Comments about protests show that most of the middle class have zero understanding about the lives of the very poor, says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - The N2 outside Cape Town burned this week. Literally – from the airport to the foot of Sir Lowry’s Pass.
Some of these scenes were shot with a simple iPhone but they were dramatic, and the images were thus powerful. They were posted on a social media site and these were some of the reactions:
“Well done ANC!!!! Stuffed up this amazing country... now it is Western Province turn...”
“Lock them up u have them on camera they (are) damaging public property”
“Shocking... looks like the 80s all over again”
“Wonder how many of them are actually SA citizens?”
“Rev em with tear gas and rubber bullets, that is all they will understand!!”
“The 80 were never so bad not that i can recall here they trashing every province an killing stealing doing as they please”
“That’s insane... Do they even realise how much damage they are doing... Who has to pay to fix all this...”
“Lawless villains! Lock them up! SAP should take back control and arrest the lot. There are no consequences to their actions so why should they stop?”
“Who has an old Bedford truck , drive up and down that road and anything or anyone who gets in the way, well oops... also go hire a piece of 20 paintball guns freeze the balls and put the gun at maximum pressure.”
“Why is the army not deployed to keep the peace??? Seems our government enjoys the unrest!”
“The army is too busy eating KFC, and drinking beer, they need the Americans to train them, then they will know what it is like to be in an army.”
Reading all those comments, it’s easy to feel immediately exhausted. Primarily, because they show, yet again, that the vast majority of the privileged middle class have zero real understanding about the lives of the very poor. And that prejudice remains intense.
A wilful ignorance that the conditions the very poor suffer are not an inconvenience – they are legitimate emergencies.
That people who have almost nothing, and no prospects of ever enjoying better lives, understandably descend into desperation and despair. That legitimate anger needs an outlet.
Sure, it’s also true, that people for some reason like to break things, and that anarchy swiftly ratchets up its own momentum.
That, yes, there’s often a criminal, or at least opportunistic element, to some protests.
But, most of all, this type of reaction to protest is exhausting because it carries an element of surprise. As if they didn’t expect protest.
And that’s just bizarre.
For almost 350 years, this country was at war. In some wars, you’ll see the impact starkly – buildings half blown away by bombs, like in Berlin.
In this country, there was an economic war. And the evidence, the scars, the open wounds, is just as visible, just as stark. The poverty, the destruction of functioning communities, the structural inequality, the hatred, the mistrust, the strife.
Wars, especially civil wars, are seismic events that rip countries apart and often take generations to recover from.
Every now and again, there’s a glimmer of hope, a Rainbow Moment. Like unity around a loved leader’s passing. Or proof by a professor, like Jonathan Jansen this week, that perhaps our education system really is fixable.
But, in the main, there are no quick or even medium-term fixes. Nothing is going to change in this country for a very, very long time.
Germany took decades to rebuild, after just a six-year war. The impact of our centuries-long war will, in all likelihood, be with us forever.
* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline