SA Violence: Beware the ‘Clash of Civilisations’

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As soon as black students started attacking monuments of white supremacy, and idols of the religion of Capitalism, they were going too far, the next thing was to attack white bodies, people.
Once again, the weapon of the last resort, black anger was marshaled, sponsored and deployed to the weakest link; the foreigners, the statues and what they represent are no longer the topic.
THE poor-on-poor, and black-on-black violence that is presently spreading in South Africa must jolt all of us in the thinking world to some contemplation about our thinking in politics. In the true fashion of the Marikana massacre where poorly paid black police officers gunned down poorly paid black miners while the real owners and sponsors of the violence remained concealed but not entirely unknown, the perpetrators of the current violence have names and faces, it is the sponsors and the owners of the agenda that remain in the dark, but they are knowable, I argue. The capital falsehood surrounding this violence that has potential to escalate into a continental crisis is that it is mysterious, spontaneous and that the South African state can do little or nothing to stop it.
That the ongoing golgothic spectacles of violence on foreign nationals stand to dethrone South Africa from being a symbol of liberation in the world does not need emphasis. What cries out for emphasis is that South Africa is about to degenerate into a site of many of the world’s cultural and political conflicts, which might shape the Republic into a location of terror and the war against it. As a country that is presently home to peoples of all languages, races and cultures of the entire globe, any politics that privileges violence along the lines of cultural and national differences is bound to spark a clash of civilizations with bloody consequences for the continent and the world.
The ANC administration, in its inability or unwillingness to crush the violence, might believe that it is carefully juggling between keeping the votes of the angry and increasingly violent mobs and keeping a healthy diplomatic conscience by mouthing the rhetoric of protection of foreigners, might soon realize that they preferred party security over national security and continental order.Advertisement

I write in this article to survey the causalities, complications, consequences and possible solutions to the ensuing violence in South Africa that is eroding what has previously been regarded as a miraculous transition from apartheid to an exemplary democracy. Journalistically and even academically, I argue that the present inferno of violence is not divorced from the recent events around the drive by black students in South Africa to cause the removal of statues that monumentalized colonial personalities and ideals.
The Civilizational challenge
To start with, in the present world order, people are not attacked because they are foreigners but they are foreigners because they have been attacked already by a cruel world system that classified humanity, since 1492, according to race. From the time of conquests and colonial encounters, the erection of borders and illegilisation of difference, foreign bodies, aliens and arrivants and travellers are candidates for attack and death. In South Africa the apartheid system had an intense project of criminalizing racial, tribal, ethnic and geographic differences to the extent of coming with a philosophical and ideological excuse in the form of the need for “separate development.”
The request by the government for foreigners to return to their countries, and the violence by mobs to push the foreigners out, are all suggestions for separate development. In addition to this pathology, there is in South Africa an enduring sentiment of South African exceptionalism that was created by apartheid which imagined South Africa as a piece of white Europe in Africa, exclusive and closed to black bodies except those that are labourers and serviles. There are youths today in South Africa who still believe that Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tanzania and other countries are African countries while South Africa is read to mean in the South of Africa not the South in Africa.
The question that haunts us presently; is how do we apply a generational solution to a civilizational problem? The geographic colonial borders that persecute us today are less oppressive than the borders in our minds, the stereotypes and stigmas that we have built and believed in our minds about peoples from other countries. It is not an accident that as I write presently, the South African government has introduced a new regime of laws and regulations that have made it next to impossible for foreigners to work and or study in the Republic. There is pressure for South Africa to get out of Africa and for Africans to get out of South Africa. Biopolitics and Geopolitics are being used to exclude the weaker other.
Tired, angry and bored Nationalism
Nationalism, that revolutionary spirit that we invoked in the fight against colonialism is naturally xenophobic. The moment we call ourselves a nation, we naturally call those that are not part of our nation outsiders, others. Left alone, nationalism will attack outsiders and others.  It is for that reason that the grandfathers of Africa such as Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere built Pan-Africanism or African Unity to guard against what Achille Mbembe has called “national chauvinism” that goes with nationalism.
