15 July, 2008

'Xenophobic' Violence in South Africa More than Coincidental

By Yazir Henri and Anis Saleh

While it is alarming, it is not altogether coincidental that South Africa is experiencing this type of ‘xenophobic’ violence at this particular time. It will not be strange if this violence escalates and evolves toward violence against ‘other’ local ‘ethnic or colour’ groups in the not so distant future. The current violence is tantamount to an advanced phase associated very closely to the normalised violence happening in poor peri-urban and peripheral zones around South Africa’s urban centres all the time.

There is undoubtedly a direct link between this violence and the ever deepening impoverishment among already poor South Africans. The projection into the future of this bi-social ill is bleak given the inability of relevant state actors to respond effectively to this particular crisis and suggests that the ‘xenophobic’ violence in South Africa could easily resurface and may well be replaced, in the future, with more intensive internalised violence directed at the self and against groups locally identified as ‘other’. What is certain in this case is the violence in South Africa will not vanish and it will not be wished away. We all know that the normalised violence in South Africa is not just a result of an extreme conditionality of impoverishment but that it is also the result of the previous socio-economic policies forced onto those people who today make up South Africa’s most poor. Structural abjection did not arrive overnight; it was sanctioned and actively promoted by the Apartheid state.

Right now impoverishment among the urban ‘black’ poor is being intensified by the escalation of the price of oil and petrol. Related price increases include bread, maize meal, paraffin and transport that have direct impact on the ability of those living in this abject economic context to survive, daily deepening the experience, the feeling and the reality of life in emergency and temporality - more importantly it feeds the hopelessness. Over the last few years the price of oil and petrol has escalated dramatically. All basic commodities have in turn increased by almost fifty percent and in some cases more. The implication of this increase in the prices of commodities means a gross and rapid reduction in the affordability levels amongst the poor. In some instances affordability levels are 75% of what it was last year. This, together with an uncaring public policy toward the same poor, the lack of service delivery, and failure of municipal and state structures to spend their budgets on delivering basic help, is a recipe for trouble.

This has been exacerbated further by the ‘unemployability’ rates among the urban poor not improving significantly. The hike in lending rates and the simplistic, multiple and myopic calls by the reserve bank to simply tighten our belts makes it even more difficult for those who have no belts to tighten. His calls could quite easily be interpreted as tightening the noose around one’s neck instead of the belt around one’s waist.

Inviting in the army to halt the ‘xenophobic’ violence may have been necessary for temporary relief but it will not denaturalise violence nor will it resolve the structural problems affecting the poor in South Africa. Now that the violence has abated and the situation is more or less calm, the state needs to act urgently in more humane and consultative ways to improve the conditions at the root of this violence in order to avoid a repetition.

Several short- to medium-term interventions are immediately necessary. Among the first steps, and in addition to relief for the humanitarian crises facing those displaced by the violence, more affirming public economic empowerment initiatives should be created directly impacting the poor in order to develop individual and collective self-sustainability. In the absence of the shops destroyed, publicly-owned shops should be created, empowering locals as well as migrants and refugees to compete in this growing local market. Communication and transport must be made more affordable and more encouraging efforts must be made to localise and stimulate food production. For this, more autonomous economic and development structures need to be created in partnership with communities affected by the violence. The unspent money in government and municipal coffers must be unlocked and those not delivering must be held accountable. The huge civic effort witnessed at the onset of the violence needs to be multiplied and also directed at stopping the violence that we all so easily come to accept as normal.

The above entry is excerpted from a longer article that can be accessed here.

31 March, 2008

Working for Peace: Black Men Transforming Identities and Memories of Violence

Last month, the DACPM hosted a conference on masculinities and violence titled Working for Peace: Black Men Transforming Identities and Memories of Violence. The event was attended by 50 individuals from several cities around South Africa. Participants were a mix of activists, academics, and non-governmental workers, all committed to peace-building in South Africa. The event was held on 3-4 March 2008 at the South African museum in the centre of Cape Town.

Since the conference took place, we at the DACPM have had time to reflect on what happened and what was achieved there. Currently we are working on a conference following up! This intensive engagement on this complex issue of historical and structural violence impacting poor community’s men, women and children has to be spoken about and transformed – as we agreed at the conference, it is all our responsibility to ensure it is not just another talk shop. Not just another feel good walk in the park! Below is some of what we see as crucial outcomes of the conference, and we would greatly appreciate any additional input from those who were present and others reading this who were not. Let’s not fear talking hard with care.

Central among the conference’s achievements was that it broke from old ways of talking about violence in South Africa. It created a space for those affected by the violence and working with violence to speak directly to themselves. We claimed our positions as concerned activists, intellectuals and experts and physically changed the dead space so usual for conferences and workshops where “experts” studying our work, experience and lives generally talk at those they consider either being the problem or not really having enough experience to deal with the problem. Oftentimes such ‘experts’ talk with an active blind spot to their own subjectivity and complicity in the violence being spoken about.

This is not helpful for finding better solutions to manage the endemic violence engulfing communities born out of violence, now almost stuck in violence that is structural, political, economic, psychological and historical – with devastating gender consequences for women and children. Together we were bold enough to question, expose and offer alternative practices to the mainstream stereotypes underlying current social discourses addressing the question of masculinities. In our gathering, even when we were silent - just sitting together, convening in Central Cape Town coming from several major cities in South Africa - we lived for two days the fact that the question of addressing male identity and its relationship to violence is much more complex than is seen in the narrow social and mainstream media approaches which have at its base a fundamentalist assumption: putting poor black men in the subject location of simply the perpetrators of the most atrocious forms of the violence.

