-A tale of black poverty, neglect manifesting the anomalies of apartheid appropriated race-faultline – identity formulation and spatial definitions-
A week of carnage, hate and violence played out around two of apartheid’s four classified identities understood in Africans and Coloureds. The scene for this was Mitchells Plain and Siqalo geographic township nodes. Mitchell’s Plain my home and 1980’s youth activist world from where I was expelled from Woodlands High as student and sent to run in solstice of 1985 student uprise, no different to Soweto in Johannesburg and Mdantsane in the East London area remains the signpost and stubborn legacy of a successful apartheid project of racial classification, control, and abuse, that haunts us with impunity in democracy. The same apartheid the political lightweight Kallie Kriel of Afri-Forum today have the audacity to tell us was never a crime against humanity. We all know apartheid the world over as made famous by SA was declared a heresy by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, apartheid the insult to a common humanity that plunged a people into an abyss of racial hate that flares at an instant has embedded itself so deep in our conscious and visual space until its inbred-violence overflows in the blood of its victims.
May 2, became a Wednesday of shame, pain and yes ultimately death when one person lost his life and many were others injured in the tension that flared between Mitchells Plain, Siqalo as neighbouring communities and the police. While we cannot yet draw definitive links between the ongoing violence of Delft commuter bus associations which already claimed nine lives, but the links of poverty remains prominent. These are all communities that share the same socio-economic conditions of abject poverty, scarce resources and unemployment. As we were treated to pictures and live shots of violence and hate evidenced in absurd calls to war against blacks, we mourned again realising the damage apartheid has caused perhaps threatening in an eternal sense.
In the words of a Mitchell’s Plain resident, Ganif Loonat, “It was a terrible moment‚ like the darkest days of this country that we worked so hard to achieve democracy for‚” Loonat furthermore asserts and makes a cardinal point when he said: “This community needs to unite and the poor need to stand together.” The wisdom of his conclusion on this community is what we must use as departure point if we serious to understand what is at stake and among whom this is playing out – the poor.
What is wrong with our approach to understanding what happened?
Our approach to understand and make sense of the subject of the poor collective history understood in a constricted race and economic disparity reflects a haphazard response. We often in simplicity deny the real crisis, as an event, with the only desire to get it off our radar as the proverbial fly that disturbs us. There were those who just wanted the day over because that is often our escapism until the next moment confronts us. We also quickly rush into our race and group huddled spaces where we spit venom one against the other as a means to get even, this does not help except to show our individual and collective ineptitude to deal with the bigger picture. We heard some say “Coloureds are just as racist as whites’ when we also heard shouts of “these blacks/Africans are lazy and want everything for free while we pay 23 units of electricity a R100”. I cite these here for they are the captured expressed views of South Africans indolent or not across various class definition in commenting on what happened two weeks ago on the most southern part of Africa.
It appears South Africans consciously refuse to engage the articulated accusations at times dwarfed by expletives and drenched in racial identity classifications of those directly affected by the issues at hand. We must hear the background reverberations of race, poverty, identity, class and space. We easily prove dismissive in ease of our determined analysis of the emptiness of their claim. We ought to have learned that being dismissive does not alter the issues some may advance at least as seen and experienced by those who choose to rise and attack be it in stone gun or vehicle. Today we all jump and condemn the attacks (rightfully so) but unfortunately that is but only a first step if we are serious to deal with the issue of the challenges of the landless poor, the resource denied and opportunity robbed for Coloured and Africans that live in Mitchell’s Plain and Siqalo as neighbouring communities.
SA can do without the self-serving false shame of the political elites
As was expected the first thing the political elites do in instances such as these is to feel embarrassed, ashamed of what happened. They rush to apologise on behalf of those who made themselves guilty of the acts, yet that does not deal with the issues at hand and serves nothing but the interest of the political elite. They acted in the same manner when t claims of xenophobia were advanced, back then out of their shame the elites staged a march to show their disgust. Beyond the flimsy shame of the elites on both sides of the apartheid African and Coloured divide, we are compelled engage the reality of what moments such as these means, communicate and explain about us as a South African society. Among the elites, there are always those who in this season seeks to steal the limelight with intention of reviving of political careers hoping to be noticed by their political bosses for a promotion, obviously less interested to engage the real issues. The elites shy away from being public about what they share around their braai-stands and in their pool-rooms, where they share the same disgust just not as violent as what they condemn for politically expedient reasons.
What are the advanced claims?