In the current South African historical and political landscape, the Pan-African spirit is dead, what is alive is the national spirit. South African nationalism is presently eating foreigners because the South African state has neglected, in a dangerous way, the Pan-African spirit. When Jacob Zuma himself carelessly said Johannesburg roads are not “like some road in Malawi,” but special roads in a first world necropolis, he was speaking out the present South African national sentiment which is orphaned of Africanity. Achille Mbembe has also ably observed that as this is happening, South African big businesses, white owned and black fronted, are expanding into the continent of Africa while at the same time South Africa is squeezing Africans out of South Africa. This condition makes South Africa imperial and tyrannical in its international relations.
During the struggle against apartheid, South Africa mobilized nationalism and Pan-Africanism to fight the apartheid regime. “Free Mandela!” was a continental slogan. Presently, South Africa is demobilizing Pan-Africanism and privileging a dangerously narrow nationalism that might soon degenerate into even narrower tribal skirmishes that would not be easy to extinguish.
The anger and the energy to overthrow apartheid by force were suddenly turned into celebration of an imaginary rainbow nation. Mandela the hero of liberation suddenly turned into a hero of forgiveness and reconciliation. Beneficiaries of apartheid kept their benefits, the victims of apartheid kept their misery and their new Heroes. History was short-circuited. The anger remained pent up and bottled up behind the rainbow. That anger emerges in service delivery protests when South Africans burn trains and buildings; that anger emerges in brutal murders and in suicides. Frantz Fanon said it when he described the “pitfalls of national consciousness” that “these foreigners are called on to leave; their shops are burned, their street stalls are wrecked.” South Africa is presently experiencing debilitating pitfalls of national consciousness.
Also, when nationalism has nothing to do, when it has no project to inspire it and to direct its energies, it gets bored and it invents enemies out of the weak. It makes a sport out of eating them and brutalizing them. Nationalism does not know how to play, it kills. If it does not recognize any enemy it invents and discovers one in the outsider and the stranger. Nationalism is also a big coward, it can see the real enemy but it will choose to brutalize the easy target at the bottom of the food chain, the foreigner.
As I will argue later, South African national consciousness has large reserves of bottled up pain, anger and rage that came out of years of dehumanizing racialised apartheid. This anger has become a resource and a weapon in the hands of dodgy, shady and criminal elements within the polity, the economy and the academy of South Africa that have a way of releasing it towards any place or group as and when their interests are threatened.
This time around, I argue, the anger of students and other sections of the populace who were, in increasing numbers, demanding the destruction of colonial symbols, was getting closer to the sacred cows of the world system and the protected children of the ruling world order. Unlike the Mohammedans who slaughter people whenever the name or the image of the Prophet Mohammed are insulted, the firstborns of the planet do not slaughter people with their hands, they get people to slaughter one another.
To illustrate the point on the difference between the firstborns and the lastborns of the planet, when a firstborn son of humanity, in a rage, drives a plane full of people into a mountain, he is sick, he needed help, we are all supposed to be sorry. Expert investigators will discover medication and proof of sickness in his belongings. If a lastborn of civilization does the same, he is a terrorist, he was evil, and the chemicals found in his possesions were drugs and not medication. Mawuna Remarque Koutonin recently asked the fundamental question of “Why are white people working in other countries called expatriates and black people immigrants?”
The fear of Freedom, Politics of Fear and the fear of politics
Paulo Freire, that prophet of liberation, argued vividly that oppressed persons oftentimes fear their own freedom to the extent that they can attack each other in order to preserve and protect the oppressor. When some security guards are on strike in South Africa, they shoot their fellow guards who refuse to join the strike in protest for better wages and working conditions. The big white boss who is not paying them enough and is the principal cause of their poverty and unhappiness does not get shot. Fanon also said that the colonized and the oppressed person is a potential coloniser and an oppressor.
