Pervasive, but not politicised. Everyday violence, local rule and party popularity in a Cape Town township

Laurence Piper
2016 South African Crime Quarterly  
Through examining violence in the township of Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town, we show that leadership in this community is not based on violence, despite its pervasiveness in the settlement. Further, rule by local leaders and the state is often weak, and normally not violently enforced. This account challenges three common views in the literature. The first is that, under conditions of weak rule, violence is primarily about contests over political power. The use of violence by a variety of social
more » ... variety of social actors in Imizamo Yethu, but rarely by political leaders or parties, challenges this assumption. The second is that violence is central to maintaining local rule -but in Imizamo Yethu leaders have seldom used coercion. Lastly, our case illustrates that effective local rule is not necessarily a condition of party identification, which is rooted in larger dynamics of state patronage and race politics that may even weaken local rule. On the morning of 6 December 2011, we arrived in Imizamo Yethu as a small group of researchers 1 prepared to start a three-month action-research project on violence, local (dis)order and rule. As we drove into the township, we noticed that large rocks and tyres had been pushed into the road, blocking the way. Smoke drifted across the settlement and we saw broken glass and debris in the road. We started counting the numbers of cars with smashed windows. At the police station at the entrance to the township, a large group of angry people was gathered, shouting and arguing. Eventually, after speaking with various community leaders and residents, we were able to establish that there had been an outbreak the previous night of 'taxi violence', involving two different factions of the local Imizamo Yethu taxi operators. The dispute centred around the licencing process and access to lucrative taxi routes, with the more established association refusing entrance to others. When a second, less formalised group began to operate taxis in the area, the more formal group retaliated by attacking their cars and stabbing a driver. The situation then spiralled into a series of retaliations between the different taxi groups. What emerged on our first day in Imizamo Yethu was an indication of the complexities surrounding the pervasiveness of violence in the settlement, and the implications for social and political order: two taxi associations with uncertain links to competing factions of the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) local leadership; stories of episodic neighbourhood watches; and allegations InSTITuTE For SECurITy STuDIES 32 of local linkages between all of these and the main political parties in Cape Town. Over time, the frame of violence covered by our fieldwork extended to dealing with issues of crime, xenophobia and service delivery protests, but all of these were threaded through by the dynamics of local political rivalry and weak rule by both state and local leaders, as demonstrated by the taxi violence on our first day in Imizamo Yethu. By late 2015, while we were writing this article, Imizamo Yethu witnessed a popular mobilisation of unprecedented scale against two drug gangs, the amaXaba and the Bad Boys Company, whose turf battle had led to regular stabbings and even deaths over the preceding year. In August, a large vigilante group confronted and killed the leaders of both gangs. In the days that followed, SANCO leaders met with the remaining gang members to end the conflict and demobilise the gangs. Since that period a nightly community patrol has been in place that, by all accounts, has significantly reduced crime. Once again, local leaders reacted to the use of violence by other actors in Imizamo Yethu, although this time they endorsed the violence and new forms of coercion which united the community, local leaders and even the police. This article explores the relationship between violence, local rule and political actors in order to contribute to the current debate on social cohesion, inequality and security in cities of the global South. The relationship, we suggest, is a lot less linear than often assumed. We show how violence has not been used to gain or consolidate local leadership in Imizamo Yethu, at least not yet, and has been used only in exceptional cases to enforce local rule. Rather, violence is a pervasive and a constant background presence in many private and some
doi:10.17159/2413-3108/2016/v0n55a154 fatcat:357rwn7ynzf5rlwof4zpqlb6qy