Is this how human rights smell?
The stench from the decaying corpses of animals in a pit nearby whiffed into the bus where we, a group of theologians, church workers and community activists from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya were parked on a manmade hillock overlooking the dump site on the outskirts of Mamelodi township, and still further away from the affluent east of Pretoria, South Africa. It was not safe for us to go any closer. The supervisor of the site heaved himself into the bus, recounting the layout and workings of the dump site, his words mingling with the stench outside. He tells of the different groups recycling different kinds of waste, how much they earn per kilogram compared to what the recycling company receives (and I thought the company did the recycling themselves). He tells of people giving birth on the site, of occasional police raids and the people, mostly illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe, disappearing for a day or two only to return and make their livelihood on the site. He tells of fights between the different groupings on the site and how dangerous it can be. There is a certain desperation in his voice, but also an empathy. A participant from Zimbabwe sitting next to me, explained that these immigrants were treated as garbage in Zimbabwe, mainly coming from a group that opposed the governing party there…and now they work with garbage in these desperate circumstances.
Is this how justice smells? The question implies that justice, and the effect of justice in a particular space is a bodily enterprise. So how does justice smell, and specifically spatial justice? I am not quite sure, but what I do sense that it is not only about the smelling of justice, but also the tasting of it, the feelings of it, the speaking of it, the hearing of it; the whole bodily experiencing of justice in a certain space. It is the embodied sensing of meaning in a space where justice is strived for.
This is an extract from an article I wrote a while ago: How does justice smell? Reflections on space and place, justice and the body. https://hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/3492