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Structural violence and South Africa

01 August 2013, 09:03

South Africa, as a nation, has now become synonymous with soccer and racism, two practices I care very little for. Having experienced a rather violent and abrasive past, South Africa’s implementation of Apartheid saw one of the most dramatic racial policies ever established. Through the formalization of racial ideology, South Africa was able to institutionalize social concepts that majority of the world have tried to deter and bury. Through the subjugation of millions the National Party of Apartheid-South Africa was able to ‘legitimately’ harm the majority of the population by preventing them from accessing their most basic needs and rights. This essay will explore the extent to which the National Party was able to incorporate violence into the structure and organization of the South African community from 1948 to 1994.
Structural violence is a term most widely associated with Johan Galtung, his article Violence, Peace and Peace Research explores the concept of peace in a broad context, the process to achieving peace and overcoming violence. The establishment of a hierarchical society leads to the disadvantaging of those “who occupy the bottom rungs of society.” Through this form of violence, harm or subjugation is unavoidable as it is fundamentally found in the formation of the state or society. It is, by all means, interwoven with the daily activities of individuals, inherent in policy formation and clearly present in the minds of the community. It must be noted, however, that structural violence does not affect all individuals equally; the stratification of society results in severe social injustices to a given community of people, this discrimination may be on the grounds of race, ethnicity, classism, sexism, amongst many others.
Such subjugation of others, James Gilligan argues, is unnatural and results in preventable deaths that are a result of discrimination and belittling. Through the instrumental aspects of structural violence, the three components required for conflict (i.e. contradiction, attitude and behavior) are fluid and constantly changing. The dynamic nature of a society may lead to hostile attitudes and conflictual behavior through which state parties aim to maximize their own self-interests. As a conflict begins to form, it may change in character and adapt itself to issues within the community thereby creating “secondary conflicts” through which more people are pulled in. Ramsbotham et al. illustrate the fluidity of conflict and the ease with which conflicts can manifest themselves and how difficult they may be to control and quell.
It is important to note Galtung’s definition of ‘peace’ as being the “absence of violence.” Peace is only achievable in a society plagued by structural violence if the structural contradictions and injustices can be removed from the system and society. This, in itself, is a monumental task that can only truly be achieved over generations. Due to the structural nature of the conflict, animosity may be deeply rooted in policy, mentality and culture and the destruction of such inbuilt concepts requires the uniting of communities and forgiveness within the society and between individuals. Moreover, the bare concept of peace being the simple absence of violence may be too simplified. Conflict may not be simply manifested in the form of violence but may be found in more subtle forms within a society.
Continuing with South Africa as the prime example, Apartheid ensured the implementation of conflict within the society; this indoctrination infiltrated the policy formation, education sector and even the transport system. Regardless of the official disestablishment of the Apartheid regime, animosity is still found without the obvious occurrence of violence, instead discrimination is found within a more basic and fundamental level – that of individuals and their consequent mindsets. It is due to this reason that structural violence is particularly destructive, the infiltration of ideology into a society can create rifts that continue for generations. A clear cut example of this would be the post-Apartheid ruling party of South Africa (the African National Congress – ANC) and their attempt of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) through which past atrocities may be aired and forgiven but such deeply rooted conflict cannot simply be accepted and repaired. Such conflict within a society must be approached from a more fundamental level, that of open discussion and the correction of past wrong-doings. Unfortunately, this is a gargantuan task that, without adequate resources, is near impossible.
Structural violence may result in conflict that is so deeply ingrained within a population that it is near impossible to ever truly remove. As can be seen in South Africa today, the aftermath of such structural violence still plagues society at an individual level. The white minority still possesses majority of the power and the wealth whilst the vast majority of the population lives a life of subconscious subjugation and deep seeded resentment. Structural violence may be found in the constructed compartment of culture and society. Similar to that of a sporting culture and/or rivalry, such notions are constructed by the surrounding environment of a community. Sport (particularly soccer) has become both a unifying and a dividing action within South Africa. The Soccer World Cup 2010 allowed for the possible unification of a single nation but highlighted the inherent differences between the numerous cultures still found within the structure of the South African society. Soccer is primarily seen to be a majority black sport whilst rugby or cricket as the minority white sport. Whilst there is no physical reason as to why one sport may favor one race over the other, the structural limitations constructed during Apartheid has been carried through the generations and may still be seen to be a separating factor amongst the population thereby creating conflict (not specifically aided by violence). Such structural violence now forms a foundational portion of separating the populations, even 19 years after the dissolution of Apartheid.
Completely eliminating structural violence and ensuring ‘peace’ (in the altruistic sense of the word) requires the whole alteration of the population and their consequent cultures. Individuals are a product of various aspects, that of which may include culture, history and family; all of which cannot be changed in the short-run. A common land may not be enough to unite a people but perhaps one day, such fundamental violence may be eradicated from the South African population but until that time, the Apartheid legacy may still be seen and structure violence. Peace, or rather the “absence of violence,” is not completely unattainable but it will be a long and tough journey. The inherent structural racism (as subconscious as it may be) of South Africa must be consciously eradicated so that South Africans, as a citizens, can cross the globe and need not attempt to defend their corrupt system but rather merely be faced with innocent questions of football and animals – two stereotypes South Africans can proudly relate to.

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