A society that turns on itself
NEIL Daniels was murdered in Cape Town on June 2. His genitals were burnt.
Thapelo Makutle was murdered in Kuruman in Northern Cape on June 9. His genitals were hacked off his body and shoved into his mouth.
Phumeza Nkolonz was murdered in Cape Town on June 23 after a man kicked in the door to her home and shot her.
Daniels, Makutle and Nkolonz were all gay.
At the end of last year a report by Human Rights Watch found that: "Virtually all of those interviewed who tried to report physical or sexual violence to the police faced ridicule, harassment, and secondary victimisation by police personnel".
Last month Luxolo Mpontshane, Mabhuti Matinise and Sivuyile Rola were necklaced in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
At least six others have been murdered in recent months and some press reports put the total number of people that have been murdered by vigilante justice in Khayelitsha at 11.
Human rights organisations report that many people in Khayelitsha have lost confidence in the police.
When State responses to this are not structured in simple contempt they tend to point to the apartheid and colonial past as the source of all evil. But some things, like the police, or the ways that we are turning on each other, are getting worse and so easy assumption about time being on the side of progress amount to a form of denialism.
The heart of our problem is the lack of a credible emancipatory vision for society as a whole.
This, coupled with the ANC's de facto collapse into a conception of social progress rooted in private advancement, has meant that from the top of the state to the transit camps and shack settlements there is ruthless contestation for what are seen as finite resources and possibilities.
But we need to be clear that scarcity does not inevitably produce a society that turns on itself and make scapegoats of vulnerable people. We should recall that during the disaster of May 2008 there were no xenophobic attacks in areas under the control of political projects as diverse as Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban and the Merafong Demarcation Forum in Khutsong.
There is a critical difference between fighting for your share of the proverbial cake, or some crumbs from it, and struggling, with others, for a better society.
President Jacob Zuma opened the ANC's policy conference by declaring that South Africa is "at boiling point", that popular anger is legitimate and that apartheid and white capital, and not the ANC, is to blame for the conditions in which millions of people live.
He argued that the ANC needs to embark on an ill-defined series of radical changes to meet the legitimate needs of the people.
The implication is that he has recognised the pain of poverty and is the right person to lead this process that will finally redeem the social promise of democracy.
It is not Zuma's sensitive heart that has enabled the ANC to take better measure of the suffering of the poor.
In fact, the Zuma presidency has been marked by a decisive shift to a state more driven by security concerns than any developmental agenda, to a marked increase in anti-democratic sentiment and practice and a style of leadership that is frequently demagogic, masculinist and at times even militaristic.
It is the persistence and gathering intensity of popular protest that has forced the ANC to end its public denialism about the depths of suffering and the scale of popular anger in South Africa.
Conspiracy theories are still used to try to explain away forms of popular organisation that oppose the ANC directly or operate outside of it, but the party has had to concede that it is confronting widespread and popular protest.
The ANC continues to try to manage the escalating series of local urban rebellions with micro-local attempts at co-option, a process that is made much easier when protest takes the form of contestation within the party, and outright repression.
And repression is increasingly brutal. A Google search throws up 24 incidents of reports of protesters being killed by the police since 2000, with the bulk of the killings having taken place in recent years.
Struggles within and against the ANC are becoming increasingly bitter too and this is not just about palace politics.
In the last two years, 9 (nine) homes belonging to ANC ward councillors have been burnt down in Gauteng. Zuma is not wrong to say the country is on the boil.
But his silences about repression, the ethnic chauvinism through which it has been mediated in Durban, homophobic violence, the routine recourse to brutality that is becoming normalised in the police and his mealy-mouthed responses to xenophobic violence are all searingly articulate.
- Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. The article is part of the South African Civil Society Information Service