In his book Never mind the millennium. What about the next 24 hours? Clem Sunter describes the political situation in South Africa in 1986, when the then-ruling The National Party and African National Congress (ANC) were engaged in independence negotiations.
He wrote: “The parties were nudged to the table, where good sense and a common South Africanness ensured a successful outcome. It proved that scenarios turn unthinkable into the possible, the possible into the reasonable, and the reasonable into reality.”
The ‘knee-on-neck’ police killing of African-American George Floyd in the United States, the ensuing uproar and the racial undertones belying the incident bring to the surface perceived and real discrimination. The US police behaved with impunity — just as in Apartheid South Africa.
That the mishandling of Floyd happened in daylight in a country that is looked upon as leading the civilised world in respect for human rights and freedoms, that has been independent for 244 years, brings to question the role of religion, law and education in shaping and controlling of human behaviour.
In Mark 31, Jesus commands his followers to “love your neighbour as yourself”. In Leviticus 19:33-34, the Israelites were advised that “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt”.
These Bible verses, together with the Ten Commandments, have a great impact and influence on, mainly, Christians. This applies to other religions as well.
The American constitution and, indeed, Kenya’s, provides for human rights and responsibilities and security personnel are taught to subdue a suspect without killing them. However, the policeman who fatally knelt on Floyd’s neck and his Kenyan peer in Kuresoi who allegedly dragged Mercy Cherono with a motorcycle, seriously injuring her, are examples of law enforcement officers who disregard the law.
The field of education provides the avenue through which values and virtues are inculcated in the youth. The 8-4-4 syllabus taught the Social Education and Ethics subject in Forms One and Two.
Students were taken through issues that regulate individual behaviour as expected in a civilised society. Many individuals in public service, including the police, were taken through this course in school. One then wonders why they would act against what religion requires, schools teach and the law provides for.
In view of this disturbing trend, governments may need to review the school syllabus to introduce subjects that shape human behaviour. This is consistent with the recommendation of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century report to Unesco.
The report observes that “the idea of teaching non-violence in schools is laudable even if it is only one means among many for combating the prejudices that lead to conflict”.
It adds that “education must take two complementary paths: On one level, gradual discovery of others and, on the other, experience of shared purposes throughout life, which seems to be an effective way of avoiding or resolving latent conflicts”.
Secondly, religious organisations that offer programmes for the youth and young adults through Sunday school and madrassa may need to review their course contents to encompass the need to control or suppress violence.
Thirdly, the law is a deterrent for lawbreakers, but there is a perception that some culprits get away with their crime. The Judiciary and the Executive must strive for objectivity in the application of the law.
The cost implications of the Floyd protests cannot be quantified, yet they were avoidable. Countries urgently need to work on turning the unthinkable idea of eliminating all forms of discrimination into possibilities that will, subsequently, be turned into the reasonable, and the reasonable to realities, as ably observed by Sunter in South Africa.
Mr Sogomo is a former Secretary of the TSC. [email protected]