Skip to main content

Peace Corps post of the week

My friend Noah runs into some trouble:
The people in the villages in this dirt road area have been asking for an asphalt road, or a tar road as it is called here, to be put in for some time. I have heard that they had been promised this road for years. Apparently it was all set to happen this year and the money was even allocated. Then the money was unallocated by some unexplained event and now the road is not going to be built. This made people angry, above all it made the taxi owners and operators very angry. The taxis don't last very long on the wash-boarded and rutted dirt roads which end up costing more for the taxis than travel on the tar roads. Money is a powerful motivator and the taxis were fed up so the next step they decided was to strike.


It really was not a good time for school to be let out because all of this week the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th graders are taking national tests. So I felt that we should at least try to let the learners finish the test. Alas, about 5 minutes later a bus stopped by and about 30 or 40 people came out and about 5 or 6 came into the office. They then had a brief conversation that I somewhat understood. Basically, they politely threatened to do bad things unless the school shut down. The students were sent home, which the students were happy about, and I watched on broodingly. I felt powerless and resented the fact that they were dragging people into their strike. As I said, the teachers were not very keen on keeping the school going and it really wasn't my place to get involved anyway so I watched in silence. In retrospect, it was probably a good idea to just shut the school down anyway, even if all the teachers did want to keep school going, we would not have lasted long against a bus full of angry people.

Since then, the schools have been closed and there have been regular protests bordering on riots in "T". They have been burning tires and blockading roads as well as burning tires outside of the post office and government halls and even burning some schools. There were many arrests and some people were shot with rubber bullets. I have heard lots of rumors but I can't be sure of their validity so I won't repeat them here. It sounds much worse than it actually is.


My thoughts on the whole situation are somewhat mixed. I do think the strikers/rioters are partially justified because the money they were promised for a fairly important project was mysteriously spent elsewhere. I don't think this was a particularly good time or way to go about showing their discontent though, almost everyone's attention and most of SA's money is being funneled to the World Cup so I don't think they will see anything until July. Moreover, why set fire to the school's and the post office? That seems like they are only hurting themselves or at least their own community but I don't know much about effective riots.
This kind of thing happens all the time--they've got a word for it, toi toi. It's always called "striking" here, but this case (like many others) seems categorically different--a strike is where you refuse to work en masse, not where you also force other entirely unrelated businesses and activities to stop as well, with accompanying random violence. What do you call it? Riot seems too unfocused, but perhaps it's good enough. (Noah's example, while disturbing, is pretty tame by the standards here. The taxi associations in Joburg have been waging war on a new bus system in Soweto.)

One wonders what happened to the money, but the "tenderpreneurs" (in Pierre De Vos's phrase) are the first likely suspects. I agree with Noah's feelings on the matter--that the riot (or whatever) was at least somewhat justified, but not to the scale and level of destruction it reached. It seems a common feature of the culture of entitlement I see often here, where if needs are not met immediately, the first reaction of a small but sizable number is to burn shit down. Regardless, I'm glad Noah's safe and let's hope this all blows over soon.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

The Basic Instinct of Socialism

This year I finally decided to stop beating around the bush and start calling myself a democratic socialist. I think the reason for the long hesitation is the very long record of horrifying atrocities carried out by self-described socialist countries. Of course, there is no social system that doesn't have a long, bloody rap sheet, capitalism very much included . But I've never described myself as a capitalist either, and the whole point of socialism is that it's supposed to be better than that. So of course I cannot be a tankie — Stalin and Mao were evil, terrible butchers, some of the worst people who ever lived. There are two basic lessons to be learned from the failures of Soviet and Chinese Communism, I think. One is that Marxism-Leninism is not a just or workable system. One cannot simply skip over capitalist development, and any socialist project must be democratic and preserve basic liberal freedoms. The second, perhaps more profound lesson, is that there is no s

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves that