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Consuelo Roland

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Cry a River

What now, sir?

Kerry Kennedy (Chair of the Amnesty International USA Leadership Council, niece of assassinated USA president John Kennedy and human rights activist) said in an interview in SA recently that she believes that the moral courage necessary for those who uphold human rights is within us all. She tells of her children’s friend who saw something in a girl’s eyes he and some other boys were laughing at because she’d fallen with a heavy backpack and how he ended up going to help her with her fallen books instead.

I keep on asking myself where are all the adults who should have seen Morné Harmse’s actions coming? Why did nobody step in when he walked around the school grounds with a blackened face, a ninja mask, black gloves and a samurai sword?

It’s adults that are supposed to support and guide kids through adolescence. Why did he believe his family didn’t care whether he got a matric or not? If he was bullied why didn’t a responsible adult take note and act? It always seems to me that for every adolescent offender the 10 closest adults to them should be held responsible. Somebody in one of the blog posts responding to Sally’s blog used the word ‘lazy’. That probably hits the truth closest, although it’s probably a laxness close to the moral cowardice Kerry Kennedy believes we can overcome.

Our boys are growing up in a frightening world without the strict moral boundaries and religious guidelines most of us grew up with. Excessive violence and graphic sex is tolerated in so many mediums that it’s sometimes impossible for them to make a distinction any longer between virtual reality and real life. Add that to having no vision of a future for yourself in your country, being taunted as an odd-ball, suffering from adolescent insecurities, having men of wealth and power but without morals being held up as role-models and you have an explosive situation.

Personally, if I met one of the Slipknot band members in a dark alley I’d run. Fast. Our boys (action creatures more than girls) are driven to experiment and get their highs by pushing boundaries because they can; everything is available to them on the world-wide net. We’re not talking all rock music here, just extreme music. How are kids supposed to know that it’s just a song and a dance, that it’s not how you actually behave or talk? “Extreme music attracts extreme characters.” That was one Slipknot’s fan’s comment before clarifying that he however was in fact a very peaceful, not extreme person. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between show and reality in our world. It is general knowledge for instance that soldiers trained to kill the enemy remotely (modern weaponry allows this) practice using simulated war situations that mirror video games. These young soldiers are trained to kill without leaving their operations desk. In their case it would seem that the line between game and reality is intentionally blurred to increase their deadly efficiency and reduce the trauma associated with taking lives. I imagine Morné Harmse believes Slipknot would approve, or at least sanction, his actions. His young malleable mind has gone over the edge.

The real tragedy is that this young boy, now dubbed a murderer, has finally got the attention from the adults around him that he craved but they’ll soon forget him. He will be sent off to a jail or a detention facility of some type for a large chunk of his adult life where he will be lucky to avoid gang rape and the loss of any humanity he has left. In all likelihood society and the adults around him will fail him again. Isn’t it the duty of the strong to protect the weak?

I’m busy developing a youth page for my death culture website The aim of the page is to reach young people, specifically adolescents, and help them handle the death of friends, family and bystanders in their daily lives. The idea is that culture can act as grief therapy, helping adolescents to process their sorrow, shock and horror through the thoughtfully presented words and images of others, and allowing them to believe in the possibility of humane, caring human beings. Ideally if we learn to process death as part of life, and are able to stand back and recognize that tragedy is part of the human condition in our adolescent years then we will be better equipped to handle the reality of adult life.

I would appreciate suggestions on material for the web page that would be suitable for adolescents (and for the adults who are deeply concerned about their welfare): this includes reading material (fiction, non-fiction, poetry), movies, art, photography, organizations that would assist young people with grief therapy/moving on, and internet sites on coping with death. All original written and visual contributions will be acknowledged on the site. Send to Consuelo at


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    August 21st, 2008 @09:27 #

    It's a very lonely life being a teenager, as I'm sure anyone can remember. There was a gaping void between me and my parents and all adults for that matter that could never bridged during those tempestuous years. If you're a troubled child there's really nothing that an adult can do for you even if they have the best intentions because they just cant relate.

    What Morné needed then, and what he still needs now (and in all likelihood is never going to get) is someone to listen. I feel very, very sorry for that child and anyone who says I'm victimising him or condoning what he did is misinterpreting me entirely. School tragedies are entirely preventable.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Consuelo</a>
    August 21st, 2008 @09:50 #

    I agree. Unfortunately it's sometimes only years later that one reads the signs correctly and realises what the omissions were in a family. That's what happened in my family. I believe the loss of community and inexperience in a fast-chnaging world makes parents very isolated and ill-equipped to handle their kids' problems, but speaking from personal experience the signs are always there. We just have to act on our instincts and move out of the realm of self-absorption.


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