The Lonmin massacre – digging deeper

Continuing from my previous blog posts, this is the third 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:
In this post I will start to dig a bit deeper....

3. A culture of violence
From the preceding post discussing ‘rights’, the ‘right to bear arms’ is an example of a controversial ‘right’ – it is seen by many as essential to ensuring your own protection, and is upheld in countries like the U.S. However others are vehemently against the idea because of its destabilising effect on a society (for more on this, refer to my earlier discussion of ‘the social contract’ in the first post in this series).

So we may (quite reasonably) ask ‘who wields pangas and machetes in a strike action?’ Well, people who don’t trust the official protectors (police, security, etc) to protect them, and feel the need to take matters into their own hands. I am not condoning this approach, or the ensuing violence – I have a Masters in Peace Studies, after all – but can we really judge these people when we haven’t been in their desperate situation?

If I am honest with myself, I must admit that my ‘peaceful principles’ would go out the window if anyone dared break into our home and threaten my daughter! I would attack them fiercely, without hesitation or mercy. However, we pay a security company to respond to the house alarm system, so the chances are I will not need to do this myself. Whenever the alarm goes off, scary looking men wearing bullet-proof vests and touting guns will race over, jump out of their car and patrol/secure our property, as I look on from a window – still safely locked inside (like a princess in my pink castle)… So if you think about it, I have basically ‘outsourced’ my violent response to potential threats to this security company.

Most people living in ‘townships’ or informal settlements have no such system, and the police are usually thin on the ground too (where exactly are they hanging out, I wonder, since they aren’t exactly helping us ‘whities’ in the ‘burbs either?). So people in informal settlements (like the one near the Lonmin mine in Marikana) have to be ready to defend themselves and their loved ones themselves - no one else is likely to come to their aid.

The social breakdown which occurs anywhere that has high unemployment, poverty and cultural trauma also means that domestic violence, rape, gang warfare and many other violent crimes are rife in these areas (and spill over into the more affluent suburbs too, of course). As you can imagine, growing up seeing so much violence both traumatises and desensitise people to violence, and so the cycle is self-perpetuating – and the amount and types of violence usually escalate over time.

Furthermore, many black South Africans fought for many years in ‘the struggle’ to end apartheid. This was not a non-violent struggle, as some lovely documentaries about the catchy music used during protest action would have you believe. It eventually involved bombs and limpet mines and all sorts of other violent tactics – escalating as the hard-hearted refused to give in and reassess the untenable situation the country was in by that point. So we now have a situation where many people believe violence is acceptable to get what you want, or to make your point. Meaning that the cycle of violence is unlikely to end for some time to come – since no society is ever without conflict.

As I mentioned in my previous post about human rights, ‘service delivery’ has been too slow in the ‘new’ South Africa, and people are tired of waiting. So violent clashes and riots have been breaking out all over – if people don’t feel empowered or listened to, they turn to violence to be ‘heard’. This is partly the natural frustrations and tensions ‘boiling over’, but it is also due to a mindset that has embraced violence as an acceptable ‘negotiating tool’ in a sense. This is why only nonviolent ‘revolutions’ can really result in a deep and lasting peace – where people have learned to use conflict creatively (to open up space for dialogue, resolution and reconciliation) not destructively (resulting in violent clashes).

Instead, South Africa is now an example of a ‘traumatised culture’ – many people have experienced generations of ‘trauma’ (separation from or death of loved ones, witnessing rapes and murders, police brutality, jail time and perhaps torture or solitary confinement) – much like China and Russia after decades of totalitarianism, or the Jewish people after the holocaust.

It is exactly this culture of violence and trauma in South Africa that has left the dream of a ‘rainbow nation’ in tatters. The more crime escalates, the more ordinary citizens arm themselves in defense… and police are so armed that I feel nervous even being near one… Of course, the criminals keep ‘upping the ante’ too – in response to the citizens and police who are armed for war-like conditions! This is like the cold war ‘arms race’ within one country!

Actually the best way of ensuring security is to focus on building peace – in other words, strive to eliminate inequality, discrimination and poverty… Yes, social justice is the best, and the only form of true ‘security’ – since it is far-reaching, self-perpetuating, long-lasting… and therefore sustainable. An ‘arms race’ (like war) isn’t – especially since it ends up killing more people than it supposedly ‘protects’.

What does ‘building peace’ or ‘building community’ look like? Communities reaching out to each other across the firmly entrenched lines of race and class in this country. Each one of us making it our business to help, give, serve or simply connect with any struggling human being who crosses our path. If hungry, feed. If cold, clothe and/or shelter (or help them access one of many homeless shelters – there are even vouchers you can buy to give to beggars which they redeem at shelters for food!). If underpaid, campaign for fair wages with them. Boycott companies or products if staff or workers are treated unfairly. And so on…

Yes, it’s exhausting even talking about it, and you can’t do everything for everyone. But small acts of kindness go a surprisingly long way, and consistency builds a lifestyle of generosity that can impact whole neighbourhoods – it’s contagious. Furthermore, there are so many people and organisations doing wonderful things – find out about them and donate to them, support them, and then at times draw upon their resources to assist people you have no idea how to…

These are just some of the obvious, beginners’ steps in building true community. Although a long and multi-layered process, it is really the only way to build lasting security in any city or country. As long as there is such a huge gap between rich and poor, the rich cannot sleep easy in their beds at night… Even with (and many ‘security’ theorists would say because of) higher and higher fences; smarter and smarter alarm/ security systems; and private security companies who are armed to the teeth!

Instead, many of us are hiding in our private ‘fort knox’, while others are running around with pangas and machetes… And we have a police force who issued threats and ultimatums about “ending the violence today” – and then went out and used excessive violence themselves - shooting the so-called perpetrators, and anyone else who might just have been there exercising their democratic rights to strike or protest. Reports surfacing now that some of these people were “shot in the back” are hardly surprising.

In my next post, I will dig even deeper… looking into ‘structural violence’ locally and globally - as the context within which the violent clashes at Marikana, and the eventual massacre, took place. Clashes between workers and mining or oil companies around the world have been happening frequently, and often with tragic consequences. Why?


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