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The exploitation of human suffering for political gain

The parliamentary debate on 18 February, that was meant to reflect on the previous week’s State of the Nation Address, unravelled into a mudslinging match as ANC and EFF MPs accused each other of domestic abuse. The spectacle undermined the great efforts in the country to draw attention to and overcome gender-based violence. Stan Muyebe OP points out that the events in Parliament are symptomatic of a society in which everything can be exploited for its commercial, political and entertainment value.

After what happened recently in Parliament, many people have rightly condemned the politicians and their behaviour regarding gender based violence. It is true that we should condemn their behaviour. It was unacceptable. It made a mockery of parliamentary proceedings. It disrespected the thousands of women in this country who are the victims of domestic abuse.

However, this incident cannot be reduced to a single event.  We need to dig deeper and look at the underlying systemic issues. Otherwise, we will not learn anything from the incident.

The behaviour of the MPs was merely a symptom of deeper social ills that society is grappling with in the 21st century. Their actions should make us look in the mirror and rethink what it means to be a human being. This incident points to three bad habits that humanity has developed: commercialising everything, politicising everything, and reducing everything to an object of pressure and entertainment, often defined as the entertainmentalisation of news. There are no longer any ethical boundaries to the content that is made available for public consumption.

Anything can now be commercialised

In the context of neo-liberal economic globalisation, we are increasingly losing a sense of gospel values. Instead, the primary drivers in our human behaviour and human relationships are based on what we buy and sell: political interests, financial interests and entertainment. Over time, when these interests are institutionalised into the systems that govern our social, economic and political relationships, we then lose sight of people, resources and issues, without regard for the respect of others, their dignity or the common good. 

The primary drivers in our human behaviour and human relationships are based on what we buy and sell.

Nothing is immune from commercialisation. We even find it normal to commercialize human beings through human trafficking and the sex trade. It is also becoming normal to over-commercialise basic medicine and basic health care. Guided by the profit motifs of the pharmaceutical industry and health care industry, we have developed a society that finds it normal to make basic medicine and basic health care available only to those who can afford them.

We find it normal that thousands of the poor in the world and in our nation die prematurely of preventable diseases because they cannot access basic medicine that is available in abundance. The same is true for other basic resources, such as clean drinking water and food.

Anything can now be entertainmentalised

Entertainmentalisation is also rife in our human interactions. The content of news material is reduced to its entertainment value. Human misery and suffering becomes the fodder for viral social media posts. Their sole purpose is to entertain. There is no consideration for the human person at the heart of the incident.

The human suffering of others … is considered to be an object of public entertainment.

Think of a road accident for example. We do not rush to help the people involved in the accident. We now find it normal to take out our phones to record and distribute videos of people who have been involved in an accident and we do nothing to help them. Similarly, school children post videos of playground bullying, but no one tries to stop the bully.

The human suffering of others, especially women, politicians and high-profile people is considered to be an object of public entertainment. Violence and death no longer shock us as much as before since we have reduced them to pure entertainment. Many of us prefer movies filled with violence and death. We have been socialised into the entertainmentalisation of everything, without ethical boundaries.

Anything can now be politicised

We also find it normal to politicise human suffering without regard for the dignity of the victims of suffering and without regard for the good of society. We have recently seen this played out in Parliament. Gender based violence was reduced to political football and the object of media entertainment.

Videos of the parliamentary debate were massively distributed in social media and in a manner that reduced the gender-based violence into an object of political entertainment. The participants themselves were not interested in examining the affect of domestic violence in South Africa. They were only looking to score political points.

Moral regeneration based on gospel values

It is encouraging to see that various people and organisations condemned the behaviour of the politicians in Parliament. They sent a strong message that politicisation of gender-based violence should not be considered as normal and is, in fact, unacceptable. We need to do more so that such a message is entrenched.

It is encouraging to see that various people and organisations condemned the behaviour of the politicians in Parliament.

For this, we need to revisit the programme of moral regeneration and ensure that it is based on gospel values regarding respect for human dignity and the common good. The Christian calling to love our neighbour and see God’s image in the life of others, especially those suffering, finds concrete expression in these values.

As part of this moral regeneration, we should have a national conversation, as well as a global conversation, on issues and resources that should not be subjected to commercialisation, politicisation and entertainmentalisation. Gospel values should guide us in such conversations.

* 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.