Here is an article on violence, or something, in the favelas of Brazil. It’s a well-written article, a sort of cultural psychology of slum life of Brazil. But is it about violence, or it is about some other thing, which, however, is easier to talk of as violence but is actually difficult to articulate?
I say the article is on violence because the title says “In Violent Favelas of Brazil“. It appeared in The New York Review of Books. But is this really about violence?
Yes, the writer, Suketu Mehta, observes that
“The cities of Brazil are some of the most violent places in the world today. More people are murdered in Brazil than in almost any other country. In 2010, there were 40,974 murders there—21 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), compared to the global rate of 6.9. The highest number of murders was in India, at 41,726. But India has a population six times bigger than Brazil’s, so its murder rate is only 3.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. (Italy, by comparison, had 529 murders that year, at a rate of 0.9.) Four Brazilian cities had a murder rate of over 100 per 100,000 residents. Between 5 percent to 8 percent of Brazilian homicides are solved—as compared to 65 percent of US murders and 90 percent of British murders. Most of the victims are male and poor, between fifteen and just shy of thirty. The homicide rate has shaved seven years off the life expectancy in the Rio favelas (slums).”
If Brazil with 21 per 100,000 is a violent country, South Africa is hell. According to the agency the article refers to, UNODC, in 2010 South Africa had 15 940 murders – or 31.8 per 100, 000. The latest figures for murder in South Africa are 15 609 (30.9/100,000).
And as I have said before, the mafia, which films have represented as dangerous to Italian society, are good for society. If Italy is considered violent with a rate of less than 1 per 100 000 murders, the mafia is what we need in South Africa.
This is an article on violence in the slums of Brazil should be of interest to anyone interested in murder, in young poor men of colour, in inequality, in race – “the white patrons on their way to the jazz club were raucous, laughing, energized by the thrill of the expedition to this clandestine destination” – in police violence and corruption, in rape. On rape, the writer makes an observation that resonates with something I have often remarked about South Africa. Mehta says:
“And this year another form of violence started making the headlines, with several high-profile cases of rape in Rio, including that of an American woman in a moving public bus. Rapes in the city increased 24 percent last year, to 1,972 reported cases. Sociologists and police officials are at a loss to explain this trend in a country where women are free to dress as they please, whose laws are often held up as a model for combatting gender violence, and whose president, Dilma Rousseff, is a woman.”
I have wondered aloud on some occasion why, in a democracy, is there rape when there should be nudity? Why, that is, does violence seem to be triggered by democracy?
Is it simply because women’s freedom is viewed by some as threatening men’s freedom? Or because freedom is rare?
Why should women’s rights to self-determination make some men unhappy?
So, again, what is this article that says it is on violence really about?
I guess the article is about all of those questions. And many others which don’t have ready answers. And, still, it is about how violence is the thread that knits all of them together, writes them into being as part of the same cloth. About the life with violence, a distinctive kind of life in which different subjects are positioned in society by violence.