Monday 6 January 2020

Picture Post #52 - The Township

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Thomas Scarborough

Hastily boarded-up window 
at New Rest, in South Africa's Eastern Cape
It is hard to know where to begin, describing the township here.

Many houses, the doors or windows have been taken. Including the neighbour's, twice. Severely damaged through crime, he put in reinforced concrete frames. It did no good. They made off with his ceiling, plumbing, and much of the plaster, too. Every second house, broken glass is replaced with broken boards, carpet tiles, plastic.

A resident came round yesterday. Someone tried to batter down his door, he said, when he was in bed. The door was ruined, but they didn't get in. He armed himself. Then a sergeant came round. If they found someone dead on his floor, he said, he would go straight to jail. My host sleeps with a loaded rifle next to his bed.

A few nights ago, criminals mounted a vast raid on a group of townships, including this one. I had two locks on my car damaged. A friend had a window smashed, too. The same day, in front of me, a man flew off a pickup truck which swerved recklessly to avoid potholes, and those are filled with water from broken pipes. He hit the tar at speed, and lay motionless in a storm gutter. I was the only one to help him, and was astonished that he could (slowly) get up, although he was bloodied all over.

Plastic waste tumbles down the hillsides, and recently carved ravines scar the earth. People are gaunt, their teeth are out, their clothes are ragged. Even the neighbour came begging for bread.


Keith said...

A woeful confluence of extreme poverty, extreme inequality, and extreme lawlessness, it seems, playing off each other in toxic ways. (Add racism and the spillover effects from earlier colonialism to the mix, maybe?)

No quick fixes, I’m sure, to conditions that appear deeply entrenched and perhaps have far-reaching historical roots. Hard to undo. (What’s clear is that neighbours shouldn’t have to be ‘begging for bread’.)

Just curious, though: What does the country offer by way of basic social programs — skills training, jobs, food aid, literacy/numeracy, health care, etc. — to help people climb out of the hole and become self-sufficient? Especially opportunities for children — the follow-on generation.

And an aside: Odd that the resident might have ‘gone straight to jail’ for defending life, limb, and property. Not able legally to protect ‘his castle’ and its inhabitants? Does that proscription apply to everyone, I wonder?

Martin Cohen said...

"Plastic waste tumbles down the hillsides, and recently carved ravines scar the earth. People are gaunt, their teeth are out, their clothes are ragged. Even the neighbour came begging for bread."

I thought this was a Picture Post with an eloquent image that also painted powerful images with the words...

Regarding the image, though, aren't windows special? they are the eyes. Here, the eyes have been 'plucked out'...

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Behind the scenes, I called this generating philosophy rather than presenting it, and I think that Keith's insightful comments fullfil our best hopes. Thanks to Martin for suggesting the close-up photo, which works better than other photos we had.

I think among all the observations that Keith makes, 'historical roots' may play a role in a way we may not ordinarily see. In 1994,the country emerged from a period of inequality and injustice, even terrorism and war. On all sides, there was apprehension and fear. Negotiators therefore put in place a system which was exceedingly cautious in matters of law. I would see this as a major factor in the story, and it creates positive feedback (which is of the negative kind!) in that paralysis in the application of law leads to further paralysis.

The situation is not merely unsatisfactory but wrong. I believe that a country may be judged by its most disadvantaged citizens. I think there has, too, been a tendency to compromise human rights. One has political, cultural, and economic rights, but of what quality are they?

Tessa den Uyl said...

Thank you for this post Thomas. If we could all live with broken windows that would be a nice world, if this would be a sign of nobody to be threatened and the fear of violence would not be a common man's occupation.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

It would be a nice world, yes -- and a better world, because we need a lot of stability in order to guarantee forward motion. Just take one or two components out of a system which is working, and the penalties may be high.

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