P.S. South Africa: watch out for the locusts

locust_effectReading Gary Haugen’s new book The Locust Effect was a consuming affair. It was sobering, thought-provoking, illuminating, and an emotional punch in the gut. Drawing from years of experience in seeking justice for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the book is a call to awareness and action. I confess that even though I was born and raised in Africa, even though I have a law degree, even though we have experienced violent crime first hand, even though I have been on mission trips…. I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that for the poorest in the developing world, violence is not just a problem. It is THE problem. 

But as I read, and formulated my thoughts on how to tell others about this reality, this challenge, this opportunity… there was a niggling thought at the back of my mind. A niggle which wouldn’t go away, and which I need to articulate here: The Locust Effect is a book written about the world’s poorest. It speaks of the poverty stricken in the developing world, and how crushed public justice systems have left them vulnerable to every day terror. Like a plague of locusts devastate everything in its path, so too violence destroys the little the poor have to live on, and threatens their daily existence.  (My review on Amazon is here, and my blog post on a beginner’s guide to the locust effect is here.)

But the niggle is this: the book may be talking about the poorest in the developing world, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was talking about South Africa too. South Africa is among the most developed and the wealthiest of all the countries in Africa: it is politically stable, it is economically robust and developing. But South Africa knows about the locusts of violence. It knows about the terror of vulnerability.

As such, I want to commend the Locust Effect to South African thinkers and talkers and prayers and community leaders – as a case study and conversation starter. The book offers case studies drawn from around the world, seeking understanding about why public justice systems in post-colonial eras have struggled to protect the most marginalized. The book highlights two reasons which are particularly relevant to the South African conversation:

1. The checkered history and development of law enforcement.

Haugen recounts the insights he gleaned from Kirpal Dhillon, the Former Director General of Police in the Indian states of Punjab and Madhya Pradesh and Vice Chancellor, Bhopal University, India. Dhillon’s experience and research into the history of the Indian police has given him invaluable insight into how policing in India got to be how it is today, with millions left without any protection or shelter from the law, and thus vulnerable to slavery, sex-trafficking and a host of other horrors. Dhillon explains that part of the problem in his endorsement of The Locust Effect:

“In a remarkably sensitive study, very aptly named The Locust Effect, the authors have provided many new valuable insights into the intimate relationship between poverty and violence plaguing the billions of global poor in many post-colonial societies across continents. This is also probably the first time that Western observers have come upon the unpleasant reality that it is, in fact, the native political establishments in South Asian countries themselves who stubbornly refuse to break away from the colonial ruler supportive police and criminal justice systems, concepts, laws, procedures, and mind sets imposed by the imperialist rulers, thus denying their peoples the benefits of a citizen friendly law enforcement system. An invaluable companion to all criminal justice studies.”

His point is that law enforcement in India was first established to protect the interests of the colonial rulers, not the everyman-on-the-street. Structurally, philosophically and logistically, they sought to protect those in power FROM the masses, not to protect the masses from abuses of power. When colonialism ended, the new structures of the country adopted the existing system without ever re-thinking or re-organizing the purpose of policing again, and the every day poor remain as unprotected by the “new” police as they were by the old.

South Africa is not where India is. The systems are not the same. But the question is an important one, and those in law, politics, public safety and policy formation would do well to ask – are we asking fresh questions for a fresh set of challenges, and helping our public justice system to serve the needs of the new South Africa? Or are we expecting an old system to do a new country’s work, and getting frustrated when it crumbles under the pressure?

2. The parallel system of private security

The second issue Haugen raises is to consider the effect that the rise of private security has had on justice for the poorest. In countries where violence happens and public justice systems are crumbling, those with means have responded by buying their own protection. Private Security is the biggest employer in Africa. Those who can afford it, can pay for a security guard to protect their place of business, a neighborhood watch patrol for their neighborhood. They can pay a lawyer or private investigator if they need to deal with public justice, to help them navigate the system. They can BUY the protection that the justice system should afford.

South Africans know all about this.

What The Locust Effect points out, though, is that when those with education, means and influence can pay for private security – they lose the need to advocate for better public security, and effectively abandon the system to further decay. Why get embroiled with an overworked public prosecutor when you can hire your own attorney to expedite a civil claim for relief? Why campaign for better training and resourcing for the local police when you can hire a crowd of better-paid, better-managed, neatly-uniformed security guards to keep your home safe?

The result is that less political will, less community urgency, less debate and pressure and leverage goes towards making a public justice system that is better for ALL.

South Africa has not been razed by a plague of locusts yet. But we know about violence, and my nagging feeling is that there are helpful lessons to learn from others’ experience. We cannot afford to give up on the police and courts in South Africa. For the sake of the WHOLE country’s vulnerability to the locusts of violence, we can learn lessons and glean hope from others’ experience. The Locust Effect is about how the end of poverty requires the end of violence. And the implications are clear: when we take a stand against violence, we will push back against poverty too.

I’m giving away two copies of the Locust Effect this week on my blog. You can enter here.  You can read more and watch some incredible short videos on it at the Locust Effect Website. And the book will be available in South Africa in April 2014: order your copies from Kalahari or Exclusive Books.

3 thoughts on “P.S. South Africa: watch out for the locusts

  1. Pingback: Pick of the Clicks and a WINNER 2/8/2014 | bronwyn's corner

  2. Wow, sista! Powerful words as usual! Do you ever think, wonder… if God will call u back to SA to do just this… fight for human rights! Let me know when He does that…! ;-)

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    • Thanks, Ciska! I wonder what The Lord has in store for us. For now, it was a surprise and a total God-thing to have had the opportunity to write about this issue. It is a ministry opportunity which ties in my law background and this surprise adventure in writing in a way that I could never have imagined. God just keeps surprising me!

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