Survivor Mamelodi and the limits of empathy

Empathy, the empty trade-off for justice
For some, there seems to be nothing wrong with what Ena and Julian are doing. It is not surprising. South Africans are no strangers to empathy. The half-phony Damascus moment in 1994 was partly built on the tenets of empty empathy. The 1996 Truth and Reconciliation Commission supposedly gave many South Africans a chance to confront the violent horrors of the past and forgive each other, unconditionally without recourse.

The nature of it all compelled most South Africans to show a bit of empathy, in various ways.


Empathy for the mother who lost her son to the torture and veiled killings by the apartheid police. Empathy for the white family who lost their father in a civilian bomb attack. The uneven wounds of the past were ideal threads that wove the new South Africa as we now know it. It was all a performative exercise really. The emotional scars of many were used to advance the half-baked project of the rainbow nation. The rainbow, as we now know, couldn’t hold for long. The pieces now lie shattered in front of us. 

By Sibusiso Tshabalala