Why black people turn to violence

2009-10-26 00:00

PROTESTS about lack of service delivery and poor salaries have been accompanied by gross violence and destruction of property recently, and this is a growing trend. This has prompted many people to view blacks who are involved in such acts as savages and animals whose behavioural instincts are wild and thoughtless.

It is, however, a known fact, although some may deny this, that people do not jump to violence as a first option when they want to solve a problem. They spend a lot of time talking about it and try to find solutions and answers.

The violent liberation struggle that produced our freedom from apartheid did not begin with violence. Political leaders of that time spent many years trying to talk to the oppressors about the need for political freedom for black people. They put forward substantive arguments as to why oppression was bad not only for black people, but for the entire country, but those attempts did not bear fruit. They were not heard until they decided to take up the armed struggle to force the authorities to listen to them.

Even today, many people will agree that black people are still not taken seriously when they speak, especially ordinary folk who do not enjoy special treatment because of their position or status. For instance, how many times do black people complain about bad service in shops only to be threatened with violence, sworn at, or chased away? This happens often, especially to our aged mothers and fathers. Some service providers in government institutions do not listen to the individual needs of people. People are treated with contempt and when they complain they are insulted and thrown out.

When 1994, the year of promises, arrived and hopes for a better life were raised high, people were told to be patient as service delivery would become a reality. Unfortunately, it seems as though the culture of not listening did not die when the apartheid regime died. Rather it took on a new life under the new government. The people waited, but at the same time they kept reminding the authorities of their promise to deliver a better life for all.

People speak to their bosses and request a reasonable increase in salary only to be told that the company cannot afford it. A few weeks later, they see their bosses awarding themselves obscene salary increases without flinching. The people speak to government authorities about the need to improve their life situations. While they see no improvement in their living conditions, they witness corruption and the opulent lifestyles of the people who continuously tell them to wait. Something is bound to snap while all this continues. At some point reasoning is not guaranteed.

It is common to hear words such as: “I have been warning this person to stop treating me as they do because one day I will lose my cool and do something that I may regret.” When people lose their cool, all hell breaks loose.

Ugly as it may be, violence has proved to be the best weapon in the hands of people who have reached the end of their patience. It yields immediate results. It also gives power to the powerless. It serves as a conduit to release all the anger and frustration that they have bottled up. It makes desperate people feel as though they have come face to face with their persecutors and they may do anything to force them to listen.

When it gets to this stage, all reason is unfortunately thrown out of the window. Violence has enjoyed this status for centuries and many nations, cultures, and civilisations were built on the back of it.

Before people are heard and taken seriously by authorities, the demon of violence will always rise to their rescue because of its effectiveness. To kill this demon, authorities have to learn to listen and respond to the needs of the people. If they fail to do so, incidents that are interpreted as madness or savagery will always be with us.

• Muzi Zondi is a freelance writer who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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