Saving Dolphins

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The Dolphin Circle is a famous landmark in Plettenberg Bay.  Actually, it is a traffic circle that is punctuated in the center with a statue of two dolphins intertwined in a downward dive. Most pedestrians and motorists in this small town will pass or encircle the statue at least once a day, which makes it a popular and unforgettable fixture in our town. As I drove past that point on Saturday morning, I noticed that the landmark was marred. The sight of orange cones signaled caution for an impediment that was nonetheless unavoidable: a police truck had crashed into the dolphin circle. Poor dolphins!

As any rational person, I thought of how horrible an incident this was, and then quickly began wondering and reasoning what could have happened. Unfortunately, Plett history guided my first conclusion to assume a couple of police officers, following a familiar Friday night pattern, were driving the vehicle under the influence of alcohol.  After talking with some friends who had heard numerous stories, we all came to the same conclusion – the officers were drunk.

Sadly, a long history of police corruption and inebriation exists in this town and in the country. In fact, the accident immediately reminded me of another incident involving a fellow missionary and a local police officer. As she was driving one evening, the cop ran into the side of her car. He emerged from his vehicle in a state–slurring words and behaving aggressively.

Of course, these specific incidents are rare, but they highlight a disturbing fact about the local culture. Under the legacy of Apartheid, Blacks and Coloureds were permitted to pursue only a few professional careers: teaching, nursing, and policing. We still see evidence of this today in the young students who come into the Learning Center. During our interview process, we often ask the children what they would like to be when they grow up. Although we always get a few that say they want to be doctors, the overwhelming majority of girls want to be teachers, and the great abundance of boys want to be policemen. This is because the only “professionals” they see in their community are teachers and policemen. These are their role models. And what terrible role models some of  them are!

People in the U.S. have recently been horrified by the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO, at the hands of law enforcement. Yet, in South Africa, it is commonplace for people not to trust the police. When a policeman shoots a suspect, there are no long investigations or public demonstrations. If convicted murderers here only serve a few years of their long mandated sentences, how much more do police officers get off the hook?  A prison guard recently told me that when inmates step out of line, the guards beat him down, many times to the point of hospitalization, in order to teach a lesson. He was actually a little proud of that fact; there are no repercussions. The police get away with that and much more.

The continent of Africa has long been known as quite possibly the most corrupt region on the planet. However, the children don’t see what goes on behind closed doors in the government, and they are not keenly aware of the economic effects suffered because of bribed politicians or greedy officials who pilfer aid money. What they do experience is the haphazard approach toward education by many of their teachers. They also see policemen in their communities commit the crimes they are supposed to stop, and they hear about the numerous stories of policemen robbing people or sexually assaulting women. And then there’s the traffic circle! What examples are these children supposed to follow?

This is why we are here fighting to not only teach these young people the right way to go, but also to be an example and show them the right way to go. This is the face of the modern missionary.  Churches all around; sometimes, the gospel is preached. What we try to do is live the gospel, and that is extremely rare. These children need to see men and women who walk in purity. They need to see men treat women with respect. They need to see people who don’t lie to or cheat other people. They need to see Christians who aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit on Sunday and filled with box wine and beer on Friday and Saturday. Do we need Americans to come to South Africa and become policemen who are role models? No! But we need people to be the salt and light in a place that is desperately searching for it. Whether you come here yourself to be that example, or support the people who do, we need you in the game. We have to do more to not only lead youth to follow the standards of Jesus, but to defeat a culture of sin and complacency in order to improve the lives of the people in this region. We must do it to protect the children and give them a legacy of hope, and in the process we may even save that precious landmark—the dolphins!