[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]
The reality of crime and injustice is something that we are confronted with daily. It affects each and every citizen of South Africa on a range of different levels. We are subconsciously tuned in to take personal responsibility for our own safety and are often reminded by loved ones to ‘lock the door’ and not to talk to ‘strangers’. My personal experience in firsthand encounters with crime and its consequences took on a very similar nature during a 10 year career as member of the South African Police Service. While I was investigating human trafficking syndicates in 2008 my wife and I made a decision to move from our home in Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth due to continuous threats from criminal elements. This experience was among others that left me doubting the efficacy of a criminal justice system that I was supposed to promote and protect. Fear and uncertainty were among a host of emotions I deliberately subdued in order to do what I was supposed to.
With due credit to a living God, a supportive wife and a community of believers this grim picture changed to one of hope. I was reminded by a good friend that “bitterness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die”. I began coming to terms with the truth that God did not want me to carry the load on my own. I also realised the paralysis I brought onto my life by thinking I should always be in control of my emotions and not show any sign of ‘weakness’. I had been a Christian for 8 years at that time; and I was rejuvenated by discovering that the Word of God can make us complete and fully equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Prayer and forgiveness were powerful weapons I often neglected in my work as an investigator pursuing notorious criminals. I often had to adjust my lens to one of ‘God hates the sin, not the sinner’. This was a liberating experience to say the least!
As a member of the Gauteng Task Team on Human Trafficking since I resigned from the SAPS in 2011, I am now in the privileged position to provide assistance in counter-trafficking interventions while being an academic by profession. A recent email circulated amongst the members of our task team reminded me once again about the power and liberating nature of prayer and forgiveness. The email was authored by Elaine* who was a victim of human trafficking during the early 1990’s in Bloemfontein. Her insight and humility is astonishing. After elaborating on the inhuman suffering and abuse she experienced at the hands of the traffickers she concludes as follows:
“….the truth is that they are also just humans……they are blind guides…..they know what they are doing….they live in the dark! But truth be told….Jesus loves them as well! Would it make me feel any better if I could put my arms around them and tell them that I forgive them…..Yes……yes it would!! I say they live in dark…and they do…….they are taken over by the force of money….but deep down inside of each of them…is a soft side…a human side….that needs to be touched by THE GREAT I AM….!!!
“We are all fighting against the darkness of Human Trafficking, and with each tear a victim sheds…..God’s tears multiply….but God’s tears multiply because He wants to touch the heart of the one causing it!!! I believe if we deeply start to pray for the recruiters, Gods love and power will break the chains”
Something was different
As I read Elaine’s* email, emotion stirred up deep inside of me and I vividly recalled a hot summer day in December 2009. I left Port Elizabeth for the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court where I picked up Toko*, a notorious criminal accused of human trafficking. As I was on my own, I borrowed additional handcuffs and ankle shackles to restrain the accused for the 5 hour drive back to Port Elizabeth. As we drove I remember catching a glimpse of Toko* as he stared through the window on the exhausting drive between Colesburg and Port Elizabeth. Something was different. Instead of a dangerous life threatening criminal, I now noticed sadness, emptiness and utter hopelessness. His eyes connected briefly with mine and I noticed tears in his eyes which he tried to contain with all his might….
Living in a crime ridden society characterised by moral decay and other complexities, we should be reminded that we are first of all children of a living God before we are ‘victims’ of circumstances. Like sheep sent out among wolves (Matthew 10:16) we truly have an exciting calling. We are empowered to look beyond the ‘here and now’ and focus our thoughts and energy on things that have eternal value. Let’s protect our hearts, shun bitterness and fight the good fight by becoming involved in community initiatives against crime, injustice and moral decay. Let’s make our voices heard and remember to pray for the ‘blind’ who are ignorant of the destruction they cause.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” — Martin Luther King Jr