More pragmatism, less debate, needed to confront injustice

[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]

Whilst reflecting on the past two weeks’ media coverage of tragic events playing out in South Africa, I couldn’t help but anticipate yet another wave of intense and emotionally charged reactive debates surrounding these issues. Violence at mines, gang rape, intimate partner murders and violence against women and children are very real societal issues which justify the strongest condemnation possible. It is noteworthy however, that these reactive debates usually centre around the heinous nature of these crimes, the moral decay in society and the type of punishment to be imposed on the perpetrators. Experts are called in to analyse every possible variable, theories are generated and the outcome of a trial is often pre-empted – unofficially.

An interesting and pervasive theme in most of these recent incidents is the presence of precursory indicators or so-called ‘warning signs’. In the context of recent events these warning signs manifested in various ways which include an increase in hostility due to unresolved conflict, irrational or violent behaviour, previous consistent statements or hearsay evidence implicating an individual or groups in criminal activity and the omission of individuals in positions of authority to respond appropriately to a call for action.

Concerned citizens asked the tough (and important) questions: Who ignored the warning signs? Why were allegations not fully investigated? How could a minor act or omission escalate to something so tragic?

Responding to warning signs
Even though it is my heartfelt desire to make a positive contribution towards the eradication of injustice in society, I realise that I often fail dismally. I myself am guilty of not always responding appropriately to the warning signs looming around me on a daily basis and am frequently asking God to open my eyes to the world at the end of my pointing fingers. Our faith is pragmatic and equips us with wisdom to understand why it is important to fiercely engage with the warning signs in our midst. We are not called to be co-authors in a tragic suspense-thriller, but authors whose celebrated chapter makes a unique contribution in a love story edited by God Himself.

I was supremely impressed by a recent article regarding Iceland’s engagement with the symptoms of a rapidly escalating societal disease – PORNOGRAPHY, and dreamt of a day when our society views porn warning signs in terms of its devastating potential rather than yet another derivative of moral degradation.

Iceland leading way
Iceland is considering becoming the first democracy in the western world to ban online pornography. The wellbeing of children and gender equality are the primary reasons cited for the ban of online pornography. Other ‘warning signs’ include relationship problems being reported by women and the threat of violent fantasies being acted out in real life. According to McVeigh (2013) “an online ban would complement Iceland’s existing law against printing and distributing porn, and follow on from 2010 legislation that closed strip clubs and 2009 prostitution laws that criminalised the customer rather than the sex worker”.

Current pornography statistics are shocking:

  • There are 40 million regular users of online pornography in the United States. Its online porn industry makes $2.84bn a year. The industry is thought to be worth double that worldwide;
  • “Sex” is the most commonly searched word and Sunday is the peak day for watching online porn;
  • 42 % of internet users view pornography. Up to 20% of websites are pornographic;
  • 11 is the average age of initial exposure to online porn.

Facilitating tangible change
Pragmatism is defined as a practical approach to problems and affairs, often to the exclusion of intellectual debates and idealistic notions. Pragmatism gives credence to the well known Chinese Proverb: ‘He who deliberates fully before taking a step, will spend his entire life on one leg’. I believe we have the ability to not just generate practical solutions to the societal issues we face, but to take the first step towards facilitating tangible change.

Finally, consider the following suggestions, some of which was generated during a 2012 counter human trafficking conference in Port Elizabeth:

  • Stop complaining about the perpetual and explicit publication of sexual services, adult entertainment and age inappropriate articles in your local newspapers – cut it out, seal neatly in an envelope and address it to ‘Dear Editor’…….WE DONT WANT THIS! An email to the producer or Broadcasting Complaints Commission applies in the case of inappropriate television programmes;
  • Don’t engage aimlessly in sensational discourses relating to tragic events covered in the media.  Help others to think practically by asking ‘What can we as South Africans do to prevent this from happening again?’, ‘How do we respond when the warning bells starts ringing?’ or ‘How do we hold one another accountable to eradicate tolerance for injustice?’
  • Dare to move out of your ‘me’-space by learning to greet someone in their first language, or a language other than those you are able to converse in. Actively embrace whatever contributes to social cohesion and moral fibre in our society and develop an aversion for ‘I’m not racist BUT…….’ conversations. Nip it in the bud!


McVeigh, T. 2013. Can Iceland lead the way towards a ban on violent online pornography? The Observer, From:

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