Skip to main content

The effects of public violence on children.

Wednesday 14 July 2021
South Africa is currently experiencing extreme public violence, and everyone is trying to make sense of this. Some blame the jailing of our former President, Jacob Zuma. Others point to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions that have exacerbated high unemployment and food insecurity. Still others bemoan a lack of law and order. But we should be asking ‘what does all of this mean for children, and the future of our country?’

The point is that we can only break the patterns of poverty, exclusion & inequality – and resulting public violence - if our children are able to develop to their full potential. Right now, the way things are in South Africa, that is just not happening for most of them.

How do we change this?

Firstly, we need a whole-of-government approach. This cannot just be the responsibility of the Department of Social Development, who are under-capacitated, under-resourced, and lack the power to drive significant change. Instead we need national leadership from the President himself, supported by his Cabinet, ensuring that child rights are visible and mainstreamed across the governance continuum.

What we see in the news today – the burning and looting, the killing – understandably generates a deep emotional response in all of us. Our concentration is on the immediate situation and how to resolve it. But this problem is not quickly remedied.

To reach a brighter future, we must commit to a child-centred developmental agenda and direct our collective resources to ensuring that every child, especially the chronically marginalised, receive the care, services and support they need.

South Africa already has a ‘National Plan of Action for Children’ and so we know what needs to be done. What we miss is high-level commitment and coordination. We had this under President Nelson Mandela, but we lost it along the way. So, for some time, civil society has been pushing for the re-establishment of an Office of the Rights of the Child (ORC) housed in the Presidency. This would be an independent structure, adequately mandated and resourced, and integrated into the national planning, monitoring and accountability machinery.

While government, business, civil society and the media all have a certain power and responsibility, the driving force is you and me. We can be better parents, using positive parenting techniques. We can join civic groups to support those in need and help hold the State to account. We can stand up against the violence we see in our communities, especially against women and children. And we can do this knowing full well that stopping the public violence we see today is the work of a lifetime.

Steve Miller                                                                                                                         
CEO Save the Children South Africa