roles played by women in our society. Every November and December we participate in the international campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women. The international Day for Peace should also be included in our programme for peace. Our compassion, and our implacable opposition to gender violence, must mark not just these special times, but every day of every year. The dignity of human beings is especially nurtured in families.
We call on families to exercise their calling as units of peace and moral integrity. We call on our youth to consider the future and their education. Education is a force of civil society against the death-seeking ways of violent crime and gangsterism. Choose now to become ambassadors of peace. We call upon perpetrators, as a true act of responsible citizenship, to come clean and confess their criminal acts, hand over their weapons, stop dealing in drugs, cease destructive behaviour, and instead join us in embracing the common human dignity that we all share. We call on victims, onlookers and survivors to break the silence. Report violent crime and harm done to you and your loved ones. We stand with you. We stand together as one, and our dignity binds us to one another beyond any measure of threat and aggression.
Commitments by the Builders of Peace:
We pledge ourselves to building the peace, and we call on all leaders of South Africa and our communities to join us, by committing to the following:
Acting for peace
- Establish an agenda of peace for the whole society.
- Shift crime policy and thinking from an "agenda of war" to an "agenda of peace".
- Mobilise communities to use the media for peace building.
- Declare churches and places of worship as peace zones.
- Each family light a candle for peace or grow a peace garden.
- Build community values for peace in families, schools and individuals.
Acting for partnerships
- Adopt, or form partnerships with, police stations, prisons and hospitals.
- Communities declare schools as peace zones, free of drugs and violence.
- Enhance awareness against drugs and guns by promoting issues of quality of life, such as health and wellness.
- Call on the government to empower communities in opposing inappropriate bail for perpetrators of violent crimes through the assessors system in courts.
Acting through presence
- Develop the presence and actions of community leaders in pursuit of poverty eradication.
- Upscale ministries of presence in prisons, police stations, hospitals.
- Strengthen pastoral care and counselling to members of police and their families.
- Build an ecumenical and interfaith ministry of presence with survivors of violent crime.
- Develop skills in relationship-building, conflict resolution and communication.
- Provide prayer and support from faith communities for actions of peace-building, so that the grace of God may be manifested in loving and compassionate acts in society.
- Review traditions and teaching to ensure patriarchal perspectives are not unwittingly being promoted.
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