We’ve reported that Google Maps is going to change its suggested routes to exclude what it called “crime hotspots”. This is after the N2 and surrounding townships on the way to the airport in Cape Town were reported as a hotbed of violent incidents – the stoning of vehicles on the highway or tourists being attacked and robbed while going through what are considered dangerous townships.
What has struck me, and I’m sure a few other people, is that the response to these incidents has not been systematic in approach. All the proposed interventions involving the City of Cape Town, Google, the minister of tourism, and so on, seem to overlook the obvious but more difficult issue to address: The squalid conditions under which people in townships live.
The reason they resort to such acts of violence is the persistence of their invisibility to those living in more affluent neighbourhoods.
The violence that has been meted out is not personal or about the individual. It is about what these people symbolise and reinforce in the minds of people who do not benefit equally from the country’s resources but instead face systemic structural violence and degradation.
I did not think that it would need to be outlined, but to understand fully and have a progressive grasp on the issue we need to remember and accept that townships are the deliberately underdeveloped, illegitimate and dehumanising creations of the apartheid system.
They were built with a separatist agenda to disenfranchise black, coloured and Indian people, starving them of basic services and access to the city by relegating them to hostile land on the outskirts of urban areas.
Suburbs were the preserve of white people, of course, and were and are situated on prime land with access to all basic services and more. This aspiration that will never be realised by most of the people who are living in townships.
A more sustainable intervention to call for is urgent spatial reform and an overhaul of townships. This is because the conditions in them are what drive criminality.
It is deplorable that, to this day, the spatial planning and construction in cities has not shifted dramatically to re-envision proper resourcing with services and decent and dignified housing, and to reject the segregationist agenda and squalor of townships.
It is also symptomatic of a country at odds with its people. How can you expect people to be happy and well adjusted while living in eyesore enclaves that all of us reading this column would not want to drive past or through, never mind live in?
My thoughts turn to what is being called for here, which is greater law enforcement, something I do not dispute because we cannot condone criminality.
But that is merely addressing a symptom of the malaise and is only one part of solving the problem.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Visitors warned to be alert on Cape Town’s N2 ‘Hell Run’
I think a more sustainable intervention to call for is urgent spatial reform and an overhaul of townships. This is because the conditions in them are what drive criminality.
A sense of hopelessness drives people to do anything to force a response to their legitimate grievances about living in inhumane circumstances.
Everyone deserves safety and security, whether whizzing past on the N2 to the airport or living in townships, so our calls for interventions can and must be for both. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.