Slow Violence : The story of The Little Combustion

Have you ever wondered what happens to the water in our drain, the gasses in our air, the cellphone radiation from our packet, the effects of nuclear weapons. There are in some cases an immediate reaction, the nuclear bomb was an actual bomb. By 1998, 2048 nuclear bombs were recorded. Interesting, allegedly South Africa and Israel conducted a joint test in the Indan Ocean in 1979, South Africa dismantled its weapons in 1989 and to date remains the only country in history to surrender its weapons for peace (2011). But, there are still, 40 years later the after effects of these immediate actions. Effects such as babies born without limbs, deformed or missing organs and much more. This ‘after effect’ is called Slow Violence. Violence against animals, against humans, against the earth.

This blog will demonstrate and portray Nikon’s idea of slow violence (2011) through a series of images as well as his definition thereof. His article Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor as well as other sources for the story of The Little Combustion will be used.

Nixon’s notion of ‘slow violence’

Nixon (2011) describes slow violence to be violence that occurs gradually and out of sight,a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. The idea that violence occurs only days, weeks, or even decades after the initial attack is a new concept for most people. The violence is rather incremental and accretive. He says these kinds of violences are climate change, toxic drift, biomagnification, deforestation, the radioactive aftermaths of wars, acidifying oceans, and a host of other slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes. He terms these actions ‘the long – dyings’ which are both a human and ecological result of damage towards the earth.

The story of The Little Combustion

Figure 1: A little Combustion. Image available from auto

When walking to university every morning, I am faced with the dull, but ever present smell of a cars exhaust. Living in Pretoria, I boarder Johannesburg, which is rated the city with the most polluted air in Africa (2015). Although South Africa’s population mainly uses public transport, in the urban areas families have an average of three cars (2014).

The story of one little combustion from your own car seems a larger story now, as it involves your neighbours, uncle, aunts and your whole city’s little combustion too.

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Figure 2: Look familiar? Image available from

The combustion from a car reminds me of that from a cigarette. Both share the same ———— smoke, both are blown unapologetically into ones face and both are bad for the human physique as well as the environment. What more with this little cigarette butt is that it is also responsible for most of the Eastern Cape’s veld fires. One small butt that was not extinguished properly has cost the lives of animals and precious farming land.


As we can see, our little combustion that started off with only our own city’s combustion, has now got a relative, one that involves 1 billion people around the world(2010).

Figure 3: A little more combustion… Image available from

Figure 3 relates to to the others as it is also combustion, possibly caused by a cigarette butt. This veld fire also relates to the previous two images because all three contribute to the damage in the ozone layer, air pollution and adding to the fossil fuel count. In 2014, there were 1679 fires between June and August 2014 recoded in South Africa(2014). This statistic is 40% more than the previous years statistics. In many instances these fires have been linked to prolonged periods of little or no rain, coupled with warm, dry winds. Another major factor has been the expansion of urban areas into natural veld and forest areas, thereby exposing lives and homes to fires in the neighboring veld, and simultaneously increasing the chance of veldfires being started. Yet, global warming which is caused by the increasing amount of toxins related into the air, is the main reason that the air is abnormally dry.


Figure 4: This will start looking familiar too… 

Lastly, figure 4, is an image of a pair of lungs without and with cancer. Lung cancer is often caused by smoking, over exposure to too much air pollution and other dangerous toxins entering the lungs. This image reminds me of the previous images regarding the colours as well as the cause of the damager. What all the images also have in common is that they can be caused by one person or action yet affect thousands of people and lives around them. Even lung cancer, may only be contracted by one person yet, their whole family and community may be affected by their absence.

In conclusion, there are billions of kinds of slow violence that everyone in the modern world/anthropocene is doing, consciously and subconsciously. Some that affect only ourselves and others that affect millions of people around us and then even more that we will only see the affects of in a couple thousand years time. The idea is to raise awareness and conciseness. Together we can begin to correct and deal with this issue. Together we can help save and create a cleaner and safer planet.

For more articles regarding Slow Violence as well as DigEcoAction, please search the hashtag and follow other environmental blogs.




Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

News24. 2015. South Africa’s Air Pollution Hotspots. [Online] Available from – [Accessed : 1/04/2016].

OFM. 2014. Worst Fires in 7 Years. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

YouTube. 2011. Nuclear Weapons: A Time-Lapse History. The Daily Conversation. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 18/04/2016].

Feature Image: The Age. 2007. Boys will be Boys; add a fast car and Tragedy Awaits. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

Figure1: Auto Guide. 2013. What does the Smoke from my Exhaust Mean? [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

Figure 2: Hello WEBZ. 2015. What’s in a cigarette smoke? Is it harmful? [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

Figure 3: News Day. 2015. Veld Fire Season: The Country is Literally Burning. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed one 21/04/2016].

Figure 4: Stage Four Cancer. 2015. Lung Cancer Treatments. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].