by Brian Williams
A few years ago I was doing research for an article about “Child Soldiers on the Cape Flats”.
I interviewed a person regarded as a “warlord” and a significant “distributor of drugs”. Drug money created his “fortune”.
He was feared and influential, in driving violence in different communities. We first chatted about family, the importance of children and the value of peaceful living. He surprisingly told me some intimate details of his family: he had difficulties with his relationships and was always stressed.
He said he was not able to have a normal family life. His children (whom he loves), lived with his parents. He said that he “cannot just take a walk or go to the mall or cinema or to any public place”. I asked him if he could leave and start all over again. I knew the answer to my question but I wanted to hear his reply.
He sat back, looked at the ceiling and after a deep sigh said, “my lewe is oor” (my life is over). To leave would be a death sentence.
He said that he “was born into violence not of his choosing”. He recounted that when he was at primary school, he was forced to “deliver drugs, hide guns and carry weapons”.
This warlord was a “child soldier” as internationally defined. He had first refused but was repeatedly beaten up. He was trapped.
The “gang demarcated area” is where he lived and went to school. He felt that nobody was able to help and that he had to survive this situation on his own. He became a member of the “non-state armed group” (gang) not because it was his free choice but because circumstances of violence imposed this on him.
The ongoing killings are atypical civil wars: armed citizens fighting others to control local economies and geographic space. A peace analysis will be able to address this wicked complexity. He became a cog in a multibillion-rand, shadow economy, that flourishes in parallel to the South African and global economy.
One gateway to this illicit economy, in the context of the Cape Flats, is trans-generational violence. Amnesty can break chains of trans-generational violence. Apartheid murderers and criminals were given amnesty.
People on the Cape Flats and in impoverished communities live in cauldrons of red hot pain and these abnormalities have normalised. Violence is built into the fabric of poor communities and the social decay which arises is negatively multiplied.
Cultural violence, justifies and constitutes the normalisaton of destructive ideas as a “truth” of their circumstances. The bloodied streets traumatise and educate young people. There are no straight lines but positive choices can be influenced by powerful social influences. Context frames choices for peace or violence.
There is no neutrality within these contradictory spaces. If the learning environment is one of violence, then violence will tend to shape the reasoning attached to this kind of survivalist learning. Policy failures and lack of vision by the state, contribute to structural violence. Powerful counter narratives of peace are needed to challenge the hegemonic images of violence that impose limitations on our constitutional rights.
We have demonstrated through our Peace Ambassador programmes that we can successfully promote a peace narrative. In poor communities where everyone ekes out a living, the wealthy drug lord becomes “Robin Hood”.
This was apparent during the pandemic. State and corporate failure is evident. Families which should be the centre of formative learning in poor communities are usually dysfunctional. In some instances, the father who is chronically unemployed is undermined because of this failure.
In many cases, the sons bring money into the family as a result of crimes, and violence is used in order for their families to live. This contradictory reality is tolerated within many families but further corrodes the family structure. Faith-based structures must be activated to consistently support peace. More prominent peace role models are needed.
According to public intellectual Lorenzo Davids, “trans-generational trauma has deformed relationships”. He postulates that “structural violence and cultural violence are the two most insidious typologies of violence but that there are solutions to overcome what appears to be insurmountable obstacles to peace”.
General André Lincoln, head of the police’s Anti-Gang Unit, stated: “Solutions exist to overcome the embedded violence in the communities on the Cape Flats and elsewhere.”
Lincoln said “many ethical police were committed to bringing about peace”. He praised the Peace Ambassador programme as an example of how to transform communities.
Peace has transformative power, and a wide mobilisation is needed to win the peace.
* Professor Brian Williams is Visiting Professor in Peace, Mediation and Labour Relations: University of the Sacred Heart, Gulu, Uganda; chief executive: Williams Labour Law and Mediation; Thought Leader Award Recipient for 2018 (Black Management Forum); International Award-winning poet: seven books published.
* This piece from part of the Cape Argus’ “Starfish Project“.
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