My in-law’s family tell the story of how one day, out of the blue in Rhodesian times, trucks arrived at their village and ancestral home to pack everyone up minus their livestock by force. They were driven more than 300km away to a place they did not know, had never been to and summarily dumped on a piece of rocky, arid and infertile land. The first order of business was to erect shaky structures to shelter for the night. I can imagine the sense of shock and bewilderment in their midst. I can imagine the mothers fearing for the wellbeing of their families and the men, in the traditional patriarchal sense, stripped of their manhood, unable to defend or stand up for their families, unable to look their children in the eye. You do not really recover from this.
The same tragic tale is true in South Africa. I travel to Cape Town a lot and am a regular visitor to all sections of the city and beyond to the winelands. A visit to the Cape Flats never fails to fill me with a sense of despair at the “hopelessness” of it all. In fact, it is not hopeless, nothing ever is. The scene nevertheless programmes the hopelessness in to people locked in a vicious cycle of poverty, drugs and violence. A Cape Town journalist spontaneously asked me whether I had a bullet proof vest when I mentioned I was going to Mannenburg. It is a reaction I often get. This week, fifty years ago, on the 11th of February, the apartheid regime declared District Six a white areas only under the Group Areas Act. About 150 000 Black and coloured families were forcibly removed from their homes to the sandy Cape Flats. They too have not recovered from the humiliation of the forced removals. I see it every time I visit the area. The website www.capetown.at gives us an indication of life in the immediate aftermath of the removals.
“Forcible resettlement to the Cape Flats brought a host of social problems. Extended families that had previously shared a house, or at least lived on the same street, were now spread across diverse areas such as Elsies River, Heideveld, Bishop Lavis and Netreg. Family and neighbourhood networks broke down, making childcare and running a household economy far more difficult. There were no longer the safety nets of credit at the corner shop, or the scope to make some extra cash through selling household production. Rates of domestic violence increased dramatically. The new housing schemes were anonymous and employment very hard to find. Young people were often without parental guidance or recreational activities, and many joined street gangs operating protection rackets. Two ‘super gangs’ emerged, the Cape Town Scorpions and Born Free Kids, who recruited from reformatories and planned how to make their money once their sentences were up. Arrests for drug offences, both dagga (cannabis) and mandrax (buttons), soared to 80,000 in the early 1970s. Both drugs and alcohol were probably used by many as a way of coping with the traumas of life under apartheid. Research on the social conditions of Cape Flats residents in the 1970s showed a much worse situation than was found in the 1940s survey of Parkwood or the 1960 one of Heideveld.”
The weight of history is shouldered differently. For some, it is a burden, an albatross permanently cloaked around one’s neck with little hope of escape. Occasionally, a soccer or music talent escapes the injustice to make it big! They are held up as examples on why it is possible to “leave” a life of drugs and gangsterism making it sound like the victims who stay behind are too lazy to try or simply too high. Thankfully for everyone, majority rule brought democracy and some form of justice in 1994 but is the right to vote a complete justice or are the Cape Flats case still carrying fifty years of continuous humiliation? DH Lawrence wrote, “Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves.”
Justice without reparations, of one form or other, is no justice at all. How does one repair the injustice of the generational humiliation of an entire people? There is an incomplete justice in Africa and places like Haiti and Jamaica. It is an incomplete justice that declares you have political independence and now “just let things be” and “do not disturb the peace, get over it” lest you spoil things and damage the economy. Whose economy is it? Shall entire societies across never have justice because it might just spoil things? Is this not part of the continued psychological humiliation?
How will our people create and sustain inter-generational wealth if they do not get their fertile land back for instance? Why must they continue to eke out a living from the infertile land of their humiliation when they know where they come from?
The time has come for a new formula of post-independence justice, one that does not only create a peace between former liberation army and oppressor colonial regime but one that sets concrete, meaningful and sustainable reparations in motion. Bygones cannot be bygones in this case because as I bear witness every time I visit the Cape Flats they are not really gone for the formerly oppressed, are they?
Government can build state of the art schools, provide hospitals, roads and municipals services. It is no longer enough. There must be an economic formula that is brought in to play to, somehow, compensate the African masses for their exploitation over the last 400 years. African governments must find this new formula whose part solution must lie in Brussels, Lisbon and London. For there are injustices that emanated from there as this article points out http://mg.co.za/article/2015-12-13-west-must-fess-up-to-crimes-of-colonialism Otherwise the people in Mannenburg and countless other places like it on the continent are condemned for the rest of their lives to live on the periphery of society, making do, struggling with violence in their communities, subjected to police raids and being made forever to believe that they are the perpetrators and not the victims of a cruel history and an incomplete injustice. It is not right. It cannot be right.