Mine killings lay bare South Africa's culture of violence [Arab News (Saudi Arabia)]Al Bawaba Ltd.
THE 44 deaths at Lonmin's Marikana mine last week have forced South Africa to confront a culture of violence that runs from the country's gruesome crimes to the language of its politics, experts said.
A diet of gory stories has become a staple in South Africa, a nation all too used to bloodshed.
In the past week alone, three orphans were stoned to death in the northern province of Limpopo, their feet tied with shoelaces and one of them raped.
A pastor is on trial accused of raping and molesting nine children in his wife's nursery school. Before Marikana, the deadliest labor action was a 2006 stayaway by security guards, who over three months killed 60 non-strikers by throwing them from moving trains. Such brutal behavior is a legacy of apartheid, said security researcher Sylvester Maphosa.
During the struggle against white-minority rule, opponents abandoned peaceful protest for an armed struggle as their demands for freedom fell on deaf ears, he said.
"In South Africa we used to justify violence because we were fighting the system. But when the system was toppled, we didn't lay down our arms, we didn't debrief. And so we inherited those practices," said Maphosa, chief research specialist at think-tank the Africa Institute of South Africa.
Crime has decreased, with murders now at the lowest level since the end of apartheid. In the first year of democracy, South Africa had about 26,000 killings. Last year the number was about 16,000.
But that rate more than 43 a day is still one of the highest in the world.
Violent language still typifies everyday speech, particularly in songs and slogans once used to inflame the struggle against apartheid. President Jacob Zuma's favorite campaign song was "Bring me my machine gun". Last year, the firebrand leader of the ruling African National Congress's youth league, Julius Malema, was convicted of hate speech for singing "Shoot the Boer", in reference to Afrikaans-speaking whites.
Malema, who has since been expelled from the ANC, last weekend told workers at Marikana to be ready to die striking.
"You must never retreat, even in the face of death," he said. "Many people will die as we struggle for economic freedom." Unions, which have roundly denounced the Marikana killings, also readily make violent threats. In a protest over a toll road, union boss Zwelinzima Vavi warned the government that "in our chamber, there are still a lot of bullets".
The violence at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine started when workers hacked, burnt and beat to death eight fellow-workers and two policemen in the week before police opened fire on miners last Thursday, killing 34 of them.
Western Cape University political scientist Cherell Africa said South African society is not inherently violent, but that the gaping divide between rich and poor left over from apartheid has caused lingering tensions to boil over. "It is all related to systemic problems and inequality in South Africa," she said. "The question is, why has it taken so long to get to this point?" While the democratic government has eased the most dire poverty with a new public welfare system, nearly 40 percent of the population is still classified as poor.
The black middle class has grown, but among the nation's poor, there is a feeling of being left behind, said Maphosa.
Violent acts and words are a way to express "a sense of hopelessness", said Lisa Vetten of the Legal Advocacy Center, a rights group.
"You have aspirations but it's not going to go anywhere. Violence and criminal behavior is a way of attaining status," she said. "It's when normal channels have been closed off to you."