There are a few places in the centre of Juba Town where returned, destitute Southerners have put up tents and shacks, often strung from the eaves of other houses and businesses, on the sides of the road. Most of the inhabitants of these street villages are old women and very young children in the daytime, with younger women returning and cooking in the evening, as well as some older disabled men.
So today, passing the crossing with the rubbish dump that houses several well-established families – including one tent that has been there for at least a year – I was surprised to see a bulldozer, no tents, and groups of people sitting, visibly angrily, by the side of the road, holding folded burlap and rolled bed matting.
I’ve written about Central Equatoria State/Juba Town Council’s happy go lucky policies of ‘kasha’ – land clearance – and their blind eye to land clearance done by ministries and other powerful people. I had been wondering when Juba Town would pull a Khartoum on their poor residents; apparently it’s started today.
The podcasts for all of the Juba Lectures 2013 are available online to download for free – and it’s worthwhile, as the debates this week have been dominated by South Sudanese voices asking questions and making strong points about how they see (or want to see) the basis of Southern political, cultural and social life built in the constitution.
Last night’s debate focused mainly on the basis of laws – and therefore social and political justice – in South Sudan. Much of the conversation revolved around the death penalty, still legal and carried out regularly here; execution – and the ability of which courts, traditional or legislative, to carry it out – served as a focal point for concerns over how conservative Southern society should be; whether “traditional” justice should be changed fast or actually codified and preserved as is; and the inability of youth and other marginalised people to challenge older generations and vested systems.
The Eritrean community went on a protest yesterday, about the two violent deaths of Eritrean men in Juba in the last few weeks. Xenophobia in South Sudan, particularly against nationals of neighbouring countries (or people who were long-term refugees in East Africa, or just look East African), is well-documented and depressing. The consequences of the protest, though, were widespread because of another key aspect of the Juba economy. The Eritrean community dominate the water trucking industry here, and they stopped work.
On Thursday 14th, last week, there was a demolition of a site in the centre of Juba. About twenty houses, tukuls and small business huts were flattened, the tin roofs lying among the mud bricks and bits of plastic buckets. Women were picking through the rubble, and men were standing about in small groups. We didn’t stop; there were some police watching things closely. But all the action was well over.
[Diesel advert reads: “Instead of conquering an island by killing the natives, we decided to simply buy it. (Besides, have you seen the price of weapons these days?) Diesel Island: Land of the Stupid, home of the Brave.”]
Not content with sexualising and appropriating various forms of culture – Native American stands out here, but fashion does love “tribal” stuff – this Diesel ad has been consistently annoying me this week.
Conquering an island is apparently still an option – although guns are pretty pricey at the mo! Thank heavens we can resort to white Western privilege and buy an island through some happy debt slavery. Apparently the Diesel campaign has the tagline ‘What would it be like to start a nation from scratch?’, and lets you become a citizen online. I would like to be a citizen in a world where these kind of adverts – yay references to genocidal invasion! – just didn’t happen.
I’m struggling to edit an essay today. I have neatly hit the wordcount, it definitely has facts in it (I’m not good at facts after three years of undergraduate Cambridge history and two years of legal practice) and I’ve done some minor trashing of the literature. I’m even pretty sure I have some kind of argument, but this is where I’m in trouble.
I’m writing about ‘xenophobic violence’ in South Africa – particularly after the 2008 killings in Gauteng of about 62 people who were, to the perpetrators, ‘foreigners’. A lot of people have explained how local structural problems of overcrowding, endemic violence, unemployment and media encitement were the neat causal factors for this violence.
However, a lot of these texts struggle slightly when they come to their conclusion – it’s hard to say that a lot of rational if extremely angry people make a definite decision that their problems will be eased, or at least they’ll feel a lot better, if they go out and do this:
Other writers, when they’ve tried to challenge this sort of gap between rational explanations and irrational burning of – in one instance – a nine-year-old girl, have gone for the ‘nationalism’ explanation: crass patriotism is I think a cunning way out of explaining mob violence, particularly when I think of the way the St Georges flag is associated in my mind with the massive fight between twenty football hooligans I had the joy of experiencing on a train platform once.
What makes people burn people? I’m not writing off housing and unemployment as explanations – which are nice dry ways of explaining how someone can lack shelter, food, security and hope. I also don’t want to underestimate how nasty the media and some politicians can be in inciting a good fervent hatred. But I think saying ‘it’s nationalism’ is a cop-out. So I’ve come up against trying to find my own conclusion. And this is where I’m stuck.