The events of everyday life are not without their own sense of significance regardless of their minute or grand effect. History is etched with events that have found way of (re) shaping the lives of those people who were alive, or not, when they occurred. For some, if not all of humanity, it was the moment when the wheel was invented; while for others it was the bombing of Hiroshima, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or something as ‘small’ as a child being the first to graduate in a particular household. Those kinds of moments have a way of being the dichotomy of the quality of life’s experience pre and post that event. And boy has they year 2011 produced some of its own epochs. Chief amongst those has to be what has come to be known as the “Arab Spring”, where the world saw ordinary Tunisian and Egyptian citizens’ patience under tyrannical rule finally got exhausted and Ben Ali and Mubarak vacated the presidential homes they’d probably made their own.
Subsequent pro-democracy demonstrations followed in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syrian. But what took many by ‘surprise’ has to be the riots that ensued in the British capital and yanked Premier David Cameron from his Tuscan holiday early last month. Britons, tucked away in the darker side of London of Buckingham Palace and its nobility and supposed civility, shone some light (no pun) into another part of the kingdom, one that’s rarely mentioned. It all began on August 4th with the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in the gang ridden council estates, post world war housing boroughs, of Tottenham and by the 6th scores of people were protesting outside the local police station and, as they usually say, the rest is history. Christina Patterson of The Independent, the international sister paper to the likes of The Star and Pretoria News, aptly captured the beginning of the riots when she wrote: “This is what happens in a war. Wars start for a million different reasons, and the time to understand those reasons is not while the war is going on. They can start – even world wars can start – with a single gunshot. This one did. This one started with an old, old story, of a black man killed by police. It started when a woman wanted to know why four children would never see their father again. And when the police said nothing. And frustration turned, as it often does, and particularly in communities where there’s a lot of frustration, to anger, and anger turned, as it often does, and particularly in communities where there are a lot of teenagers with not very much to do, to violence.” Certain political analysts and Cameron were quick to dismiss the riots that quickly spread around the country as nothing but acts of criminality, and there’s some truth in those assertions but there’s also another truth and it requires us to locate the those flare ups within the global financial context. Since the “Great Recession” of 2008 and recent sovereign debt crisis in the Euro zone, governments have been implementing austerity measure- a euphemism for social spending cuts. Although the riots in England lacked the organizational and political tone of what we saw in France last October-when citizens were objecting to an increase of pension years- and this year in Greece, Portugal and Spain, the legitimacy of their frustrations can’t whimsically be summed up as “criminality”. Not all revolts are necessarily of a revolutionary goal in mind; when you have been as marginalized and cocooned within disposable surroundings as the dwellers of Hackney and other council estates are said to be, you will find alternative means of reclaiming your public space and existence, even if it’s in a destructive way as was the case. The “cuts”, as austerity measures are called in Britain, were the reason public sporting and recreational facilities and libraries were closing down. $130 billion was the amount of money that was said the cut would ‘save’ for Britons prior to the riots.
When the child behaves in an unbecoming way the parent’s behaviour is usually the first to be assessed as to whether or not it may have (in)directly inspired the child to have the propensity to do likewise. If that analogy rings true then the British parents are just as ‘guilty’ as their hoodie-wearing and rebellious youth, if not more. How are those youth supposed to be law abiding citizens when they’ve recently witnessed bankers, from London to Wall Street, plunge the world into a recession only to be bailed out by governments that have allowed “Las Vegas Capitalism” to be exist unregulated? The chairperson of British Youth Council was quoted as saying “The young people are asking, ‘Why should I live in a depraved society in this day and age because bankers decided to have some fun with the world economy?’It’s easy to criticise the youth but nobody is arresting the bankers.” How are the British youth supposed to know better when high ranking official in the governing, albeit by coalition, Conservative Party have been linked extensively in the New of The World phone-hacking scandal? In an age of crass and ostentatious consumerism, the young Britons, along with the rest of the world, were treated to a royal wedding, whose costs ran into millions of pounds and footed by her majesty’s obliging subjects. The International Business Times’ Jijo Jacob quotes Finian Cunnigham of Global Research as saying:”Behind the translucent wedding veil, what can be seen is raw state power that blows away any vestige of illusions of parliamentary democracy, illusions that are not just perculiar to Britain, but to all the Western powers.” Now tell me, with the materialistic culture so entrenched don’t you expect rioting youngster as young as 10 not to run into JD to pick a pair of must have Jordans or the latest iPhone? Patterson further laments that “It wasn’t these children who created the culture that told them that what mattered was the brand of their trainers, or the glitter of their bling. It wasn’t these children who created the culture that told them that their one hope of escape was hip hop, or fame. It wasn’t these children who created the institutions of a country where all the black workers were in the canteens. We have, as a society, created this monster and, as a society, and like those people heading into the trouble spots with dustpans and brushes, we must pick up the pieces.” The austerity measures that have fired up a lot of the youth in the developed world have, to quote The Joker in Dark Knight, brought them down to our level. The IMF’s structural adjustment plans of the 80s and 90s have devastating effects on educational and healthcare budgets of the developing world.
Can what happened in a AAA rated economy like that of the British occur in South Africa? Of course! In fact, who says it hasn’t began yet? Perhaps terms like “service delivery” protest contextualize and package it well enough not to give the Union Buildings sleepless nights. The SA Institute of Race Relations says there are some 147 991 child-headed households in our country, 2, 8 million young people between the ages of 18-24 aren’t employed nor have skills training. It’s not a case of if but more of when the younger citizens of this “rainbow nation”, whose gold of prosperity seems to be accessed by a privileged few, will make a London out this sordid national situation. The ANC Youth League has gradually become the (un)official voice of many young (black) people who’d like to see governing party vigorously change the status quo. Who knows what that will yield? In a piece on the English riots that appeared in the SACSIS site, Richard Pithouse, a politics lecturer at Rhodes University, sums it up thus:” And here in South Africa many of us remain invested in the fantasy that we are slowly building an inclusive nation, and that the ANC will, in time, recognise and act on the suffering of so many people. We don’t have anything like the depth of alienation and resentment that is so palpable in the housing estates in places like Hackney or Tottenham. But if the ANC continues to play the game of pretending that popular protest is always a result of criminality and sinister machinations of various sorts, we will, in time, end up amidst our own version of the smouldering ruins that are the underside of what the all too cosy nexus between big money, big media and the political elite has done to England over the last thirty years.”