Why I don’t believe in monsters

CN: sexual violence, perpetrators, violence

Motho ke motho ka batho. I am because we are. The promise is that we are only able to exist through other people, that we should value each other despite our differences, treat each other with compassion and coexist. It’s nice, isn’t it?  🙂

I have a concern…As far as I can tell, we’re not applying the principle of ubuntu consistently. We call on it to unify our nations and uphold it as a virtue. Ubuntu is our slogan in the good times.But where does ubuntu go when things go wrong?

I’m from a country where the death penalty is legal. A hanging in Botswana is not usually the biggest controversy. By 2013, Botswana had hung 47 people since independence in 1966. This year, they added another name to the list.

Growing up in Botswana, I thought the death penalty was just one of the things that happened mo life-eng: I didn’t question it. The justification was that the death penalty served as a deterrent to crime. Although South Africa doesnt employ the death penalty, given the ‘high’ crime rate, I suspect that some may view the death penalty in the same way I did, as the ‘necessary’ response to the problem of crime.

The media reports on crime often and each headline seems more scary than the next, each crime more brutal and shocking. We fear for our safety. Those who believe in the police, want them to do more. To patrol. To catch the criminals and put them behind bars. ‘We’ want the people who threaten us to be locked away. What happens to ‘them’ when they’re locked away is not our concern. It hardly seems to worry us that prisoners could be harmed in jail. In fact, the idea of prison rape has snuck into the fabric of everyday humour. Somehow when someone has committed a crime, it’s easier to pardon the same crime being enacted against them.

Justice being served means locking  ‘them’ up. Justice is castrating the rapists (because they’re always presumed to be (cis) men) and making sure murderers get what they deserve. It’s an eye-for-an-eye.’They’ don’t belong in our society. Because of their actions, ‘they’ are not part of us.

This is where something just doesn’t feel right…

Why is it that when someone commits a crime, botho does not apply? If I am because we are, then surely I am because we all are? How can I be selective about who counts as “us”? It’s easy to say ubuntu when things are good, but why do we abandon taking responsibility for others when they are harmful? Doing this dehumanizes them – as if they have no history, no possibilities and no future. It paints their harmful choices as a part of their nature, as if only some people have the potential to harm others.

I’ve often thought about this in connection to sexual violence in our societies. Perpetrators of sexual crimes are often labelled ‘monsters’ because their actions dehumanize and hurt. One of the most prevalent misconceptions about perpetrators of sexual crimes is that they exist on the fringes of society. The reality contradicts this belief; rapists walk amongst us every day. They get groceries at the same places we do. Some of them are our friends. As we fear the strangers who lurk  in the shadows, the ‘danger’ is often closer to home than we’d like to think. And it’s too uncomfortable to confront that we could have the same capability within us, that this capability might betray our intentions.

I think that sexual crimes are the worst violations out there, but I can’t bring myself to forget that rapists are people too. I can’t say that they’re monsters, although I can acknowledge that their actions are monstrous. I do not believe anyone is born a rapist. Nor do I think that someone who rapes another can never change and make different choices. There are circumstances which lead to rapists making the choice to rape: whether we want to admit it or not, they are products of our societies. In addition, if we say that someone can never change, then we’re saying that violence is just a part of who we are and that there’s no way of doing better.

I’m struggling with it, but I’d like to believe that we are capable of a galaxy of things. That my perpetrator can be your best friend, and that the pain he causes me doesn’t make the love he shows you invalid (or vice versa). I’d like to believe that we can confront each other and love each other and create systems which allow both possibilities to flourish. Humanity is complicated battle for survival and love. Motho ke motho ka batho means, to me, that we’re connected to each other at all times. I think the connection still has the potential to help us heal, somewhere down the line.


*I originally drafted this post in December 2014 and did not publish/finish it until now. I have revised some things but most of it was written back then.