Covid-19 pandemic has further weakened South Africa’s fragile peace

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the exclusion of even more South African residents from economic activity has further weakened the country’s already fragile peace.

This is one of the conclusions drawn by North-West University (NWU) academic Dr Gideon van Riet, who recently published an article based on three years of research in the JB Marks Municipality. The research focused on investigating the link between the Covid-19 pandemic and South Africa’s fragile peace through the lens of crime.

In the article, Dr Van Riet writes that Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist and the founder of Peace Studies, distinguishes between a positive peace and a negative peace.

“While the former is stable, the latter is fragile and characterised by much structural or indirect violence in the form of economic inequality and other forms of marginalisation. The distinction between a positive and a negative peace is analogous to a distinction between views of peace as an event versus peace as a process,” argues Dr Van Riet.

“The former views South Africa’s peace as something supposedly achieved in 1994 and therefore current crime levels are a function of individual deviousness, and therefore an aberration. From the view of peace as a process, crime is seen as a structural problem; a societal problem, in which all residents have a responsibility to intervene constructively.”

As walls go up, engagement stalls

He says constructive engagement is not happening. “Formal and informal borders are (re)made every day through diverse ‘security infrastructures’ such as physical barriers, security company patrols, alarm systems and various formal and informal institutions.

“Concomitant to societal divisions has been the reshuffling of the middle and upper classes after apartheid. The privileged group is now more diverse than ever. The government, which includes a large part of a new elite, has strategically promoted these complexities by playing groups off against each other, while benefitting from social division in the name of security,” he adds.

“If we understand peace as a process, then crime to a significant degree is a function of inequality in particular. As such the status quo, which in the wake of Covid-19 has excluded more South African residents from economic activity, is increasingly fragile. The post-Covid era – if this is possible – or the ‘new normal’ is likely to suffer the same ills that crippled the pre-Covid era, notably economic inequality and various other layers of marginality,” Dr Van Riet explains.

He says the political party system and the various invited (formal participatory democratic institutions) and invented (less formal spaces often hijacked by political parties) have not served those who live in South Africa well.

“Seemingly the only feasible solution, though relatively unexplored, is social mobilisation by the people themselves, across historical lines of division. Given that South Africa does not consist of two groups only, dynamic alliances around issues where different groups support the concerns of others may offer the most productive form of politics by which to tackle the new normal.”

About the researcher

Dr Gideon van Riet is a senior lecturer in political studies, and is the recipient of an African Peacebuilding Network-Social Science Research Council Individual Research Fellowship (2019).

He is interested in the theoretical evolution of critical security studies and contemporary debates within the field. Empirically, his research has thus far been in disaster studies and the problem of crime, specifically the response thereto beyond the state.

Dr Gideon van Riet

Dr Gideon van Riet

Submitted on Tue, 03/29/2022 - 13:42