Fear, Anger and Avarice: How Not to Craft Solutions to Violence

Over the past few weeks, the South African media has been dominated by accounts of violence. Miles of newspaper columns, clouds of web space and hours of radio talk time have been dominated by the killings of miners and police at Marikana. If you are in the Western Cape, the Marikana massacre has jostled for space with reports of gang and vigilante violence on the Cape Flats that has taken the lives of an almost equal number of people over the past two months.

The timing of the crises, coming as they do on the eve of the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference in December 2012, has upped the ante – drawing out the populists, factionalists, unionists and religious leaders to offer accusations, platitudes, excuses, judicial investigations and supposed solutions. In the Western Cape, this political dynamic is exacerbated by the tussle between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

In both cases politicians are going to be judged on their responses. Their success depends in part on whether their responses reflect the views and sentiments of the electorate and deflect the frustration, anger and fear of voters. However, since the electorate does not speak with one voice, but reflects a multiplicity of views informed by history, access to wealth, power and proximity to the violent events, it is unlikely that a coherent solution will emerge.

The state will act in the only way it can to address these problems – it will throw out new policies, media releases, tenders, inquiries and high-level delegations to respond to the problem. Words like ‘coordinated inter-departmental response’ will be offered to show that politicians do understand that responding through the security forces alone will not bring peace. But, given the political context we find ourselves in, it is likely that these responses will be driven by fear and anger and dominated by the need for quick wins.

In both the Western Cape and in relation to the Marikana massacre, South Africans appear to be looking exclusively towards the state for a resolution. We seem to believe that the state can and should resolve both the immediate crisis and the long-term problems that have given rise to the violence. Yet, there are many reasons to doubt whether the state can do so, even with the best intentions.

Consider the case of the Cape Flats. The violence here is irrevocably tied to the history of the coloured people in the Cape, whose forced removals, exclusion and marginalisation contributed to the development of an alternative criminalised economy.

The acting head of the Portfolio Committee on Police, ANC MP, Annelizé van Wyk, understands that the problem is complex and requires more than a criminal justice solution. She (correctly, I believe) questions whether the police should be the lead institution in a multi-departmental solution to the problem. The problem, she says, starts in the home, where children are exposed to violence between their parents. That violence is reinforced in the school when the teachers hit naughty hands with rulers; and again after school when children are hassled by gang members and older boys on the walk home. This is fuelled by the drugs and alcohol that are found in so many of the bodies stretched out on morgue tables after fatal stabbings.

The Western Cape provincial government is acting, having issued a tender that it will shortly award to an institution to assist in ‘rolling out’ the ‘ceasefire’ model for gang violence reduction. This model has been tested and shown to be effective in the United States and other countries where gang violence has been a problem. Indeed, there is a multiplicity of state (and non-state) structures standing by, or that have already been roped in to assist. A commission of inquiry has also been established to investigate violence in Khayelitsha and allegations of police corruption and incompetence. These are good things, but they are unlikely to bring a long-term resolution to the myriad of problems in those communities.

It is important to remember that when the apartheid government stared down gang violence in the Western Cape, the solutions also came in the form of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. As André Standing pointed out in his 2006 book ‘Organised Crime: A study from the Cape Flats’,even the apartheid government saw that dysfunctional families, youth delinquency and alcohol abuse were at the root of the problem. So, it dispatched social workers to the Cape Flats to ‘save women and children from their drunken husbands and/or fathers’.

Young coloured boys and men were sent en masse to reformatories where they were ‘literally whipped into shape’. Efforts to reduce alcohol consumption in these areas led to restricted trading locations. All of which backfired dramatically, mainly because the interventions created new opportunities for alternative ‘illegal’ alcohol outlets to flourish. The institutionalisation of vulnerable boys resulted in a generation of brutalised, demonised and marginalised young men. None of the state’s initiatives in the Cape Flats resulted in real change.

Consequently, there remain today proportionately more coloured men in prison than any other population group, and coloured men and women are proportionately more likely to be the victims of homicide than any other group in South Africa.

We need to keep this in mind as we craft ‘solutions’. Finding sustainable solutions remain as difficult today as they were in 1980, albeit that we now approach the issue from a different perspective and with more nuanced prejudice.

The truth is that the state will always only be able to offer somewhat blunt responses to violence.

The challenge then goes out to academics, policy analysts and researchers, experienced peace brokers and community activists who are not in government, to bring their collective knowledge and skills to bear. Cape Town boasts one of the best universities in South Africa, with a collective of academics whose focus for many years has been on understanding the causes and solutions to violence from a range of perspectives. In addition, Lavender Hill and other communities on the Cape Flats have drawn the focus of numerous non-governmental organisations working to address child abuse, educational deficits, domestic violence and other social ills. There is no shortage of knowledge of ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work’. There is also no shortage of resources, and given the need for the DA to prove itself in the run-up to the 2014 national and provincial elections, no shortage of the usually elusive ‘political will’.

But, the state tends to deliver its solutions in silos. The process for releasing funds and providing support to organisations and communities is slow, bureaucratic and complex.

What seem to be missing from the mix are dynamic, creative and credible individuals who are able to coordinate the effective, long-term use of available human and financial resources at a local level. Such people need to be identified as valuable assets, supported by their communities, by academics who hold the knowledge of ‘what works’ and the State. They need to be enabled to drive local development. It would seem that this is the missing link or ‘active citizenship’ the National Planning Commission identified as being necessary to turn development around.

The state will do what it can, but it will also hesitate and tie processes up in red tape. There is no guarantee that the kind of people who can be effective in making development happen will come to the fore. But if they do not, we can expect to be writing about violence and reflecting on our mistakes for many years to come.

Chandre Gould is senior researcher for the, Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Pretoria. This article first appeared in the ISS Today.

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