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Stop militarising the townships by Malaika wa Azania

May 5, 2015

Poverty has led to residents in informal settlements preying on each other and the state’s heavy-handed approach will not solve the problem.

There have been many times in the past 21 years when it has been almost impossible to tell whether the Republic of South Africa is a democratic country or an apartheid state.

When visuals of the Marikana massacre were shown on our television screens and newspapers carried the story of the brutal slaughter of miners, complete with grotesque photographs that will haunt our collective memory for ever, people would have been forgiven for thinking they were looking at images from the Sharpeville and Langa massacres of 1960.

When Andries Tatane, a community leader heading a service delivery protest in the Ficksburg, Free State, area, was shot dead right before the eyes of the nation, the memories of apartheid were reawakened, even in the minds of so-called born frees.

The kind of brutality the police have released on the poor masses of our people is so similar to the brutality our parents tell us our people suffered under the apartheid regime that, without having been born during that era, one can almost claim to have experienced it.

The similarities between apartheid and democratic South Africa reared their ugly head once again this when, in response to the black-on-black violence that pierced the fabric of our nation last month, the ANC-led government deployed the army in Alexandra, one of the poorest townships in our country.

Before I am mistaken for saying the government should not have intervened in the crisis, let me explain myself.

For several weeks, our country was plunged into a crisis that threatened to reverse the gains of our liberation struggle.

The black-on-black violence that began in Durban – where migrants of African origin found themselves on the receiving end of mobs, resulting in the murders of six people and the displacement of thousands – quickly spread to Johannesburg.

Then on the Sunday before last, we woke up to heart-rending images on the front page of the Sunday Times.

The pictures gave a blow-by-blow account of the senseless murder of Emmanuel Sithole, a Mozambican who was savagely murdered by a group of South African men. Beaten with a wrench on the head and stabbed repeatedly with an Okapi knife, Sithole’s only crime was that he was not South African.

On the Monday after his murder, a Zimbabwean couple were attacked in the same township.

This prompted Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to deploy the army in Alexandra and parts of KwaZulu-Natal to assist the police in trying to quell the wave of attacks on migrants.

This action was applauded by many, for it was an indication that the government was serious about bringing this senseless violence to an end.

For me, what this action has indicated is that the poor in this country are in a crisis of seismic proportions because what we have here is a cowardly government whose show of force is a temporary remedy to deep-rooted problems.

The black-on-black violence that we have been witnessing is not, as many so incorrectly diagnose, the result of South Africans having an inherent hatred for so-called foreigners.

People who grew up in townships, as I did, will tell you that the presence of migrants is nothing new. We have always had migrants in our townships. They have been well integrated into our communities and are part and parcel of the broader township family who raised us.

The black-on-black violence that we have been witnessing is a product of a migrant influx that happens at the point of rising levels of inequality. There has been an exponential increase in the number of migrants coming to seek better opportunities in South Africa, a country that is characterised by the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and structural inequalities. And because of colonial constructs that define our country, the black working class majority is on the receiving end of these challenges.

The reason that the black working class majority is experiencing this suffering is precisely because South Africa remains characterised by a white-monopolised economy that has hurled the natives of this country to the periphery, marginalising and disenfranchising them.

Part of the reason why this historical injustice persists is that the ANC government has introduced macroeconomic policies that have served to maintain the status quo.

Among these are the black economic empowerment (BEE) policies that succeeded in the creation of a black comprador bourgeoisie elite who served as a buffer between white monopoly capital and a black working class majority suffocating in economic ostracisation.

The failures of BEE were correctly summarised by then-minister of finance Pravin Gordhan, who in 2010 said: “BEE policies have not worked and have not made South Africa a fairer or more prosperous country.”

And indeed they have not. The result of this has been the deepening of structural inequalities that have left black working class people in a state of desperation. It is this desperation that has contributed to the increasing savagery of the poor, especially against migrants, who are seen as a threat to the livelihood of a people who can barely make ends meet.

A false consciousness has taken hold in the minds of our people. The belief that the enemy is migrants has rooted itself in popular township discussions.

And it must be mentioned that part of the reason for this false consciousness of our people is the absence of a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class.

The death of the SACP, an organisation reduced to a lobby group for an ANC that could arguably be described as a bourgeois nationalist party serving the poor, has been a major blow in the fight against white monopoly capital.

Our people have therefore come to believe, incorrectly, that their enemy is the so-called foreign migrant who has set up a small spaza shop in the township or braids hair on a street corner.

It is these people, equally poor, who have been the target of the rage that is boiling in our townships, a rage that is presided over by the ANC government.

Today, this same government, responding to the violence, sends the army into townships in an effort to quell black-on-black violence. The tragic irony in this situation is that the government fails to recognise that the real violence here is that hundreds of thousands of black bodies continue to live in perilous conditions in these hopeless townships, where crime is an everyday occurrence.

In the informal settlement of Diepsloot, a post-apartheid settlement, inhuman conditions will reduce to tears even the strongest of persons. Referred to by Anton Harber, the author of Diepsloot, as the “mob justice capital of the world”, the settlement is an epitome of everything that is anti-black.

Our people live there like animals, without any hope.

In Bramfischerville, a settlement created under the Reconstruction and Development Programme on the outskirts of Soweto, the same hopelessness can be seen in the eyes of unemployed youth.

The same miasma of hopelessness permeates Alexandra.

It is in these townships where, having been dehumanised, black people feast on each other like the animals they have been reduced to.

While Mapisa-Nqakula sends an army into such spaces to quell the violence, it must be emphasised that these spaces are themselves the worst form of violence against black bodies.

That a people wounded by the beastliness of apartheid should, in a democratic dispensation, be suffocating in townships that were designed specifically for black migrant labour by the apartheid regime, is violence of immeasurable proportions.

If we agree that the material conditions of people determine their consciousness, then logic dictates that the material conditions of a dehumanised people can only make of them the savages that they have been rendered by a system presided over by an insensitive government, such as that led by the ANC.

Make no mistake, I am in no way defending the savage killing of Sithole and those who have perished at the hands of angry mobs. No one deserves to be brutalised in the manner that migrants have been in our townships.

What I am saying is that the militarisation of townships is not going to solve the problem, because the problems that inform the high levels of crime in townships are deeply rooted in structures that the government lacks the political will to transform.

In the immediate term, the government needs to strengthen the capacity of community policing forums and ensure that the police and courts work closely with them. There can be no solution to unrest in communities without the direct involvement of the people who inhabit those communities.

But the real solution lies in the transformation of the economy.

It is when the structural violence against black humanity ends that we can hope to build a country where we will never again walk the savage path we have walked these past few weeks.

It is a path to which no one must be condemned.

* Wa Azania is author of Memoirs of a Born Free.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Source: The Sunday Independent

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From → Analysis, Opinion

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