The powerless victims of apartheid, who inherited misery from the miracle of 1994 cannot, out of fear of their own freedom, confront the white beneficiaries of apartheid; they would rather slaughter each other with okapis and burn each other in Alexandra, while across the road in Sandton, the white people watch in wonderment. Albert Memmi, in his classic, The Coloniser and the Colonised, also described this psychosis where intense oppression causes the oppressed to not only fear but also admire and, in a strange sort of, way love the oppressor.
The angry mobs will attack a Tanzanian barber by the street corner, loot a Somali Spaza shop by the other corner, and burn the tin shack of a Zambian Sangoma who sells penis enlargement herbs and vagina shrinking muti in the informal settlements. The woman from Zimbabwe who sells Mopani worms under the tree is also forced to leave, for stealing the economy! The big miners, farmers and owners of conglomerates remain protected by the law, by the love, admiration and fear of the oppressed, the fear of freedom. By now, the owners of the economy know that as soon as these unwashed masses begin to look at the food in their hands with potentially violent envy, they know how to use some morsels of left over bread to set them up against each other.
The fear of politics and the politics of fear are cleverly fleshed out by Michael Neocosmos, a professor who researches on global movements and migration. In the politics of fear, young people grow up being told myth and horror folktales about the evil of foreigners who must be feared and therefore hated. In the fear of politics, politicians and policy makers are afraid of using their power and agency to make changes to policies and structures that oppress people.
An example of the fear of politics is how all African revolutionaries and revolutionaries of the entire global South have been afraid to undo colonial borders and boundaries which continue to exercise coloniality and to divide the peoples of the global South on fake grounds, in actuality. In as much as the black-on-black and poor-on-poor violence in South Africa sends the unfortunate message that black people need white protection from each other, and that simply, self-rule is dangerous for Africans, it seems that our leaders cannot shake off the sad impression that black leaders cannot undo what white colonial leaders did.
Who are these foreigners?
In this section of this article I seek to focus on the expanse of the personages who are presently being forced and called to leave South Africa. I do this in order to demonstrate the impossibilities and the dangers that wait to be ignited by the current careless move by some hidden but knowable elements to fuel xenophobia in South Africa. Because of its history of the struggle for liberation, its booming economy and generous constitutional order, South Africa has attracted all kinds of peoples of the world into its borders.
I will not count the millions of professionals and business people that have come to participate in the chase for their dreams within the elusive South African dream. There are liberation fighters from the world’s liberation war spots like Palistine. There are stateless Somalis and Eritreans, perpetrators and survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. There are economic refugees from Africa and the world’s broken countries. There are silent and under-cover cells of jihadist groups, underworld personages of the globe and the mafia. There are also orphans of history, escapees from civil wars and fugitives from different corners of the world, and these people have made children and grandchildren within South Africa who have no memory of any other country. There are formal and informal political exiles, and desperate border jumpers.
Part of the lot of “these foreigners” as Achille Mbembe has provocatively put it has become very rich and others remain poor beyond imaginable repair. In my view, most of these people have no countries or homes to return to, they would rather die than contemplate return, and they will get into a suicidal mode of fight or die. Some of them come from those countries that have not separated God from the state, culture and politics as Bernard Lewis has explained in “The roots of Muslim Rage.” They believe that if you attack their identity, their culture, and their history, then you have attacked God and God must be defended in holy wars, intifadas, fatwa and full jihad.
The mafia will take advantage of the chaos to push their business, gun runners will get busy, while druglords, human traffickers and traders in human organs will smile. The Sothos will blame the Zulus for sparking this, the Xhosas will believe that they could have done it better, while the Vendas will think everyone has been wrong and the Shangaanis will say they have nothing to lose after all. The Ndebeles and others will also assume antagonistic postures, as the Republic degenerates once again into hostile homelands. This time around, blacks themselves will ask for separate development. The devil himself, Lucifer and other expelled angels will take up residence in the land of promise. As the Superpowers will be “forced on humanitarian grounds to intervene,” the recolonisation of Africa, starting with Africa’s last country to be liberated, will be formalised.
Enter the Rogue Elephant
In my view, this is the most important section of my present article. In short who is supplying ideas, money and the vision behind xenophobic violence in South Africa? And why? Those of us who have had a chance to read Willie Esterhuyse in his book about the “ secret talks” and the tricky “endgame” that ended juridical apartheid will agree that the apartheid intelligence, the secret state played a huge role that involved addressing “white fears” and dealing with “black anger” and black hunger for justice.
From this expose by a University of Stellenbosch philosopher, who was part of the talks, the South African political transition from apartheid to democracy was carefully managed and controlled by the intelligence first and the global big business, who sponsored the talks, next. Scholars and researchers on the intelligence such as Hans Born, Marina Caparini and Sandy Africa have demonstrated beyond an iota of doubt the need for the intelligence to be overseen to protect democracy and peace, because left alone, these “rogue elephants” become more powerful than states, join up with the global underworld and the mafia to cause chaos and catastrophe in countries.
Again, those of us that have slowly and carefully read the explosive confessions and expositions of former presidential officer in South Africa, Frank Chikane’s book, The Things that Could not be Said, will agree with my present conclusions. In brief, Chikane argues that South African politics has become a field of “farewell to innocence” as global superpowers usurped the intelligence of the country, planted moles amongst journalists and in the media houses and have created intelligence organisations that don’t answer to the state and are more powerful than the state.
These dark and dingy intelligence entities with links in the global mafia have planted and corrupted persons in the state organs, argues Chikane, they have established a state within the state. They are in the corporate world, in the academy, the uniformed forces, in the judiciary and in the media. These entities run South Africa. If it suits their interests, these dark and dingy ‘organs without bodies’ can create civil wars and dethrone regimes. They speak with big money, and with guns and death, at the risk of being bookish and boring, I ask you dear reader to patiently read Andrew Feinstein, former ANC MP, in his important book, The Shadow World. In this book, Feinstein takes away the virginity of those who still believe that some governments are in charge of their countries, and not the imperial underworld.
The “white fears” and “black anger and hunger” that haunted the secret talks are still the issues that haunt South Africa today. As soon as black students started attacking monuments of white supremacy, and idols of the religion of Capitalism, they were going too far, the next thing was to attack white bodies, people. Once again, the weapon of the last resort, black anger was marshaled, sponsored and deployed to the weakest link; the foreigners, the statues and what they represent are no longer the topic. The government dilly dallies and silly sallies as long as the violence is not about service delivery or Nkandla.
The retreat of the Sages
In this entire debacle, where are South African intellectuals and thinkers? Many people know that apartheid had its philosophers and theorists, “the Stellenbosch Connection.” The liberation movement had its thinkers such as the late Bernard Magubane and Archie Mafeje among many. Presently, South African intellectuals, most of them, are in corporate consultancy, in European Universities and other comfortable corners of the globe. The individuals who remain behind to speak out what is supposed to be the national South African sentiment are characters like our very own Edward Zuma.
The entities that I have described above, who sponsor xenophobic attacks and are the invisible state in South Africa have professors and philosophers, retired military and intelligence details as their advisers. If the violence persists, soon enough you will hear that the “companies’” private security details have come in to assist the failing army and the police. The same entities will reap the profits of the same chaos that they have caused. South Africans and Africans can sing the national anthem and salute the presidency, but the Power lies somewhere else, in the political, corporate and the intellectual underworld.
This is exactly the moment that African thinkers should seize and get closer to think about thinking in African politics. Clearly, the empire does not sleep. In his fundamental advice to empire, Samuel Huntington told the West never to stop causing and taking advantage of divisions amongst other civilisations in this era of the “clash of civilisations.” Sabelo Gatsheni, in a forthcoming book argues that empire imagines “a world without others” but itself and its firstborn children.
My argument in this article is that South Africa is dangerously getting enmeshed and entangled in a dangerous clash of civilisations which might lead to genocides, terror and recolonisation of the entire African continent. I had no intention of writing this article, but I was pressured by Mabutho Mamane to do so.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean political scientist and Semiotician.