Opinion

Gang violence is an 'us-problem'

Gang violence is an 'us-problem'
Even with yet another spate of killings over the weekend, and as soldiers begin their deployment to gang-ridden areas to support local police operations, more and more voices question the wisdom of a military intervention.

Proponents of army deployment argue for the urgent need for safety; while critics argue the move may weaken the resolve of communities to act on their own behalf.

An emerging consensus argue that deploying soldiers could at best be a temporary option; sustainable solutions must grow from within affected communities and outside support should enable their attempts to do so. However, whatever the mix of increased policing, community initiatives and empowerment partnerships, underlying confusions in how we make sense of the problem continue to hamper how much we can do.

A first unintended confusion relates to where we locate the problem. To deploy the military to hot spot areas of Bishop Lavis, Delft, Elsies River, Kraaifontein, Khayelitsha, Manenberg, Mfuleni, Mitchells Plain, Nyanga and Philippi, tells us that this is their problem.

To argue that support must be directed at mainly local community initiatives in the effected areas, also makes it their problem.

Yes, the problem is hottest there, but it is ours; it is an us-problem, not a them-problem.

The social myth of “distance”, which tells us that the lives lived in the ghetto, the township and the suburb are too far apart for people to act together, sustains this belief in an us-and-them scenario. Yes, lives do differ vastly across communities, but there are important similarities that debunk this myth of insurmountable distance.

Young people from deprived communities move between different socio-economic areas when they go to school, socialise, look for work, or even as gang-members to commit crime. To survive, they must know and continuously change how they talk and behave to fit in - they must navigate the unending contradictions of current-day society.

Young people from well-resourced communities often relate similar experiences of having to “code-switch” as they navigate diverse public spaces and interact with young people from different backgrounds.

Ambiguity, being ‘in-between’, being mobile and hustling to get somewhere are the similar themes of youth struggles across communities.

To recognise these uncomfortable similarities when the struggles that play out in their lives differ so vastly is one way to make sense of the problem as a shared one.

A second unintended confusion relates to who we think will solve the problem. When the army arrives it seems an act of desperation on behalf of communities seemingly unable to solve their own problems.

When outside interventions bring capacity to local communities it seems as if the know-how and shared will to solve the problem are absent.

The underlying message is that outside help is best as local communities lack the required will and skills.

Yes, gang-violence is a complex problem, and yet, having struggled for democracy, local communities have lived with and overcame heavy complexities. The myth of a ‘social void’ in deprived communities, which tells us that gang-ridden communities lack social cohesion or solidarities, sustains the belief that outside agencies will bring the greater contribution to interventions.

However, to be close to others defines life here, from extended families and street-level togetherness to local NGOs ranging from stokvels to community policing forums.

Specialist practitioners with detailed know-how over time emerge from gang-ridden communities.

To recognise the depth of community know-how on the complexities of the problem is one way of understanding that we have more resources than we know to address the problem.

* Buys serves as executive dean and dean of humanities at the non-profit and social justice focused private higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.