Fertiliser for fundamentalism

Saturday, 9 November 1996

There was a blistering heat wave gripping much of the country this week, but not the Cape Peninsula where the heat was of a different kind...

THERE'S an astonishing variety of shops at Cape Town's V&A Waterfront — that glittering shopping and entertainment palace that arose from the dockyard squalor of not so long ago.

Africa's hottest chilli sauce is to be found here, along with Australian digeridoos, American trucker belt buckles, and varieties of coffee from around the world.

And of course those ridiculous tee shirts that read Ouma en oupa het Kaapstad toe gegaan en alles wat hulle vir my gekry het is hierdie ou hempie.

One of these shops sells porcelain silkware — plates, jugs, cups and the like are carefully covered with silk and hand painted with delicate sensitive motifs for the thinking caring adults of the '90s.

A sales assistant there sauntered towards me oozing goodwill. "Aren't these just lovely, I mean, just lovely? They're exactly what you need to make your home absolutely perfect!"

"Hmmm. I don't know," said I. "We really wouldn't mind these if the pictures were slightly more exciting. Don't you have something with bloodied skulls or ritual mutilations?"

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Shock! Horror! "Oooh, absolutely not! We're all pacifists here. We're all vegetarians and we meditate regularly. Our designs are intended to convey peace and tranquillity. So necessary in this modern world, I mean, so necessary."

"Interesting," says I. "Couldn't you have chosen a less violent means to express yourself then?"

Startled look. "Violent? Us? Never!"

"So then, where does your silk come from?"

"From China, I believe."

"And how do they make it in China?"

"Why, they weave it."

"Yes, and what do they weave it from?"

"Er... from plants?"

"No, not from plants, from silkworms. They wait for these cute little larvae to wrap themselves in warm winter jackets expecting to wake to a happy life flitting from tree to flower as moths. Then they steal those warm winter jackets. And do you know how they steal those jackets?"

Startled look. "No. How do they?"

"They plunge those cocoons into boiling water, where the struggling pupae die a horrible painful death! All this for something which has only cosmetic value!"

His lower lip quivered. "Well, we guarantee these to be karma-free." He left quickly.

It was into this environment that one group of people using the name People Against Gangsterism And Drugs brought a protest march on Sunday. During the confrontation with the police which ensued, Achmat Najjaar was shot dead.

The police said they used only rubber bullets, and that the slug extracted at the autopsy did not match any weapon normally used by the force. Pagad is unconvinced.

What's going on here?

This is a question that all of us should be asking,and not just because Cape Town is gearing up to represent all of us with their bid to host the Olympics in 2004.

There appears to be a dangerous undercurrent in many parts of society that would attempt to categorise Pagad as a manifestation of Islamic fundamentalism and to recommend the use of force to protect the values of "civil society".

But religious fundamentalism — be it the Islamic variety of the middle east, or that of the Tamil Tigers or Sinn Fein — is a warning sign of deeper problems.

In the case of Pagad, this problem is that of an emerging middle class community in close proximity to severely economically depressed settlements.

The middle class communities are the source of income for the druglords that rule among the destitute.

Patronage ensures the druglords a large degree of support among a community that does not have money to buy expensive drugs.

Now the middle class have taken up arms, and their method of mobilisation has been Pagad. Many of the members of Pagad use Islam as their rallying point, and many do so fanatically.

When the stability of a community is not threatened, fundamentalism finds no fertiliser. The middle class communities that make up Pagad have not been able to escape the crime and mayhem that ensues from proximity to poverty.

And that's the problem that needs to be addressed. The Cape Peninsula is first to show the symptoms. If we're not careful, the rest of the country will follow.