In light of the recent violence targeted at foreign nationals in South Africa, and the sometimes violent service delivery protests in the country, clinical psychologist and executive director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Nomfundo Mogapi unpacks the root of this aggression.
Violence is the only language that this government knows
Mogapi says that their research on community protests and xenophobic violence shows that those who commit collective violence feel that violence is the only language that people in power will listen and respond to.
We have this group of people who are combat ready. We respond to the violence, but when people try engage in other ways, not as much attention is given.
She told CapeTalk/702's Redi Tlhabi that people’s actions may seem irrational because they come from the desperation for attention from government and a need to somehow feel empowered.
Mogapi says that those involved in mob justice, though violent, have genuine concerns linked to socio-economic issues that have created a breeding ground for the violence.
South Africa hasn't yet healed
In addition to the socio-economic issues that often drive collective violence, Mogapi says that the country has not yet healed from its brutal past, and that many South Africans have internalised the experiences of being 'othered' and the feelings of being sub-human.
In South Africa you have to understand that this psychology is happening in the context of a nation that has not dealt with its collective trauma. We need to have difficult conversations as society and look at how we have internalised our past.
She proposes that many citizens face continued collective trauma through socio-economic exclusion and then express their trauma of being 'othered' by dehumanising others or through brutality.
Mogapi says that South Africans should not divorce themselves from the social issues present in the country. Instead of denying that we are a violent nation, she says that we need to address why we are that way.
This article first appeared on 702 : The psychology of collective violence in SA