Bradley Dubbelman

Initiatives that encourage local communities to work together to create social justice are vital in preventing collective violence carried out through service delivery protests and xenophobic violence, state the findings of a joint research report released by the Society, Work and Development Institute and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

The report, titled ‘The Smoke that Calls: insurgent citizenship, collective violence and the struggle for a place in the new South Africa’, identifies the underlying causes of collective violence and argues that violent protest is often the result of community frustration and is a last resort.

The report looked at eight cases of local communities that had experienced collective violence and, on the whole, argued that marginalisation, lack of community representation and the lack of economic and social citizenship were the main reasons why community members feel compelled to commit violent acts to convey their grievances.

Young men were identified as being the main instigators and participants in the violence due to their frustration at being unemployed with no real economic opportunity or prospects available to them. Further, the report argues that these young men use violence as an avenue to express their masculinity.

These violent strategies employed by certain communities are counter-productive in the sense that they simply reinforce the root cause of their grievances by alienating municipal leadership through violence and intimidation.

On this basis, the report argues that encouraging the community to address issues, through workshops that facilitate open dialogue and through community work programmes (CWPs), is key in preventing communities from venting their frustration through violent means.

The report identifies the case of the community of Bokfontein, in the North West province, that implemented a series of CWPs that were successful in creating local job opportunities through public works programmes and, in the process, created social justice in a community that was culturally diverse with high levels of inequality.