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Enoch Mpianzi: Demanding justice with compassion

Following the tragic death of young Enoch Mpianzi during a school camp, Fikile-Ntisikelelo Moya reminds us that despite the rightful call for justice, the media and the public also have a duty to respect the family’s need to grieve their loss. The call for justice, he says, should not be overshadowed by political posturing, and must be done with compassion for the human lives affected by this tragedy.

A Johannesburg high school, Parktown Boys’, is becoming one of the best known schools in South Africa – albeit for the most unfortunate reasons.

In 2018, the school made headlines after its water polo coach, Collan Rex, was arrested and later convicted and sentenced to 23 years’ imprisonment for 144 counts of sexual assault and 12 counts of common assault committed between 2015 and 2016.

The school is in the news again. Once more, it is not for the consistently excellent high school graduations results.

They are in the dock once again for trying to sweep matters under the carpet and, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands of any responsibility.

The story is ongoing. There have been demonstrations outside the school gates every day since the news of the tragedy was reported over last weekend.

Social activism’s response

Politicians and civil society movements have climbed on the bandwagon.

Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) has called for the suspension of Parktown Boys’ High School’s headmaster, Malcolm Williams, pending an inquest into Enoch Mpianzi’s death.

It has also been reported that national labour federation Cosatu has called on the Education Department to cancel all school adventure camps, following the death.

The country’s third largest political party by Parliamentary representation, the Economic Freedom Fighters, has called for the suspension of the academic staff and school governing body members who were present during the orientation camp in question.

This is not a bad thing in itself. Social activism is still the loudest way of collectively demanding redress.

Well-meant but misplaced focus?

My concern here is that the focus is everywhere but on the bereaved family.

It hardly needs explaining why those responsible for any negligence or malice, especially where a death results, need to be held accountable for their actions or inaction. It would be unjust to the victim if this were not to happen.

Still, it takes something from the grief of a family when the death of their loved one is reduced to a political football match. Justice should not be a substitute for compassion for those hurting.

A terrible incident has happened against a human being, a child. And it continues to hurt other human beings who were close to the victim of the sad turn of events.

It strikes me that many of the calls made against the school, the Department of Education, the government minister, the lodge, and anyone else possibly implicated in the tragedy, have placed other considerations ahead of helping the bereaved family find closure.

As a result, we know more about processes that should have been followed and of the type of responses, as mentioned here, than we do about Enoch.

We know more about Parktown Boys’ and their reputation of management (in)capabilities than we do about whether Enoch had siblings, or whether he had a pet. Did he love sport? What did he want to do when he finished school?

Accountability and compassion

To be clear, the school and all those who were given the responsibility of looking after the boys must be held accountable. The lodge where he met his tragic end must explain itself. If there are legal or criminal steps to be taken, they should be pursued.

I am desperate that I am in no way assumed or interpreted to be saying I want the school or those responsible to get away with wrongdoing.

The corporal acts of mercy ask us to bury the dead while the spiritual works require that we comfort the afflicted.

In Enoch’s case, very little seems to have been done about seeing to it that the young man has a decent and dignified burial. Very few of the public speeches have been about recognising the grief of the boy’s family and mother.

With the family having lost their son, the least we can give them is the right to be the centre of the outpouring of our grief and compassion, and not make them the object of our political passions, no matter how well intended these might be.

When the dust has settled and the next item of the news cycle appears, their beloved will still be gone. For that, they deserve our love and commiseration at this sad time in their life.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.