Has unrest over gang violence in Westbury exposed government’s supposed exclusion of coloured people in economic transformation and service delivery?
A historian suggests the racialisation of the social ills faced by all poor communities across the country is not helpful.
A sociologist argues that by using race as the basis of its cause, the Shutdown movement is on track to gain momentum and support.
Dr Sethulego Matebesi, head of the sociology department at the University of the Free State (UFS), posited that the Shutdown movement successfully used race to unite all people identifying as coloured to fight against injustices which affected coloured communities in specific ways.
“I strongly feel that the coloured communities and particularly the leaders of this movement have been very clever to latch on to the issue of race … because at least they have something to bargain with, and it’s not just another service delivery protest.
“They’re using this as the bargaining platform to gain the support of coloured communities everywhere and it seems to be working.”
But Professor Noor Nieftagodien, head of the History Workshop at Wits University, argued that dealing with socioeconomic issues on racial terms was historically detrimental.
Perspective, in this case, would be based on one’s immediate surroundings and poor areas in general were susceptible to only seeing their struggle along racial terms if the suggestion was made to them.
“The coloured question arises because the people of Westbury see people around them who are coloured, and Coronation and Newclare are having the same problems, and it appears as if the problems are affecting coloured people in particular…
“And not all people of Westbury believe that coloured people are being singled out, but there is a perception out there and people do feel persecuted.
“They feel coloured people are not being employed, when the government talks about affirmative action it doesn’t benefit them.
“Poor people in general do not benefit from affirmative action. The upper middle class across the racial spectrum have been the main beneficiaries.”
The complaints from residents of Westbury have been echoed in coloured communities in Gauteng and elsewhere in the country over the past two weeks, with the primary themes of unemployment, drugs and gang violence.
A community leader in Westbury, Pastor Sayed Kahn, spoke of a never-ending cycle of despair and poverty. He said many homes were headed by women and children as the men and boys succumbed to drugs, crime and gang violence.
“Mostly here in the community, it’s mothers and children. There are no fathers. There is no support.
“That is the thing drug lords are using … unemployment as a tool … so they can support them to hide the drugs, to get them to sell the drugs.
“The other thing is that the police never arrest the drug lords, they never arrest the sellers, they only arrest the users because they are soft targets.”
Yesterday, the Gauteng Shutdown Coordinating Committee marched to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to demand inclusion of coloured people in the economy.
Matebesi said the pressures faced by these communities had been left to fester for long enough that communities had reached a boiling point.
“It is a serious problem and it does not mean that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, but there is a high prevalence of drug abuse and gangsterism in coloured communities and it goes back to lack of government prioritisation.
“And the whole thing with these gangs in these communities is that it almost becomes a state within a state, they become the untouchables … and it is all part of this psychological prison that people find themselves stuck inside and the pressure becomes unbearable.”