The recent revelation in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature that there are more known drug dens than schools in the province reflects the rejection of a development agenda to begin to balance the qualities of life of suburban and township residents.
The ANC purports to have a development agenda, somewhere beneath the layers of maladministration and corruption. The DA has no pretences in this regard. It remains steadfastly focused on demonstrating its worth by maintaining the provision of comfortable living and working environments for some of its residents.
This focus fuels its central message that it is better than the ANC. It has the clean audits and pristine suburbs to prove it. It tries to sell the proposition that the sky’s the limit. It is itching to arrest the ANC’s pal, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and aspires to lead the next expedition to the Moon.
The truth about “better” or “worse” is arguably better judged not on what politicians say, but through the lens of the lived experience of the people.
There’s nothing better or worse about the quality of life and service provision to townships and informal settlements in the Western Cape compared with that in any of the ANC-led provinces. They’re equally bad.
Clean audits are good. But audits are technical tools that don’t measure the impacts of government spending. Being able to account for your money is very different to accounting for your impact on narrowing the gap between haves and have-nots and thereby contributing to creating a more just society.
Extension of services
Narrowing the gap needn’t involve reducing the level of service provision to middle-class communities. It should be about extending this level of service to other communities to create environments in which young people can develop in peace and escape the cycle of poverty and indignity.
What we have in Western Cape, and Cape Town (replicated, pretty much, across the whole country), is what former President Thabo Mbeki described as two worlds in one. We all see it, know it and live with it.
If you live in Newlands, as I do, you lead a truly developed-world existence. If a street light fails, the council is there to fix it. The garbage is collected at the same time each week. God forbid any signs of a pothole.
Layered on top of these services from the state are the electric fences, alarm systems and private security companies that members of such communities can afford. So it’s relatively clean, relatively safe – and just down the road there are great schools and sports facilities.
If you live in Manenberg, your daily lived experience is somewhat different. Here, infrastructure was created to house a finite number of forcibly removed people, without provision for natural population growth. With nowhere else to go, residents crowd into council houses or flats, and erect backyard shacks and Wendy houses.
Water and sewerage infrastructure wasn’t expanded, but left to cope, or not cope, with ever-increasing users and volumes.
If you live in Nyanga, chances are you’re envious of the superior services the people of Manenberg receive. It’s the old sliding scale. As it was then, so it is now.
Of the more than 1,800 drug houses that the Western Cape government knows about, some are no doubt located in the suburbs. When one of these is occasionally bust, it tends to make the news because they’re not meant to be there; they’re somehow more tolerable elsewhere. Like in Nyanga.
How do you balance the Western Cape government’s admission that the number of known drug dens is skyrocketing with its delusions of superiority and grandeur?
How does the premier balance his fantasy to arrest Vladimir Putin with the interests of residents in crime-wracked communities in his own province?
What do the drug dens tell us about the impact of the considerable spending by the province and City of Cape Town on law enforcement? They want more policing powers devolved to them, and we don’t disagree with the principle of the devolution of certain policing powers to cities and provinces.
The reality, however, is that policing on its own will never undo what structural and institutionalised poverty, under-development and indignity built over the past almost 400 years of injustice.
The environment in which children are growing up in Manenberg or Nyanga won’t ever be as leafy as those from Newlands are used to. We wish it weren’t so, but it’s naïve to think otherwise.
What’s unacceptable is our seeming tolerance for environments which impose limitations on children. Drug dens are key points in this drama, because where the environment on its own can’t extinguish young peoples’ hopes, drugs and alcohol are there to complete the job.
Comparing itself favourably to the ANC and grandstanding about Putin does nothing to move the pieces on this chess board.
The measure of both the DA and ANC’s betrayal of South Africa is reflected in the Gini coefficient placing us among the most unequal societies in the world. Few would argue that this is sustainable.
The strategies and tactics to fix what is a tsunami of antisocial and criminal behaviour don’t lie in policing. The answers lie in developing the people, and it begins with developing environments which afford young people real opportunities to exit the cycle of hopelessness.
Instead of spending ever-increasing budgets on an array of crimefighting units and fancy technology, as the City of Cape Town does – to deal with crime after it has been perpetrated – what young people actually need is access to more social workers, more psychologists at their schools, more substance-abuse treatment programmes, more recreational facilities, and more practical life skills development initiatives.
Because communities may be relatively poor does not mean that their children have less need for early childhood development programmes. It does not mean they have less need for safe places to play and hang out. It does not mean they have less potential to make a positive contribution to the country.
For as long as communities believe that criminals have more power than the state to change the course of their lives, and for as long as the state, whether DA- or ANC-led, continues to neglect the pursuit of social, economic, spatial and environmental justice for all South Africans – from the bottom up – drug dens and criminality will proliferate.
What the Western Cape needs is a premier able to see beyond the view from Leeuwenhof, across the Cape Flats. And if the premier wants to arrest Putin, he should join the police. DM