How can we stop the violence?

SAPS members investigate at the scene where Mbasa Dlamini, 11, was shot in Kwazakhele
SAPS members investigate at the scene where Mbasa Dlamini, 11, was shot in Kwazakhele
Image: Brian Witbooi

A media colleague commented on Facebook the other day: “The newspaper in PE is starting to read like a murder mystery, suspense thriller, tragedy, action and horror.”

I wish he was wrong but he wasn’t.

It is indeed a reflection of the daily violence that appears to have escalated, particularly in Nelson Mandela Bay townships in recent weeks.

Of course, there is always a debate about how much of that violence we should cover as journalists and how much prominence we should give it on the pages of this newspaper.

I am happy to have that debate, but it remains an academic exercise which is not the point of my column today.

Several people have been killed in hit-style murders, mostly in the New Brighton/ Kwazakhele area as well as in places such as Betherlsdorp.

As I write this, the bodies continue to pile up.

A blanket of fear has gripped these communities.

Silence is the golden rule as anarchy entrenches itself as the order of the day. Of course, gangsters (or amagintsa as these fellows are colloquially termed) have been around for as long as these communities were established.

Also, this is not the first flare-up of violence of this nature.

So what is behind the latest killing spree in townships?

None of us can conclusively state the reasons until they are ventilated and pronounced by a court of law.

However, early indications suggest that some may have been prompted by a factional fight between small business owners who are squabbling over the financial benefits of a deal with the municipality to clean drains throughout the metro late last year.

The drain-cleaning project – terribly executed from the very beginning – was only the latest chapter in an ongoing, territorial war between small business owners over any construction or infrastructure work taking place in the city.

Ask any company or arm of government involved in construction and they will tell you they cannot lay a brick here without first negotiating with or even paying off the warring factions of these small business groups to shut them up.

It is a dangerous mess. Ultimately it is a direct reflection of the failure to grow an economy that grows jobs where people do not have to step into a potentially deadly world of systemic crime in order to benefit from the small crumbs of work available in this province.

Be that as it may, I believe that the current wave of violence goes beyond our SMME crisis. Anarchy has begun to settle in, for whatever reason, as violence begets violence.

Most frightening is that it is senseless.

As a city we have two options – to assume the “brace position” hoping we as individuals and our loved ones won’t be caught in the crossfire as thugs run amok leaving a trail of death and destruction.

Or we can pull together our resources to take a stand.

If we choose to look the other way, we must then accept that we too are complicit – even passively – in the creation of a city where lawlessness is our prevailing norm.

Granted, we can, and should, complain bitterly about the state of our country, corrupt politicians, incompetent police, a poor education system and so on.

All these things are true and we should demand a government that does better and when it fails, we should hold it accountable. But here’s the thing about lawlessness as it is currently unfolding in our city.

It is deadly and highly organised. It has no parameter.

It does not care who you are, how much money you have, where you live, whom you voted for or, for that matter, whom you blame for this mess.

It breaks down the very tools that keep our society functioning.

Think of the countless technicians who are attacked or robbed while fixing municipal infrastructure or installing cellphone network cables, or the delivery trucks hijacked while delivering medicines.

I do not need to point out the impact of all this on our economy. Nor do I need to remind you of the impact of this thuggery on our schools and therefore the skill capacity of the next generation of citizens.

If these continue we can forget about what’s on our wish list: to grow tourism, to partake in the fourth industrial revolution or whatever other latest buzz words.

Too often we are consumed by the mindless politics that keep us perpetually bickering rather than engaging critically on what we can possibly do as citizens to confront the multiple crises that affect all of us.

So, this is why I am compelled to ask today – what are you going to do?

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