You know I prefer to keep things light on if all else fails. The world is serious enough without me contributing. But sometimes one has to unsheath the hammer and start whacking stuff.
Imagine this: You come home from work. Hang on. Did I say home? I mean the shack knocked together from scavenged wood and corrugated iron sheets without water, electricity, plumbing or a floor which is the only home you can afford. So, you come home from work. Except, your home isn’t there. Some guys in overalls had pulled it down and all your stuff that used to be inside is gone. Normally in a situation like this you’d call the police, but they’re already there, standing in a line between your angry and crying neighbours and the men systematically destroying your homes, protecting the latter.
If you think this sounds like something that happens in third world dictatorships you’ll be right, but not this time. This time it happened in a country that less than a month ago had its fifth free and fair democratic elections as they celebrated twenty years of freedom from oppression. Yeah. Right.
Earlier this week the South African National Road Agency Ltd. (SANRAL), the parastatal responsible for maintaining our national roads, allegedly (and I use the word only because I’m writing this based on the second-hand information of newspapers) demolished an informal settlement near Cape Town in order to (I wish I was joking) build a bypass. (You can’t make up stuff like this.)
Sure, the people living in this settlement were doing so illegally. They do not own the land, nor did they have permission to erect structures and live on that land and they had been warned before to vacate that land. And SANRAL had a court order (though it’s legality is being challenged) giving them the right to remove those people – a Sheriff of the court was on the scene to enforce that order.
But even if the law is on your side, you simply don’t do this. You don’t knock down someone’s home and destroy, dispose of or steal their meagre possessions while they are not there to defend what is theirs. You do not throw away the food children are supposed to eat when they come home from school this afternoon. You do not arrest a woman for standing crying in front of her house. You do not kick people out into the street in the middle of the Cape Town winter, which is pretty much like London’s but without central heating.
When I read about it this morning I was speechless. I experienced that unique anger one feels when one sees gross injustice and can do nothing about it. These people were betrayed by the very government they voted back into power less than a month ago. They were treated the same way others were treated by the Apartheid government all those years ago, and this by the people who supposedly liberated them.
I’m amazed at how this country is more like Orwell’s Animal Farm every day.
And I wonder at the demolition team and police officers who did the deed, and the executives who ordered it and the lawyers and spin doctors who justified it. I wonder whether, as they’re lying snug in their beds tonight while rain lashes the windows, any of them are giving a thought to the hundreds who now have even less than they had before, to the students who have to study for mid-year exams in a crowded and noisy community hall, to the mothers who can’t change or feed their babies because their limited supplies were destroyed or stolen.
And I wonder if I’m writing this to help them by getting the word out, or if I’m only helping myself to deal with something that is so wrong, so inhuman, that I simply don’t know how else to process it.