The safety of communities such as Diepsloot does not lie only in the deployment of the police but through the support of social and economic transformation write Malose Langa and Steven Rebello.
Community protests against violent crime, which are then followed by xenophobic violence and vigilantism, are not new in Diepsloot.
In 2013, two toddlers were brutally killed and sexually assaulted. Following this incident, foreign nationals were blamed, attacked and their shops looted.
Nine years later, little has changed despite the deployment of officials and politicians to engage the community. In April 2022, a community shutdown march against increasing crime levels in Diepsloot was followed by the brutal killing of a Zimbabwean national, Elvis Nyathi.
Will these incidents ever be sincerely addressed or will the State continue to deploy the police to show face without addressing the structural issues that drive these acts of violence?
Ahistorical and decontextualised
Ziyanda Stuurman unpacks the complex history of policing starting before 1994 and extending to the present in her book, Can we be safe? – The future of policing in South Africa. She acknowledges that crime rates are extremely high but also cautions against the public perception of crime "as out of control" due to the selective bias in reporting and high-profile cases reported in the media, especially social media.
Unfortunately, many social media conversations are ahistorical and decontextualised. Crime does not occur along a vector but because of multiple factors ranging from the history of colonialism, apartheid, economic inequalities, violent masculinities, easy access to firearms and drug abuse.
Like with other townships, crime in Diepsloot needs to be understood in terms of its genealogy founded on the violence of displacement, deprivation, and marginalisation.
Applying Franz Fanon's lenses, one may argue that this violence is part of historical trauma and cannot be addressed without resolving historical structural issues that continue to lock black people in the state of nothing and non-being.
The townships were not made to help people of colour succeed. In her article South Africa: From Township to Town, Liz Ogbu highlights that during the apartheid era, the Nationalist Party embedded apartheid in the physical landscape.
"Getting to work often involved a long and expensive commute to a job that could be three hours away [...] Schools were poorly maintained barrack-like structures with barred windows and second-hand desks. There were no cultural facilities, though churches did provide places of community and belonging," she says.
In a post-apartheid setting, Fanon's theory rings true in South Africa. Black people continue to be dehumanised with many living in poor conditions. It is with this psychosocial understanding that the deployment of police in townships or so-called crime 'hotspots' cannot provide any solution to the pain and suffering of black people. In fact, it makes things worse.
We do not need to look too far for evidence of the militarisation of townships done in the name of maintaining law and order. The senseless killing of Collins Khoza in Alexandra in 2020 and the violation of many others are indicative of the racial profiling, stereotypes and discrimination people living in townships face.
'Shoot to kill'
Who can forget Bheki Cele's famous "shoot to kill" line? Such slogans promise to end crime yet dangerously incite discriminatory profiling and violence based on stereotypical assumptions. Lately, Dudula movements have been spreading like wildfire. Operation Dudula, Operation Fiela and other groups operating under the #PutSouthAfricansFirst banner have misdirected legitimate poverty-related concerns.
We have seen inhumane social media videos of police randomly stopping Diepsloot residents and asking them to identify themselves, whether they were South Africans or not. Physical markers such as skin colour, hairstyles, accents, vaccination scars, and dressing style are relied upon.
CSVR's Smoke that Calls study highlights that the scarcity of resources provokes guarded claims to citizenship and in this case how the black body is represented.
"It is in the face of massive poverty that the poor try and enforce a national citizenship regime through which they are defined as citizens with the right to lay claims to a redistribution of resources through the simultaneous exclusion of foreign nationals as non-citizens whose access to or accumulation of resources is rendered illegal," the study says.
Social spending crucial
More social spending to end unemployment is urgently needed. CSVR research has found that the Community Work Programme (CWP) provides an opportunity to facilitate economic inclusion as a way of addressing violence, particularly for young people.
The CWP provides a safety net to unemployed people by ensuring that they have access to a regular eight days of paid work (R850.00) per month in their own communities. Although the income is low, the CWP needs to be recognised as one of the more innovative and promising government programmes that work at a significant scale to enhance the social inclusion of the most marginalised South Africans.
This is because projects undertaken via the CWP are consultative and participatory in nature and provide services prioritised by the local communities. The safety of communities such as Diepsloot does not lie only in the deployment of the police but through the support of social and economic transformation.
Such transformation can bring a sense of pride and humanity among black people and help them not to 'other' each other as enemies.
- Malose Langa and Steven Rebello are senior researchers at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
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