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Mapping a malaise — Google’s response to crime ‘hotspots’ points to deeper social problems


Zukiswa Pikoli is Daily Maverick's Managing Editor for Gauteng news and Maverick Citizen where she was previously a journalist and founding member of the civil society focused platform. Prior to this she worked in civil society as a communications and advocacy officer and has also worked in the publishing industry as an online editor.

The call for greater law enforcement in these ‘hotspots’ is merely addressing a symptom of this malaise and is only one part of solving the problem.

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.

Page 1. Front page DM168. 18 November 2023


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  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Understand one thing – most residents in the Cape flats shack settlements were not there 30 years ago. It is trite knowledge that the ANC has been actively promoting migration from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape to ensure a political majority one day.
    Thus, the Shack Settlers are there voluntarily. They come for many reasons – employment, a better life, a free house – whatever. Their living conditions are abominable, yes. The issue of the criminal behaviour of a distinct thug minority is whose responsibility? SAPS. Just enforce existing laws properly, without fear or favour, and you will soon have results.
    One problem is that the communities tend to shelter these thugs, whether through sympathy or fear, they obstruct any police actions to apprehend. Change that through enforcement and you’ll get results. Take Mayor Giuliani’s New York program as a template – it will work if we have the will.
    Another problem is endemic corruption in SAPS. That needs to be rooted out.
    Not all poor people mug tourists, not all poor people steal cars or stab kids to take their bicycles. Most of these people just want to get on with a decent life. Give them a chance with police assistance – these people also get robbed and stabbed. “Spatial development” is a smokescreen – proper and robust enforcement is the answer.

    • Barry Welsh says:

      Well spoke, Mr MacLeod. Ms Pikoli (a journalist?) seems steeped in the comfort of victimhood. Perhaps like other “journalists” she has preprogrammed her computer to insert “townships are the deliberately underdeveloped, illegitimate and dehumanizing creations of the apartheid system” with a single key press. Has she been to Soweto lately? (See GG Alcock on “kasipolitans”) It’s nothing like her description here. Who would come to such a place she describes unless by choice or encouraged by false hope? It’s thanks to 30 years of accelerating blind implementation of Stalinist era National Socialism. heedless to the common good. Can this be fixed at the polls? Let the scales fall from your eyes, Ms Pikoli. Think of the three pillars of the struggle – sanctions (destroy the economy), the education boycott. And render the country ungovernable through civil disobedience. All three are still working effectively wouldn’t you say?

    • Pierre Rossouw says:

      Many people, blacks, whites, “coloured”, Indians, “Africans, whoever you choose to label, are migrating to Western Cape.
      The elephant in South Africa is “WHY?”

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    The ANC has had 30 years to change the lives of millions of people and all they have done is to make it worse!

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    “The violence that has been meted out is not personal or about the individual.”

    I think the author will find that the lucky recipients would tend to disagree.

  • Pierre Rossouw says:

    Get your blame focus right. This is not a fault of Google. It’s a South African matter.

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