It is now safe to lift my head above the parapet while the war still rages on the Cape Flats, amid the army's presence, to utter those dastardly uncomfortable words: “We told you so.” Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African 
News Agency (ANA)
It is now safe to lift my head above the parapet while the war still rages on the Cape Flats, amid the army's presence, to utter those dastardly uncomfortable words: “We told you so.”

Here’s the lesson we have to learn about community politics: silence does not equate to peace. The fact that we hear fewer shootings allows some to conclude that peace has come. In fact, the history of experience informs us that the gangs will sit the army out far longer than the army has budget to occupy the townships.

The creation of peace is a far deeper exercise than just the absence of gunshots. Doing the deeds of constructive peace building resides in the realm of the tangible: visible social justice, equitable opportunities, robust integration and a celebration of diversity.

Peace does not exist in a vacuum. Peace is the consequence of deliberate brave actions.

And here's why the current deployment of the army on the Cape Flats will fail: it is void of a strong civil society coalition that has the faith of the people to build this visible, equitable, robust and celebratory future for us all. Like under apartheid, we have sadly extended the belief that the old culture of law and order is the key to our safety. And in doing that we have failed to give our children a culture of celebratory social justice and unlimited opportunities.

The core truth is that gangs are an economy and a culture. And it will take far more deliberate, intelligent and intentional planning and execution to replace the gang economy and culture with a viable alternative.

Thousands of people eke out an existence from this economy. And in the absence of a more sustainable alternative, those same thousands will fight and work to retain its economic benefit.

What is the plan to create viable economic opportunities for those who will fall into even worse poverty if the gang economy is dismantled?

The failure of such comprehensive thinking is the reason why no impact is made on the growth of gangs. For years I have heard government and civil society agencies talk about poverty eradication, poverty elimination and poverty reduction.

And for years I have asked those same people to tell me what a poverty-eradicated or poverty-eliminated person looks like.

A few years ago, I visited a traditional township soup kitchen and saw a mother and her daughter and the daughter’s baby standing in line for food.

It suddenly struck me that this represented three generations standing in line for food. Who can endure such poverty for three generations?

The truth is that the government and civil society cannot envision a viable alternative to poverty. They can only visualise a less poor person - who is still poor “but not so poor.” Can I tell you what the townships want? They don’t want strategies to reduce their poverty. They are tired of poverty.

They will only listen to those who can come to them with wealth creation strategies. And that’s exactly why the gang economy is successful. It provides people with a wealth creation strategy.

If we are going to succeed in building a South Africa with visible social justice, equitable opportunities, robust integration and a celebration of diversity then we must form a new coalition to build a generation of unselfish wealth creators among all people.

We must design strategies that take on the gang economy and allow people to access new opportunities - real opportunities - which allow them to decide which schools they wish to send their children to, which meal they wish to eat when they are hungry, which house they wish to live in based on their income and which hospital they wish to go to when they are sick.

The intelligence exists. Unfortunately, we are running out of time to save our fragile democracy.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus