Dear Department of Defence,
So you stole a march on us, and for several hours yesterday afternoon and evening, the False Bay coast was pummelled by shooting that had windows shaking up and down the peninsula. The noise levels were off the charts: guns fired on Muizenberg's Sunrise Beach could be heard as far away as Langa and Hout Bay. And that was just the rehearsal: today we're going to have it much, much worse, with jets screaming and more guns thudding.
This is INSANE, inhumane, and a massive show of contempt for local residents, most especially those on the Cape Flats, many of whom live with constant trauma and fear of gangs, and for whom gunshots and loud bangs must be triggering and terrifying. How do you explain this barrage to a dog pissing itself in terror, a toddler screaming more hysterically with every explosion? How do you get the baby to sleep, the kids to do their homework? What if you need to rest before heading out to your midnight shift as a security guard or nurse? These are WEEK NIGHTS, you bozos.
I shouldn’t have to explain how utterly inappropriate this is. It's not just the cozy seaside suburbs being pummelled, but townships and low-income neighourhoods only a hop and a skip away -- places where folk can't afford ear-protectors or trips to the vet to get tranquillisers for their animals. Only four and a half kilometres from the beach where taxpayers’ money (yet more of it) is literally going up in smoke, we have Lavender Hill, an area so riddled with violence and guns that the death of children caught in gang crossfire is almost normal.
But hey, you’ve presented yet more guns as entertainment! You’ve even provided parking instructions! This is a particularly ugly version of "let them eat cake" to those who live in Grassy Park, Capricorn, Philippi, Rocklands, Lotus River, Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and other areas deafened by last night’s performance of machismo.
It’s the arrogance that’s so breath-taking. We know by now that the state’s attitude to the poor is “hmm, where shall we kick them today, in the teeth or the ribs?”, with the occasional murderous foray into abysmal human rights violations like Marikana and Life Esidimeni: but this is a boot to the groin for locals.
I don’t suppose the testosterone heads who dreamed up this shoot thought of the impact on poorer local residents, especially women (it will be mostly them walking up and down tonight, exhausted, crying children in their arms).
There is a very good reason not to stage military exercises in civilian zones: these are RESIDENTIAL areas. People have lives — social media is full of queries, from a new mother worrying about how to protect her week-old baby’s ears, from folk stumped about how to protect their pets given that they only get home from work late, or another night of trying to get the kids to bed when bedlam is breaking out.
There's also a high proportion of old-age homes for all income brackets in this area, and a state hospital in Fish Hoek -- how to explain to dementia patients in frail care that no, war hasn't broken out?
The impact goes beyond human beings. Whose spectacularly rotten idea was it to plan a massively disruptive military display in a sensitive marine area, featuring the few nature reserves still operational in low-income neighbourhoods?
I wrote to the City of Cape Town yesterday and got this mealy-mouthed response: “You are advised to request the SANDF for the Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The EMP puts in place a range of actions and measures to ensure that the event is sustainable, safe and that environmental concerns are addressed.”
This is almost Orwellian: firing live ammo into a fragile marine environment and over a nature reserve is SUSTAINABLE? Also please note: nothing that requires children and babies to wear ear-protectors and animals (and some humans) to be tranquillised can, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as "safe".
And don't give me that "everyone only cares about the animals" crap either. You may have noticed that the environment, both locally and globally, is on its knees. Why batter it further? Many domestic animals experience excessively loud noise as pain. You might be OK with the army choosing to administer an extended thrashing to your bewildered and petrified pet, but thousands aren't.
What dick-swinging arrogance is this, when the national power supplier can't even keep the lights on? If ever there was a time for the state to make a public show of austerity, it is now. The Navy just around the corner can't even maintain its rusting submarines, or put a stop to the poaching that finances organised crime around the country. Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town is merrily flushing shit into our oceans, so it’s hardly surprising that they’re not too bothered about a chaser of explosives.
But if money was going to be spent on a military show, you had so many other options: partnering with local firefighters to put on displays (dunno if you’ve noticed, but fire is a major problem in our drought-stricken country); marching bands and musical drills (for someone young, poor and musical, the Army is one of the few places of opportunity); civil emergency performances -- why not an exciting simulated sea rescue, with daring young people swinging from helicopters? The worst missed opportunity: the chance to stage a big, optimistic, educational anti-gangs and drugs display in nearby townships reeling from these twin poisons. You could have chosen to show young people trapped in misery zones like Lavender Hill and Manenburg that there are options for carrying weapons that involve pride, dignity and public service.
So the SANDF had an opportunity to present itself as a force for good: somewhere young people could go if they wanted jobs safeguarding their fellow citizens and their fragile environment -- instead of thumbing their noses at the former in a bullying show of sheer contempt, while blowing the latter to smithereens.
Simply in terms of self-interest, this is a spectacular PR fail. There’s an election only a few months away, and you pick this moment to alienate hundreds of thousands of voters? You’ve taken all that ordnance (paid for by us) and fired it into your own feet.
My only hope is that you spark massive civil disobedience tonight. I’d like to see thousands marching, a flotilla of small boats appearing on the horizon, swimmers and surfers in wetsuits in the firing zone. If I had the money, I’d pay the Mavericks plane to buzz up and down the shoreline with a banner reading STOP THIS WANK FEST.