This week has seen the extension of the housing riots to Ocean View, replete with burning logs and tyres closing off Kommetjie Road, stoning of cars and the odd gunshot.
The word riot has always resonated strongly with me, having grown up in the 80’s where riots were breaking out every weekend. When the press used it this time I was suspicious, as I remember the dread that the threat of riots evoked in me as a child. I remember a childhood vision of the hordes chasing us, my dad’s old Humber Sceptre struggling to pull away in time. I looked up the meaning of the word now: A violent disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled for a common purpose (according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition). I find this definition a lot less terrifying than I had expected. Having hopefully shaken off most of Michael de Morgan, This Morning’s Comment (of there were 100 terrorists and 2 SADF soldiers killed infamy) and the SABC in general’s legacy, perhaps the old propaganda still has a hold in the meaning of the word riot. Either that, or I’ve become a lot less scared of violent disturbances.
Nevertheless, by that definition there have been riots in Ocean View this week. I live in the suburb of Capri, close to Ocean View as well as to the township of Masipumelele. Not much has changed in the demographics since the apartheid days, and the three areas are pretty much the white, coloured and black of old.
I was in Masipumelele last week, possibly to assist with a small project there, and met some of the community leaders. Masipumelele has also had riots, mostly to do with the overcrowded school. The government (let’s not get into the national, provincial, city or local morass) has been promising extra resources for the school, and extra buildings, as the community has grown rapidly and there’s an urgent need for larger premises. However, this wasn’t forthcoming by the beginning of the school year, and with numbers greater than ever, and many unable to fit,a riot broke out. The unhappiness is quite justifiable, as people have been made countless promises, and have been extremely patient. I don’t know it that well, so all I say is as a fairly removed observer, but Masipumelele seems to be a coherent community, quite positive about the future, and has seen some progress, epecially in housing.
Ocean View (there’s no ocean view from most of Ocean view. It’s the town planning equivalent of an estate agent’s sea view meaning if you stand on a step ladder in the loft you get a glimpse the distant ocean) I know less well, but I did take a drive past on the second day of the riot. The only crowd I saw were gathered behind the TV cameras, trying to get there moment of fame, although there was evidence of burnt logs, damage to roads, and lots of police. One of the causes for the unhappiness is housing, and speaking to some people in the area, the community were dumped there in 1986, and promised a wait of one year for new houses. They’re still waiting. I don’t know anything about the 1986 arrivals, as my knowledge extends to the fact that most of the original Ocean View residents were removed from Simon’s Town in 1967 (those classified black had already been removed to Gugulethu in 1965). The press has been full of rumours of third forces stirring up trouble, local politicians instigating trying to look good before the local government elections.
But it seems people are just pissed off. People are also unhappy that the much newer Masipumelele is seeing so much housing progress, while Ocean View (in particular Mountain View – at least that name is accurate) less so, and this is being fanned to score political and racial points.
The local press has been full of the usual crap, ranging from the bastards must just stop rioting and get down to work, to poor us/them we/they are helpless. The reality, as always, is somewhere in the middle. I always think of a study I read recently that looked at what poor communities portrayed to outsiders, compared to the reality. The portrayal was always worse, as it was assumed or hoped that the outsiders would come to provide more assistance if the picture was painted really bleakly. The proximity of Masipumele exacerbates this, as conditions there are perceived to be worse than in Ocean View, and hence it attracts more aid.
And of course, conversely, the nonsense people write about poverty from the comfort of their heated home, having never experienced anything remotely similar.