17 March 2014

South Africa: Hannibal Elector - How Bekkersdal Became a Symbol of Everything That's Wrong With South Africa


The contested location of Bekkersdal has become something of a shorthand for South Africa's democratic-era failures. But what makes Bekkersdal special? Why has it become so emblematic? And when everyone is performing for the cameras, what is true, what is false, and what do we learn from the fray? RICHARD POPLAK drinks at Joe's Tavern in order to find out why ANC officials get stoned when they visit - and not in a good way.

Bekkersdal. A circle of charred rubber and glass on a patch of asphalt. A shredded South African flag hanging from barbed wire. Shack leaning on shack leaning into an empty field pocked with garbage dumps. If you're looking for ground zero of the "service delivery" debacle in this country, you'll find it here: a dusty, flat, rubbish strewn mess located roughly twenty kilometres south of Soweto, and four billion light years west of Nelson Mandela's Rainbow Nation.

Since November of last year, the township has intermittently flared up with photogenic mayhem--tyres burning in the streets, youth toyi-toyiing with weapons in hand, buildings Molotov cocktailed into ash. Bekkersdal does not feel like a community in progress; it is not the child of a "new democracy", as ...

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