What happened between neighbours immanent in Mitchells Plain and Siqalo is not new, we have lived through it when claims of xenophobic violence were advanced in previous times since 2003. Notice I am qualifying xenophobic violence as a claim, I have elsewhere argued against its usage in our context if the use of the original meaning is departure point. It’s the same contest of the poor in which the same becomes the other and ultimately with the description of a foreigner and hence a threat to livelihood and meaning of life. It often finds a claim in a mumbled articulation be it the Atteridgeville, East Rand, Soweto, KwaZulu-Natal and last week in Mitchells Plain and Siqalo. The central theme as it is heard in the media adopts the notion of ‘they take our jobs, our business, our women, our children and our RDP homes’. Mitchell’s Plains is ours as coloureds, these people want everything for free, they are invading us from the Eastern Cape where they have homes. They take from us our space.
When we hear them say, THEY TAKE the above we prove dismissive in claims of South Africans are lazy, wanting the government to do everything for them. These responses as categoric as they are made, recorded, and articulated consciously refuse to hear the two critical words – THEY TAKE. It is here where the subject of – THEY TAKE – is most prominent and finds meaning. Please do not misread me to argue the poor are naturally prone to behave in a violent manner but appreciate the milieu and context rather than a narrow conclusive view on the poor. Claims levelled such as ‘These – people, they take from us…’ operate in a space and place where the most vulnerable struggles to eke out an existence in the midst of a rightfully or wrongly claimed persistent taking from them. It operates in the midst of those for whom a historic, present, and future disenfranchisement, regardless the oft-cited celebrated state of a constitutional democracy, is more than tangible. These are those who have not yet, shared in this South African dream of a collective future of equal opportunity, access and race free citizenry.
What is the common denominator for these neighbours?
The common denominator and binding factor for these communities is that they both share in poverty, the socio-economic conditions they find themselves in fuels a contest for the basics, it is here that the contest for the basics become a bloody and violent expression. I previously argued the claims of xenophobia as we know never plays out among the elites, the environment of the elites is secured and insulated against any contest for the basics. Everyday in Cape Town in Llandudno a crossbreed to varying degrees of Coloureds, Africans, Indians and Whites (all apartheid classifications) show up at the same Virgin Active exclusive gym, have their children that attend the Bishop’s College in Rondebosch private schools share in sleep-overs and take their dogs to the same expensive parlour.
The elites are active in an economy informed by opportunity to access and gain based on education, political power proximity and an assortment of privileged skills they have acquired. They team up across the racial divide to access more opportunities as the new context of Black Economic Empowerment demand. The elites, therefore, are assimilated in communities of safety where the threat of what of happened in Mitchell’s Plain and Siqalo simply never will manifest. Racial hate and violence among the finds expression among the poorest of the poor. It finds meaning where there is a contestation for resources, services, and access however defined. There is enough evidence to confirm that both these apartheids classified group live, breath, play and transact in this space with the freedom of no real threat that the violence and hate as race engineered and informed may show up
It is here that I wish to postulate ‘racial violence exemplified in the contest of the poor’ as we have witnessed a day after Workers day in South Africa’s biggest Coloured township does not manifest in the spaces where the ruling class lives, transact and play, for here the borders and boundaries have been set informed by ownership of means or a sharing therein as the ruling class permits.
Therefore, these incidents have political meaning, they never dislocated from the bigger picture reality of what South Africa has always been. They also do not take place devoid of a context and an undeniable reality of the elusive economic dream and the glaring anomalies and failures of economic redress the victims of apartheid had hoped for. In the case of the Mitchells Plain and Siqalo communities poverty is a common denominator, the binding factor yet at the same time the jet fuel for violent uprise at any time.
What divides these communities?
Their socio-economic context of the said communities plays out against the backdrop of a historical political reality that to large extent continues twenty-four years into democracy, almost concretized in foreverness. For the communities of Mitchell’s Plain and Siqalo, nothing significant has changed from 1993 to 2018. They still poor, their material conditions that make life possible remains as challenging as back then and the reality of a diluted institutionalised racism and discrimination slightly differently defined because the Democratic Alliance now rules, therefore, that apartheid extended a superior identity of white are still in charge. The same beneficiaries of colonialism and apartheid whites, the absent identity in Mitchell’s Plain and Siqalo under the DA is kept safe from this contest insulated just as in apartheid days, while their interest continues to be the focus of the political leadership of the DA.
Clyde N.S Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer