SA xenophobia – the aftermath

Since the deployment of soldiers to the xenophobia hotspots, no new attacks on foreigners have been reported in South Africa.

King Goodwill Zwelithini, the instigator, in the opinion of many, called for peace. Figuring that his subjects would misconstrue his usual traditional leopard skins for a call to arms, the king wore a business suit for the occasion of his appeal.

When the disturbances began, President Zuma at first appeared hesitant, rather than nipping the problem in the bud. His police force have the capacity for ruthlessness – we saw that at Marikana – but instead Zuma made futile calls for calm and gave an implausible speech about the ANC failing to teach South Africans about the role played by other African nations in the fight against apartheid. Nobody was buying Zuma’s fork-tongued speech. Surely every South African knows about the ANC’s bases outside South Africa and Umkhonto Wesizwe’s training abroad. South Africans knew about fighters returning from exile, after 1994. What does ‘exile’ mean, if not from another country? Without doubt, South Africa knew that that her freedom came at the expense of the lives of several Africans who hosted anti apartheid fighters. The racist regime often attacked anti apartheid activists living in exile and the locals were caught in the crossfire – 42 killed in Lesotho(1982) by SA government agents, targeting, among others, Father Michael Lapsey, a vocal apartheid opponent. Father Michael moved to Harare where, in 1990, another failed attempt on his life was made, by way of a letter bomb. It was rather strange that Zuma initially deployed soldiers to the border, which did nothing to stop the violence. The soldiers were more urgently needed at the epicentre of xenophobic crime.

Although calm has returned, the situation in South Africa is a ticking time bomb. A recurrence is not improbable, because the root causes have not been addressed: public frustration arising from unemployment, the ever widening gap between rich and poor and government’s failure to deliver decent housing and ablution facilities. Twenty one years post apartheid, many South Africans still live in tin shacks, use bucket system toilets and wash standing up from pails. But worst of all, resentment towards foreigners remains. In one video, the police were present, during a lynching in which a civilian is set alight. In a photograph published on the internet, two policemen appear to be casually strolling past the scene of a shop looting. Quite often, we hear South Africans refer to their country as if it were not a part of Africa. Many well-meaning ANC officials spoke repeatedly of welcoming ‘these people.’ It is easy to recite a prepared speech, but the attitude is hard to conceal.

President Zuma seemed more eager to issue excuses for the attacks on foreigners, citing the need for blacks to become violent in order to defeat an equally violent apartheid system. This of course is debatable. Rhodesia’s government was just as oppressive and America’s system of slavery was even crueler. Despite the shared history of subjugation, we see no African-Americans, or Zimbabweans setting people alight.

Even before the recent acts of barbarism, South Africa has always been plagued by crime. In 2009, a study by Medical Research Council revealed that 1 in 4 South African men admitted to rape. According to rape advocacy campaign, Blow The Whistle, someone is sexually assaulted every 36 seconds in SA. Interpol once called South Africa the ‘rape capital of the world.’ According to the SAPS, 17,068 people were murdered between April 2013 and March 2014 – that is 47 killings per day. Apartheid has nothing to do with those chilling statistics. Even for an ordinary workers’ strike, the spears and knobkerries come out.

South Africa is widely regarded as one of the next global powerhouses, hence its membership to CIVETS and BRICS. At the next meeting, her allies in these two bodies will be asking questions. It is ironic that this week, South Africa celebrated Freedom Day – liberation which came thanks to the very people that are now stabbed and burned without compunction like sacrificial lambs. Even greater irony is that next week (May 9th-11th), South Africa’s Tourism Indaba takes place, right there in Zwelithini’s Durban, where the attacks began.

Apart from President Zuma’s ineptitude, President Mugabe’s powerlessness was exposed. Despite the much bragged about dual chairmanship of AU and Sadc, Mugabe had nothing to offer. There was no threat of suspension from the AU or Sadc. Hardly surprising, when over 60% of the goods on the Zimbabwean supermarket shelves are South African. Trade between the 2 countries is practically one sided: in 2014, R24Billion exported to Zimbabwe by SA, against R2Billion imports from Zimbabwe. He who pays the piper calls the tune. A diplomatic row would hurt us more.

Mugabe’s move to try and repatriate Zimbabwean refugees from SA provided for a light moment during a difficult period. With over 80% jobless and a national housing waiting list of 1,2million (last count 2013), the result would be disastrous, if all the immigrants returned to Zimbabwe.

In contrast to Mugabe’s impotent anger, Nigeria – now the largest economy in Africa – reminded Jacob Zuma that they are nobody’s doormat. Lagos has recalled its envoy.

Post published in: Mugabe Succession

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