Monday, May 19, 2008

Violence in Johannesburg Spreads like Wildfire Virus

On the 7pm SABC news bulletin, violence hotspots were superimposed over a map of Gauteng. Markers included Alexandra, Dieplsoot, Olifantsfontein, Tembisa, Thokoza, Jeppestown, Cleveland, Honeydew, Johannesburg Inner City, Sowetan and half a dozen other areas.

While the Media and even 'intelligence experts' remain dumbfounded why 'apparently random' attacks have happened, what is already immediately clear and obvious is the following:

1) the attacks are conducted in large groups
2) the attacks are associated with a high level of robbery which is in fact organised looting
3) the attacks are not mere xenophobia since there are many reports of South African citizens being attacked, but xenophobia is an element rationalising the crowd mindset behind these violent activities.
4) All of the attacks have occurred in poor areas
5) The attacks are spreading rapidly around Johannesburg

In order to provide an explanation, it is not necessary to open up a special investigation or to refer this matter to experts. The explanation for the spread of violence is incontrovertible:

1) Timing. In recent weeks South Africa has seen large increases in the prices of fuel and basic food prices, and even services such as electricity. At the same time South Africans of all income groups have a perception of a breakdown in services, including crime, electricity, health etc, which induces a heightened sense of hopelessness in poor populations in particular. Higher interest rates and other associated costs has had a sudden and immediate impact on primarily the poor, quickly rendering large groups of unemployed groups incapable of meeting certain long established levels of subsistence.
2) The ongoing instability across the border has engendered a mindset of unease and perceived threat - since the Zimbabwe situation appears unlikely to be resolved soon, the perception is that competition over scarce resources (food, jobs and housing) by the poor is reinforced
3) The onset of winter increases the discomfort levels, and the perception of 'danger to survival', and some perceptions are associated with a widespread belief that houses have been corruptly offered to illegal aliens rather than those in squatter camps placed on a waiting list for countless months with no results in their favour. The reality of winter is starker if you have been waiting without success for a house, and seen houses being given away over one's own head, as it were, to foreigners. The result is an angry and in some ways desperate response.

It may be coincidental, but recent news indicating long term oil prices may also have filtered through, reinforcing again a hopeless and deplorable state of affairs. Whether the future prices of food or fuel and their impact on South Africa's economic losers have been accepted, realised or even understood is less important than knowing that the present Hooligan Revolution is likely to increase in severity over the longer term for exactly these reasons.

I personally believe beyond a certain critical level of civil strife in Gauteng, it will be generally unsafe and become necessary for middle class whites in suburbia to leave Johannesburg entirely. I would see places like Kroonstad (200km south) and Bloemfontein (400km south) as providing relative safety and security over the medium term. Even so, high food and fuel prices and their profoundly negative impact on the poor (estimated at around 50% of South Africa's population) may well lead to a revolutionary overthrow of current systems in place. As such, the government ought to initiate massive AID packages to poor communities nationwide at the earliest possible time.

A longer term initiative, assuming order is regained, ought to be an intensive farming program to activate and mobilise the poor into addressing the nation's food troubles directly.
Deadly clashes in Johannesburg
S.Africa anti-foreign violence spreads, many flee
Deadly Clashes In Johannesburg Kill At Least 7 People

NVDL: The above image to me is representative of both the African and South African condition. It has two bananas over a newspaper image of Xenophobia refugees sheltering in a police station. The police are ineffectual, the mother is exhausted and asleep, and the baby stares upward, aware that 'things are changed'. And they are. The bananas are in an initial state of decomposition, turning blacker - representing the dark future for food domestically, and the diminishing yellow light of hope in this country, but also everywhere else.

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