the muiz

Friday, 7 September 2012

Digging even deeper - Structural Violence


Continuing from my previous blog posts, this is the fourth installment in a short series discussing the massacre of a few weeks ago at a Lonmin mine in Marikana, South Africa. I have felt that the general discourse (if discussed at all) among average people has been ‘what’s wrong with shooting a bunch of protesting miners, when they had been violent and even apparently committed murder (two policemen were killed in the preceding week)?’ Well, a lot, actually.

In my previous posts I have discussed the most obvious levels first:
1. DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES; and
2. HUMAN RIGHTS.
Then the previous post started digging a bit deeper into....
3. A CULTURE OF VIOLENCE
In this post, I will be digging even deeper… and this is where I start to really step on people’s toes…

4. Exploitation and ‘Structural Violence’:
Taking another look at my admonishment in the preceding post to ‘build peace’ rather than ‘increase security’ (i.e. arm yourself/ protect your property/ militarise the police further…): peace theorists have coined the term ‘structural violence’ for the systematic exploitation, repression, and inequality of certain groups of people within a society. In other words, discrimination and exploitation are forms of violence embedded within socio-political systems, because they harm people - they rob people of their rights to reach their full potential, or often even to live a healthy life.

As I am sure most of you know, life is seldom a ‘level playing field’ as we would like to think of it – hard work and a good education (even if these can be accessed by all) are not necessarily all you need to ‘make it’ in this world. Even more disheartening to those of us who believe all people are actually equal, is the fact that most societies throughout history have been intentionally structured in such a way that some people benefit from the exploitation and marginalisation of others (e.g. slaves, women ‘in their place’ etc.).

But how did we get here? Why are we discussing ‘structural violence’ and injustice in the so-called NEW South Africa? Wasn’t that ‘apartheid’, and didn’t we get rid of that unjust system? Thinking back to the start of it all, I remember the two doves on the shirt I wore while working for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1994: ‘Peace in our land, peace in our hearts’. I remember the heady idealism of those days… Oh, I was such a child, at 19, thinking the rainbow nation would just ‘happen’ the day after the first democratic elections announced the ‘winners’…

Instead, almost twenty years later, we are still living separate and unequal lives, for the most part… and all of us are the losers in this. Even the wealthy and elite – they/ we have lost the chance to live in community (refer to my previous discussions about ‘security’ and ‘community’). South African democracy is now 18 years old - and rebellious… Having finally figured out that ‘daddy’ isn’t going to provide, people are taking to the streets in droves in ‘service delivery protests’ …and ‘big brother’ doesn’t have their back… the police are more likely to shoot them than protect them from those who would prey upon them.

No hang on, the start of it all goes way, way, way back… to apartheid’s little spoken of roots: ENGLISH colonial legislation and policies – started by the first British Governor, Cecil John Rhodes (yep, the guy everyone lauds as a hero of sorts in our history) – to protect MINING interests. Did you know that ‘apartheid’, although passed by Afrikaner government just a few decades ago, in essence goes that far back? Seriously. Go read up on some South African history if you don’t believe me.

All the inequality and discrimination we have come to think of as the ‘baby’ of ‘apartheid’ actually stems from the need for cheap labour, and for forcing people to be and work where you want them to… mostly in the mines, after gold was discovered in such abundance in this country. Yes, IT ALL STARTED WITH THE MINES. At least the systematic (read: intentional, organised, set up) discriminatory policies. So the massacre at Lonmin mine a few weeks ago is actually not terribly surprising, when placed within its historical and socio-political context, now is it?

What many do not realise, is that the global economic system today is also intentionally ‘neo-colonialist’ and exploitative – designed (they didn’t just happen) to extract resources from so-called ‘third world’ countries, to benefit the rich, so-called ‘first world’ countries. It is ‘neo-colonialist’ because it is a ‘new colonialism’ - a legacy of the colonial days - with the imbalance of power remaining in the form of unfair trade relations and ‘neoliberal policies’ enforced by the World Bank and other International ‘powers that be’.

These ‘neoliberal’ policies take the form of stipulations attached to foreign aid or investment in so-called ‘third world’ countries, that governments do not invest in infrastructure or anything that would benefit their own people, in order to ‘attract foreign investment’ and service their ridiculously unjust (because they are based on the unfair trade relations just mentioned) debts to the ‘first world’.

In this way, the rich countries keep getting richer, while the poor countries have been set up to fail from the start, so surprise, surprise, they are failing – politically, economically and socially. And the more unstable and incapacitated they become, the more easily the ‘first world’ and its transnational corporations and mining interests can prey upon these resource rich countries.

Feel free to look into this further as I haven’t the time, energy or space - it would take a semester in ‘development studies’ - to explain this to you properly (and it makes for grim and terribly disempowering reading, I can assure you). Suffice to say, the world is not a ‘level playing field’ AT ALL. And certain powerful parties (read: transnational corporations and MINING/ OIL interests) are running the show to benefit them, not the rest of us pathetic little worker bees, and certainly not the marginalised and dispossessed...

Have you ever stopped to look at those words closely – marginalised and dispossessed? Yes, they are implying another party is involved – doing the marginalising and dispossessing. The poor or ‘underprivileged’ weren’t somehow designed that way, they didn’t choose to be that way, it was done to them. By whom, do you think?

Sadly, taking the preceding discussion further, to nauseating levels of honesty – by us – even though most of us are not running or profiting from these greedy transnational corporations, nor the extractive mining companies [extracting more than mineral resources – they extract immense social and environmental value from places too, then simply move on once the area is too devastated to yield anymore…like parasites… to go and feed upon the next unsuspecting community misguidedly looking for ‘development’].

However, we buy the products that these corporations and mining companies are supplying. We live the ‘high’ life, at the expense of the actual lives of people who often struggle to earn enough to eat, let alone buy the products they make (or slowly kill themselves mining for components for our cars, cell phones and computers). Like those miners. Who were striking for better salaries and living conditions. Who were SHOT.

No one should profit from the misery or exploitation of others. And certainly loss of life should never be looked upon as necessary or legitimate to protect economic interests, mining interests, political interests, selfish interests or ‘lifestyles’ … Good grief, how has it come to this – I find myself actually explaining this to people…?

Hopefully you, dear reader, do not need any convincing of this. Most of us don’t. But most of us also don’t inform ourselves of the injustices being committed in our name. Lives sacrificed to support our lifestyles. I started off writing this mini-series with a lot of self-righteous fury about ‘those mining companies’…but I have been left with a terribly bitter taste in my mouth, remembering again (like G.K. Chesterton) that the problem with the world is… me.


In my next posts, I will continue this discussion by exploring the reactions of my fellow South Africans a bit further – at least the aspects that have amazed and concerned me.

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