This totalizing approach essentializes the colour black and the associated gendered experience of black men not only to violence, but also to their relationship to white men and white women in South Africa. It disregards the social violence perpetrated against particularly black men still trapped in present-day poverty… A legacy which is made even more complicated in a society still dominated socially, economically and psychologically by white South Africans in general and white South African men in particular.

It was stated clearly at the conference: ‘violence in South Africa in all its forms is also a systematic, societal problem’ with structural, historical and socio-economic administrative antecedents which were directly and violently related to legalised systems of mass oppression, without negating the fact of individual implication, complicity and responsibility of those living its full negative impact. The legacy of the dehumanizing, violent and criminal systems of Slavery, Colonialism, and Apartheid impacts seriously our ability as human rights activists, professionals and intellectuals regardless of our colour, class, gender or sexual persuasion to manage successfully the violent consequences of previously sanctioned white systems of administrative violence and injustice against the black body.

It is not coincidental that these Apartheid beneficiary and settler groups at the core of these historical systems of violence remain largely unaccountable as the violence rages on. It is, however, too easy given our everyday reality to point fingers at any one group for this problem. To simply call the violence crime without recognizing that it is much more hides where the responsibility for the systemic structure of the same violence lay. It is important that this is discussed, debated and these learning’s integrated into our resistance against the violence along with its multiple sources. An important part of this resistance would be also to hold those who benefit from these violent systems in South Africa accountable for their role in the ongoing violence that faces us all daily. For an example, white South African men whose identity in particular remains stuck inside of a colonial and Apartheid social experiences cannot be let off the hook so easily. Whilst addressing this issue we must in the same process also honour the experience and efforts of those individuals and organisations resisting this violence in their everyday - in the past, in the present and in the future.

Violence in South Africa is also a gendered issue- not just a gender issue. Everyone in this society must take responsibility if this scourge is to be defeated; men and women, blacks and whites, and every other category of human that exists. Widespread cycles of violence cannot simply be blamed on one group of people or on one category of gender. The broader socio-historical context must be taken into consideration and when this is done carefully it becomes apparent that we are all in some way responsible. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us who live inside of this society to act to transform this burning state of affairs.

There are many routes and steps towards such a transformation. A crucial first step is to reach a common awareness and recognition about what the problem consists of, where its historical roots lie, what drives it to continue today, and what kind of change or transformation is desired. The conference acted as such a first step by gathering dedicated activists, intellectuals, and community leaders from many sectors of society and areas of South Africa to explore these issues and to work to change it. The event was very successful in this regard, and it is hoped that we as individuals have returned to our respective communities and areas of work to spread the ideas and strategies that were discussed amongst ourselves at the conference.

We cannot expect white South Africans who perpetrated this violence against the South African people -men, women and children of all shades to end the ongoing cycles of violence. We must take responsibility and end it ourselves! This is not a time for simple finger pointing and we should resist easily casting blame, lamenting our own victim hood whilst not acting to provide solutions. Let us pave the way for building a safer South Africa together! Let us build the respect, dignity and humanity that we have fought slavery, colonialism and Apartheid for - in ourselves so that we may live it together with our children, women, men and communities.

The above is the opinion of the director of the DACPM and not necessarily that of everyone who attended the conference. Please do not hesitate to comment, question, or disagree.

20 February, 2008

Making Tourism Socially Responsible

Last week, the DAC was visited by an assessor from an international contest on socially responsible tourism. The assessor stayed for a week to get an understanding of the organisation’s work through meetings, tours, talks, and general time spent in the office. For us his visit brought up interesting topics for everyone to consider, such as how tourism be socially responsible in a society busy reconstructing itself after a long period of conflict? Furthermore, who should be held accountable for ensuring that this happens--the visitors, city government, the tourism industry, we ourselves or others? And how can we all play a part in promoting this value in such a key sector of the economy?

Socially responsible tourism is certainly an interesting challenge to take on in South Africa. In an area that is so physically and culturally attractive, yet socially and economically troubled, it is difficult to offer tourists both a pleasant stay and the opportunity to be sensitive to the more complex contextual socio-economic and structural realities. How does one enjoy the beauty of Table Mountain, the sweet taste of the wine, the cool breeze and the white ocean sands and not forget those who struggle for basic survival on the “other” side in the Cape Flats?

Discussions were held that touched on the potential role of tourism, if properly managed, to benefit the reconstruction of society after war and conflict. The potential harm of tourism was also raised. We spoke of how tourism can shape social processes of denial and forgetting. How it can entrench racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes, and can contribute as much to conflict as it can be a tool for peace and understanding. We concluded that well-managed tourism can be a vital part of restructuring the economy, rebuilding the society, and acting as a tool against ethnic, racial, cultural and class stereotyping. We specifically reflected on how the Cape Town-Journey of Remembrance and Journey of the Heart--both programs at the DACPM-- were examples of how ordinary people can shape their engagement of tourism with the necessary support.

Please post all thoughts about the challenges around socially responsible tourism below by clicking “comments.”

15 November, 2007

A Forum for Thought, Discussion, and Change

Welcome to the DACPM blog! This is intended to be a space for open reflection, interactive dialogue, and updated correspondence for the DAC community and its supporters. As running a blog is new territory for the Centre, any thoughts and suggestions about how to best use this facility in the future is most welcome. Please check back often for new entries and don’t forget to leave a comment afterwards.