Editorial: It’s inequality that breeds violence

For the past two weeks, first slowly and then in a deluge, there have been social media messages warning about a proliferation of “fake food”. Fake food has become a catch-all for food that is expired, substandard or knock-offs of popular brands.

As the tale goes, the latter are being manufactured in backyards by unscrupulous foreigners, those nefarious characters who are always looking for ways to take further advantage of our people and turn a quick buck.

The story took root this week when various news publishers investigated the claims of concerned citizens about fake food. Large numbers of people called in to talk radio stations to tell of their experiences (some near death) after having been duped into buying fake food.

Some government departments responded and the Ekurhuleni municipality dispatched inspectors to spaza shops, who confirmed some were indeed selling expired goods. So a call went out for people to report any suspicious goods to the National Consumer Commission, with a warning: “It’s not going to be that effective to start your own social media campaign — next thing you will have vigilante enforcement.”

But it’s been a cold, hard winter in South Africa. Unemployment figures are escalating, value-added tax is up, food prices are up (and down) and transport costs are up. There’s not much to celebrate. But the cumulative effects of an ailing economy, poor governance and stubborn inequality rests especially heavy on the shoulders of the poor.


Although the campaign against fake food is warranted, woven into the fabric of the messages doing the rounds is one we have become all too familiar with in a democratic South Africa. It’s the narrative of “us versus them”. But there is no clear us and them, it is a constant swirl of differences — the middle class and the poor, poor South Africans and poor immigrants. The persecution of the weak and the vulnerable finds new iterations all the time.

In 2008, when gangs of young men, armed with crude weapons, marched through the streets, we watched with a sense of dread. The gravity of what we were witnessing sank home when we saw Ernesto Nhamuave, on hands and knees, ablaze in a sea of flames, in Ramaphosa on the East Rand.

In 2015, the nightmare returned, with a mass march in central Durban and the mobilisation of men from the historically compromised hostels playing key roles to define the period. Again, it was the butchering of Emmanuel Sithole on the streets of Alexandra, captured graphically on front pages, that jolted officials into necessary action.

All the time, we were aware the nightmare was there, whispered in WhatsApp messages or caught up among the thousands of hostilities we voice every day. For many of us watching, the right-minded South Africans privileged enough to be able to liberate ourselves more easily from such narrow, nationalistic thinking, the xenophobic actions stirred our consciences and drew our condemnation — “they” did not represent us.

But it is not enough to condemn the other. It is not enough to be comforted by a sense of innocence when we are confronted with the violence of the marginalised on the marginalised. It is not enough because our complicity in maintaining these distinctions is a violence itself. Until we confront inequality more robustly, these attacks will continue. Fake food is just a convenient excuse.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Medical aids blame external costs as fees increase beyond inflation

Medical aid is becoming more of a luxury for many South Africans, and it’s not about to get any better

Mahikeng compounds its mess

The ailing town that wasted R2-billion appoints a municipal manager rated ‘basic’, the lowest level

More top stories

Parliament owes South Africa an apology on state capture —...

The speaker told the Zondo commission she doesn’t know why the legislature woke up to state capture so late, but believes this won’t happen again

Cape Town fire ‘largely contained’, evacuation orders remain in place

Authorities confirmed the fire had been largely contained by early Monday afternoon, although reports suggest the fire had jumped the road near Tafelberg Drive

Zondo says break-in will not intimidate commission

The deputy chief justice said it was not clear if the burglary and a recent shooting were more than criminality, but vowed no one would deter the inquiry

European heavyweights face criticism over ‘cynical’ Super League

The 12 founding clubs of the breakaway competition have faced backlash from the football community
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…