THE callous, deadly and subhuman behaviour shown by South African hoodlums that have been carrying out senseless and barbaric attacks on fellow Africans is an expression of what obtains in sections of South Africa’s post-apartheid social classes, and the causes thereof must be examined and interrogated.
Many socio-economic problems related to immigration influxes have been cited by many commentators as the main cause of the resurfacing of the ugly head of xenophobia in South Africa, but surely South Africa is not the first country to have an influx of immigrants, even of the magnitude that we see in the country today, and certainly will not be the last.
While Kenya is largely considered the economic hub of East Africa, its economy hardly compares to that of South Africa. Kenya has a population of 47 million people of its own, and is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from South Sudan and the Darfur region, hosts tens of thousands of immigrant workers from other African countries, Zimbabweans included, and has a 2.5 million Somali population, mainly refugees fleeing that country’s instability that started in 1991.
Even with the senseless terrorist provocations from the Somali extremist group Al-Shabab, Kenyans have not reduced themselves to the subhuman level of carrying out murderous xenophobic attacks on foreigners.
South Africa has a population of over 50 million people of its own, runs an economy way stronger than that of Kenya, and has an immigration population quite similar in size to that of Kenya. Yet South Africa has erupted into deadly scenes of xenophobic massacres of fellow Africans twice in the last seven years, and there must be a reason for this behaviour, apart from just the pressures of immigration influxes.
The deadly and shameful attacks by highly barbaric hoodlums from some sections of an otherwise civilised South Africa have been more worrisome in the context of what many have seen as a tardy response from the government, especially in the first two weeks of the attacks.
There are simmering causes under the surface of the barbarism we have seen in South Africa, and it is sad that there seems to be no honest acknowledgement of the magnitude of the problem at hand from the South African leadership, especially from the Zulu King whose utterances have largely and variously been condemned as the inflammatory trigger to the crises, much as he has gone to length in denying the accusation.Advertisement
The government of South Africa must face up to the underlying societal problems bedeviling the South African society, and immigration influx has very little to do with those problems, unless lazy thinking has its way into the heads of politicians, as is often the case.
We have evidently seen a leadership in denial through the terse and half committed comments that have been offered in response to the xenophobic attacks, and one would be forgiven for concluding that largely the South African government has been in some form of denial.
South Africa by factual definition is considered by many people to be a deeply violent society, and the government and people of South Africa must own up to this, just like what the Brazilian government must do. Rio and Johannesburg are known as the world’s to two crime capitals, and that is not an exaggeration of any sort. The statistics to back this are shocking.
South Africa commands a murder rate of 50 people a day, and has a rape rate of 65 000 per year, and only Rio has a higher murder rate than Johannesburg.
Many emigrants from South Africa will cite crime and violence as the push factors that got them out of the country, apart from the die-hard apartheid racists that fled because they could not stand black rule.
The culture of violence in South Africa is rooted in colonialism and apartheid, both diabolical episodes of history that principally thrived on violence. Just like with the other people across Africa, the response of the oppressed has always been counter-violence, and that explains the liberation wars waged by Frelimo in Mozambique, ZANLA/ZIPRA in Zimbabwe, SWAPO in Namibia, Mau Mau in Kenya, and indeed Umkonto weSizwe in apartheid South Africa.
South Africa is styled as the rainbow nation, boasting of the sometimes overrated magnanimity of Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation principles, and it is ironical to many Mandela admirers that we today see a South Africa burning with primitive barbarism. But it must be noted that the diverse communities in South Africa have since independence been deeply intolerant of others, especially outsiders from fellow African countries.
Apartheid left a white against black racism still in place in South Africa, and obviously it left white domination prevalent. Sadly white domination thrives on black inferiority in South Africa. White supremacy in South Africa is still so intact that black South African activists can only hit newspaper headlines for kicking down statues of dead white colonialists, but are too cowardly to even confront one living white capitalist, or dare tell a white person strolling the streets of South Africa that they are a foreigner. Rather the xenophobic hoodlums find it easier to go for the softer target in fellow Africans from the north of the Limpopo.
Apartheid South Africa forcefully created ghettoes for black South Africans, and it is proving hard to re-culture the ghetto population into any meaningful aspiration – to wean them from the culture of dependency and hopelessness.
Now that other Africans with better aspirations are coming in and grabbing the economic opportunities existent in South Africa, our brothers in that country have become resentful and violent. They begrudge an enterprising Ethiopian or Somali who decides to invest in retail in South Africa so they can earn a living for themselves. By setting up retail shops in South Africa these fellow Africans are not only helping grow the economy of South Africa, but also creating employment for themselves and for others. What do they get in return? They are rewarded by barbaric bunches of murderous hoodlums looting their shops and burning them to death.
Some foreigners have come in with rare skills and have secured jobs in South Africa, and they have become enemies of our own brothers in that country for possessing those skills. It is not the skilled South Africans carrying out these murderous acts. Rather it is people that have lost hope in themselves and in their government.
South Africa will need to deal with the deadly prejudices in that country. The prejudices are both inter-racial and also afro-targeted. The surprising thing is that inter-racial prejudices remain subtle, while afro-targeted prejudices have evolved into the breeding of murderous hoodlum outfits we see today.
From the look of things in the past two weeks, perpetrators of xenophobic attacks are largely convinced that the South African police will not prosecute them with the zeal they command for other crimes. They are convinced these are tolerable lesser murders, simply because the victims happen to be “not like us,” – only lesser beings from neighbouring countries like Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
It is hard to dissociate past xenophobic statements uttered by South African leaders from the shameful acts of xenophobia we see today. A lot has been written and said about King Goodwill Zwelithini’s infamous utterances to the effect that foreigners must “take their things and go.” He claims he was misquoted, but that only reduces damage on his part, not on the part of the people that fell victim to murderous acts of xenophobic attacks shortly after.
On 21 October 2013 President Jacob told South Africans not to “think like Africans in Africa,” and to remember that the freeway between Johannesburg and Pretoria was “not some national road in Malawi,” and that Johannesburg was a “serious national city,” unlike other African cities.
President Zuma’s ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe was once criticised for accusing “foreigners” of causing unrest in South Africa’s platinum belt.
Controversial Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu in January this year threatened foreigners who run businesses in South Africa that they risked losing peaceful co-existence if they did not share the secretes to their successes in business with local South Africans.
She said, “Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,”
Now when one looks at the sum effect of such utterances from the national leadership of South Africa, it becomes quite tempting to conclude that the xenophobic attacks we see today might have derived significant motivation from such utterings, and of course those who uttered the words will always have the right of denial.
When one looks at 2008 as the peak of the economic global crisis, and 2015 as a year of economic decline in South Africa, it is easy to be simplistic and argue that xenophobic attacks are all to do with competition for resources. But competition for resources is a permanent feature for any economy in the world, and xenophobic attacks have never been known as one of the success stories of securing resources.
There are obviously other simmering factors under the surface of these attacks. We cannot simplistically argue that simply because immigrants into South Africa happen to be more educated and resourceful, the local should naturally respond by violence.
Having said that, it is important for the South African government to start thinking seriously about the economic empowerment of the black South African, not just the welfarism of social benefits or any such cosmetic solutions.
The skewed means of production in that country is no longer sustainable, and the South African must not dismiss without scrutiny some of the policies being proposed by the opposition EFF, clownish as the outfit may appear.
South Africa is a country that has achieved a lot politically and economically, and the xenophobic attacks cannot be allowed to taint the glories we have seen in the past.
South Africa has in the past stood by Palestine, Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Liberia and other countries politically, and has invested heavily in countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
All these achievements cannot be forgotten at the utterances of a few overexcited leaders, and that is why the situation in South Africa needs to be arrested as a matter of urgency.
Africa we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!
REASON WAFAWAROVA is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.