“No pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that is supported by the other patterns.” Christopher Alexander states that this is a fundamental view of the world. He goes on to state that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation. One must repair the world around it and within it, so that the larger world becomes more coherent, and more whole for this thing to take its place in the web of nature. If this theory is true then one can assume that the opposite should also be considered, in that repairing something deeply broken cannot happen in isolation. The world around it must also change to accommodate what’s being repaired. New patterns must emerge to support what’s being repaired as all these parts are interconnected. Living in South Africa is a violent existence. South Africa has a complex relationship with violence that is embedded into our daily existence, internal psyche and has been consistently high throughout our documented history. We are facing an economic depression, that is further being exacerbated by a global pandemic affecting us at alarming rates. Adding these factors into the mix without major structural reform on multiple levels, from government and media to interpersonal relations, is frightening at best and catastrophic at worst. For a blog that’s been dedicated to promoting and placing a positive outlook on entertainment developments concerning African youth, it’s lead me to ask What of The Next Generation? With What of The Next Generation I aim to unpack some of the insidious ills we face, interrogate what within our society feeds them in hopes of finding more comprehensive solutions in reducing this violent existence we continuously found ourselves in. Today’s piece serves as somewhat of an introduction and contextual background on our violence that will aid our future pieces as we move onto specific topics like Gender-Based Violence, Afrophobia, Media and/or Employment.
The World Health Organization defines violence as: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.” Violence is a consistent part of our human existence that manifests itself into a lot of our life interactions, from fist fights, gaslighting and disciplinary beatings all the way to murder, intimidation, rape and outright assault. Whilst violence is a part of human nature, the visceral and outright brutal manner in which it takes place locally sometimes is spine-chilling and at a rate that’s almost numbing. In 2015, South Africa had the fifth highest murder rate in the world according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Our 2019 murder rate was close to 36 people murdered per 100 000 capita, with an average of 57 people being murdered on a daily basis. Some areas murder statistics are so high that they eclipse murder rates of noted areas of conflict or within war. Pietermaritzburg’s murder rate is close to 177.3 per 100 000 capita, which surpassed Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen’s rate of conflict death, which averaged 40.4, 40.3 and 61.6 people per 100 000 respectively. To put this into perspective, South Africa has close to 1 144 police station precincts across the country and a whopping 20% of all murders were recorded at just 30 stations [just under 3% of the precincts recorded 20% of the murders]. The cause of these murders range from domestic crimes of passion, political assassinations and gang-related violence all the way to theft and xenophobic attacks. So whilst we have horrific iconography within our zeitgeist like Tshegofatso Pule’s hanging, Mido Macia’s dragging or the rape case of Baby Tshepang, these cases are representative of our language with violence as opposed to outliers within a system.
Within South Africa’s wider history, our murder statistics have seen a continued downtrend from the Apartheid-negotiations era (1990-94) all the way to 2012. Lisa Vetten, GBV-Research and Activist, has also stated that sexual violence was also on a downward trend until 2012 and both have been on the rise ever since; which begs the question: What are the things that feed and fuel these systems of violence? We’re currently not at our peak and our murder rates are five times the world average with statistics showing to us being a rape capital of the world. One of the biggest factors we can attribute to this is South Africa’s inequality and poverty. As of 2018, South Africa became the most unequal country in the world as per the gini co-efficient and maintained this placement in 2019. Our unemployment figures rose to 30% in the first quarter of 2020 and is predicted to eclipse 50% due to Lockdown; it’s important to note that these unemployment percentages account for active job seekers who are unable to find work and do not account for those who have given up searching or have left the work-force. 2019 inequality statistics showed that over 55% of the South African population lived within poverty, with 25% being below the food-poverty line. All of these statistics were pre-pandemic, which means all of these figures will have increased due to the impact of CoVid-19 as well as our ongoing recession. Our economic prospects are stark and our foreseeable future only points to this getting worse.
Whilst our poverty serves as a consistent instigating factor for our violence it’s only one layer of our problem. I say this because; 1) reports of violence that are of a sexual and minor nature are prevalent in this country across racial lines and class lines, 2) poverty alone doesn’t speak to the intensity our form of physical violence shows itself. This violence is an oppressive language that is also informed by things that include presiding culture, political landscape, educational systems, media messaging, exorbitant corruption, the effects of historical displacement amongst a multitude of other things intricately linked to each other. Which is why when an incident of violence occurs that causes a viral outcry, it’s often frustrating to receive what at face-value feels like nothing more than just a condemnation without visible structural change. There’s an article here that explores on the concept of violence on a sociological level. It will also be used to inform future conversation.
South Africa has made strides which have often felt incremental in tackling these issues but wider and more structural changes need to be implemented to combat our already higher figures from ballooning as we dig in further into our economic depression. Proactive and preventative measures as well rehabilitative ones that establish a stronger culture of visible accountability. A glimmer of hope in the way of structural change happened on June 11, 2020 when the Constitutional Court declared the Electoral Act as unconstitutional. Section 19(3)(b) of our Constitution states that, “Every adult citizen has the right to stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office.” but the Electoral Act only allowed political parties to stand for election to the national and provincial legislatures thereby denying individuals to contest on any independent nature. Effectively, what this means is that political parties selected the officials as opposed to being elected by the public as what a democracy would entail. What this did for power dynamics, is that it made politicians more accountable to the will of their political party and its funders than it did to the public. Simultaneously, the act minimized how alternate voices could grow within their own right without conflicting with their presiding parties. This act has been an oppressive force that has not only robbed the public of democratic choice but allowed for exploitative political practices to ensue. You can read more about the implications here. The reversal of this act teases a hope of a new dawn if yielded properly. The declaration of this act as unconstitutional teases a complete structural reform of the political landscape. One that can allow for more voices to actively participate in a legislative role who may have previously been excluded. One which allows for more individual accountability and agency within government and one which gives more weight to the public’s voting power. It is important for more of us to be educated on the implications of this. For us to have a better understanding of what it means for there to be better hope of enacting change that can affect our modes of our society.
South Africa is truly at a crossroads that will define our generation, in which the youth will face a brunt of the consequence and already are. Youth unemployment rose to 41,7% in the first quarter of the year whilst approximately 1.9 million of youth without work were discouraged from looking for work; pre-pandemic and without the effects of lockdown. There is no normal for us to go back to, our reality is in-flux, and is actively shaping itself, politically, financially, mentally and physically. This requires a different approach to our social development. It’s important for us to keep revisiting concepts to see how we can change them to be more sustainable structurally and in our interpersonal lives. The first chapter of this series will find us exploring the world of gender-based violence, what has been described by our president as a war on women. If this is true, how long has this been going, what has caused it to function at the high rates it has, are our conversations on it comprehensive enough and if so what other measures can we try look into to unpack this pervasive problem.