Thursday, 30 April 2009

Gated Communities II : the Victims Forever syndrome

The image shows the spatial distribution of different races in South Africa in 1979.

Spatial arrangement is indeed the truest reflection of the society. The way how we live and where we live shows who we are, what we believe in and what factors influence our choices. Such a belief made me continue the theme of gated communities, which this time has brought me to absolutely different frontiers.

Gated community was just a starting point of a discussion with my South African friend, and then the entire South African dilemma followed. Indeed, I should not have put the Latin American and South African gated communities into the same context, as I did in the previous article. Although the spatial and architectural language may look similar, the story and the actors are very different. As Joa put it - the gated communities in South Africa are the only way for white people to survive in a state where the justice system is ineffective against crime, or, in other words, where both justice and crime is Black, where racial discrimination against Whites is justified, where there is no moral incentive to obey the law and the crime rate has increased to such extent that it has became socially acceptable.

It is for these major reasons that people put up electrified fences on top of their garden walls, do not stop at stoplights with a fear of carjack and invent all sorts of gadgets, like “flame throwers” against criminals. The gated community is a more or less secure bubble in a racially and socially segregated society and the daily life passes in moving fast from one to another such place with no stop in between.

Seen in such context the gated community in South Africa is not as much a question of class division, consumerism, fetish or elite lifestyle, as the lifestyle according to the color of skin. Here one should not be deceived by the fact that the Apartheid is over. The colonial legacy has “justified” the hatred of black population towards the Whites and the post-Apartheid period fuelled it even worse. Even since the end of Apartheid, only five thousand of South Africa's 35 million black citizens earn more than $60,000 a year, while the number of Whites in that income bracket is twenty times higher, and many earn far more than that amount. Since 1994, under the white dominated economy and black government enforcing neo-liberal policies, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has doubled; In 2006, more than one in four South Africans lived in shacks located in informal shantytowns.

But despite these hardships, there is the promised freedom for Black and Colored South Africa. Those, who have been the victims of colonial policies, got a chance to score off. The Whites who were the authors of segregation regime and who distanced themselves from the rest of the population through their mass resettlements and clearance of the White Zones, now find themselves trapped in the very system that they have devised. The gated zones are a clear target of violence and crime, which is often supplemented by the ignorance or harassment by the police.

In the post-Apartheid “Rainbow Nation” the racial discrimination and oppression are formally over. This formality implies that there is no mention about vindictive discrimination against white population and no complain about the continuing exploitation of the black labour, which never saw the re-distribution of wealth, promised by the Freedom Charter. This formality assigns the status - Apartheid Victim to the Black that transcends to generations and seems to last forever no matter what faults or crimes may be committed by its holders. All this has damaged the mentality of people no less than the Apartheid did. It has mingled the judgment of write and wrong, it has taken away the reality through the dazzling “compassion” of international aid. The black population of South Africa indeed remains as impoverished and exploited as ever, but now it is empowered with an illusion of freedom and the status of Victim Forever that gives birth to unrestrained behavior and violence.

Looking at the future perspectives the vicious circle seems closed: as the actual victims and witnesses of the Apartheid grow older, the new generation, grown up in the post-Apartheid period, finds itself in a worse situation, because the legitimized racial oppression which was popularly condemned at international level, has changed into an economic slavery which, tagged with the democracy label, is rather deliberate and not as unacceptable for international community. This is a system which produces new victims, but this time they are faceless and voiceless as they are not exotic anymore, but ordinary slaves, kind of which are abundant all over the world. The result is that the people deceived and disappointed in their greatest expectations and have nothing to loose, do not care about formal law and justice. The old status of Apartheid Victim is a sole comfort when choosing the new way of life – crime, chaos, hatred.


  1. I would not agree with the statement that the issue of gated communities in South Africa is a racial issue rather than a class issue. It might appear that these gated communities (or electrified fence mansions) are white phenomenon, but that is far from true. The new elites that were created through affirmative action (which is not exactly racial discrimination against whites, but rather regulatory frameworks to encourage more black representation in the economy) and black economic empowerment do mix perfectly well with the "old" and mainly white elites. They also live in the same areas and lead similar lifestyles in their everyday lives. Fact is that they have similar fears vis-a-vis growing social inequality and thus crime as what is sought is their material wealth regardless of their skin color. To see crime as a racially informed way of revenge is a myth that especially white expats try to hold up.

    I would argue that a racially divided society under apartheid is transformed very rapidly into a class society which of course is still overwhelmingly divided along racial lines for historical reasons. What is still surprising to me is the fact that all our southern African liberation struggles which are rooted in socialist if not communist ideology, managed to pull of a neo-liberal project that assured the old elites while emancipating very small new (political) elites and left the rest of the populations waiting in vain for the trickle-down effect that economic development is argued to provide.

  2. Hi philip, Thanks for taking your time and reading the blog. I am happy to hear your comments. Now, re-reading the text I would agree that perhaps there is an ambiguity in the content. e.g. I do not exclude the fact of segregation along classes, and I think I managed to bring some data how vast the poor population of the SA is, including that the black and colored population never saw the promised re-distribution of wealth, etc.
    I am also far from insisting that my opinion couldn't have been influenced by the White expats, although I tried to verify the information through internet articles/news (which I agree is not the scientific way, but this was also not the point of the article).
    What I would like to argue and explore, however, is the fact of the racial discrimination and segregation in the Post Apartheid SA. I strongly doubt that while the class division is there and even if the Black elite is perfectly mixed with the White one, the Racial issue should be there somewhere as an added layer. no? You should tell me more about this as you may know better.
    And finally, I think one can rewrite the history in 20 years but to actually change the course of the things - generations and more are needed, no? For me racial domination was very clear even in Mexico, where this issue may be older than in SA.

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