News reports on the violence and looting of the past weeks have made way for reports on taxi violence.

The war between the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association and Congress of Democratic Taxi Association since the start of July disrupted the lives of several Cape Town communities, including that of a 5-month-old baby caught in the crossfire and wounded during a shooting in Khayelitsha.

At the heart of the feud lies a route between Bellville and Paarl. The provincial government subsequently closed it for two months to restore peace and allow the warring parties to reach agreement.

These differences in incidents of taxi violence and another isolated incident of looting reveal an underlying tension of chronic and transitional events in the life of a transforming society. Picture Leon Lestrade/African News Agency/ANA.

Senior political leaders brokered a shaky ceasefire and hope for a settlement is high.

Hidden among these reports was a story of looting at a tuckshop, also in Khayelitsha. Two boys were arrested after a group of residents broke into and looted a local supermarket. Some of the items were recovered after members of the local community intervened, but when they searched the area, the police found the two hiding with looted items. The owners did not press charges.

No other such incidents took place in the area. This incident is not thought to be part of the larger wave of violence and looting. On the face of it, the two incidents of a baby wounded in the crossfire and of two boys, aged 14 and 15, arrested for looting groceries, seem to be completely different.

They are however similar in several ways, even if at different levels of intensity and focus. The incidents both involve violence, leave the innocent to carry the brunt and are resolved when a broader community intervenes to restore peace.

At a deeper level the incidents are also similar in that they reveal the complexity of continuing social inequality, poverty and violence, as well as the skill of communities to build peace and resolve conflict.

The more hidden and disturbing differences between the two incidents relate to what those involved battle for, and its continuing occurrence or not. Whereas the taxi associations seem to battle for rights to profitable routes, the looters broke into a supermarket for groceries – indifference to the needs of communities seems to be the overriding sentiment of the taxi shooting incident, while despair played a role in the looting of groceries.

Whereas the looting incident seems to have been a once-off occurrence in that community, the shooting incident is a familiar occurrence in what seems to be a continuing taxi war.

These differences reveal an underlying tension of chronic and transitional events in the life of a transforming society.

“Chronic” events refer to societal realities and challenges that continue for years and from generation to generation.

“Transitional” events refer to realities and challenges that emerge in and as a society moves from a worse to a better state of affairs.

The underlying promise of a better future associated with transitional realities makes a society more patient with such events, as when two despairing boys loot. The threat of a return to a troubled past associated with chronic realities aggravates society, as when indifferent taxis remain at war.

At the same time, the interventions for peace in both cases seem to be more transitional than chronic – more incidental than continuing. What a transforming society then needs is for the hopeful realities of people building bridges to become chronic and not transitional, as when warring parties agree to a ceasefire, and owners refuse to press charges against two boys.

* Buys is the executive dean at the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute, and editor of the African Journal of Non-profit Higher Education.


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