Here on the North Coast of the East Coast of South Africa we are driving scared. This is because people stand on bridges over highways and throw rocks onto cars. This terrifying experience has happened to half a dozen motorists over the past month, and lives – some of them children – have been tragically lost. Meaningless, senseless violence. Or is it?
This stretch of the N2 highway (between Tongaat and Salt Rock) forms a psychological boundary if not exact, between some of the greatest “haves” and the most impoverished “have nots” in South Africa. On one side of the highway we have opulent houses, malls and luxury housing estates. On the other side of the highway, the picture is often very different. Here poverty is on display in all its brutality and people often live in corrugated iron shacks. Our domestic worker recounted the story of a recent violent protest in her neighbourhood of Shakaskraal in which people who live in such shacks took to the streets because the houses they had been promised 10 years ago, had not materialised. 10 years is a life time to wait for a house when you are living in such dire circumstances.
When they asked why their houses would not be built, they were told that the land that had been allocated for housing was no longer available as it was now going to be used to build – wait for it – a zoo.
Now, many of these people work in houses and businesses – on the plush side of the N2. I wonder: if I lived in abject poverty on that side and people lived in multi-million Rand houses on the other side – a stone’s throw away from me- and I was told the land I had waited for for 10 years had been given over to build a zoo, if I wouldn’t feel a little, I don’t know, pissed off. Would I feel violence welling up inside me? I would. No question. I might even take my pain and anger out on those with big homes and fancy cars. This might involve throwing rocks off bridges – or worse.
Now of course this is just a theory. But, whilst we build cages over our bridges, we need to make serious efforts to build emotional, social and psychological bridges between people – off which rocks cannot be thrown.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.