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Madding few weeks in our country with GBV and platitudes of politicians

Teachers and pupils at Sinethemba High School in Philippi held a memorial for Amahle Quku, 17. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency

Teachers and pupils at Sinethemba High School in Philippi held a memorial for Amahle Quku, 17. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency

Published Jun 30, 2020


Thomas Hardy and Thomas Gray both use the word “madding” in their literature.

Hardy's 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd describes the tensioned existence of rural and urban life, love and hate and the frenzied ambitions of power that “risked wrecking paradise”.

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Hardy uses a line from Thomas Gray’s 1750 poem, Elegy in a country churchyard, in which Gray reflects on the lives of unknown and unseen ordinary people, as the title for his novel. Gray wrote:

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,

Their sober wishes never learned to stray;

Along the cool sequestered vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

The word madding means frenzied, bewildered. If anything, the last few weeks in South Africa have been madding. The violence perpetrated against women, and their murder has been relentless. The mindless platitudes of politicians in response to this has been infuriating.

The destruction of shelter for indigent and homeless poor people has had near-persecution dimensions. From Empilweni to Hangberg to Dunoon, the City’s destruction of shelter used by indigent, houseless persons has all the signs of a madding barbarism.

I have watched video upon video of police violence. I would advocate for the legal prosecution and voting out of office of any politician and his/her party that gave sanction to such barbaric behaviour in the name of law and order.

This country has 12 million people who have no housing. These are adults who need a place to live. The urgent housing requirement, calculated at a rate of 6 persons per house, is 2.1 million homes.

The state at best can build about 136000 houses per year. The government projections indicate that they could meet the current housing need sometime after 2030. That’s 10 years away.

Questions to every politician: where do you suggest the 12 million houseless people live in the meanwhile? Should they permanently stand in a queue outside the Human Settlements Department for the next 10 years? Where must their children be born? Where should their children study and do their homework?

Where do you want a couple to express their love and intimacy for each other and for their children? Where do you want them to foster their dreams of service to humanity and of living in a great country?

The infuriating inertia by our politicians, displayed in their passionless speeches written by equally passionless civil servants, continues to be the licence used by violent men and out of control security forces to destroy the values of our democracy.

If politicians cannot display an appropriate anger at violence and police brutality, then women have no hope of surviving a violent man. Then houseless people in need of shelter have no hope against violent security and law enforcement officers.

For too long, the poor and women have kept “the noiseless tenor of their way”.

For too long, 12 million people have been promised houses. For too long, we have seen politicians show us how they lock people up for smoking. For too long, we have watched metro police officers, SAPS and the army act with impunity against defenceless people who want to shelter themselves and their children from cold, harsh conditions.

In Gray’s Epitaph to his poem, he writes:

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth

A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.

Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,

And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.

It is up to ordinary people to say to our politicians, through the ballot box and the courts, that we insist on a government that can hold the demands of law and order and human care and dignity in a delicate equilibrium.

We cannot have a country where we continue to bury our women and children who, due to the failure of politicians, are to “Fame and Fortune unknown. Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth, And Melancholy mark’d him for her own".

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

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

Cape Argus

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