The xenophobic attacks and South Africa -African relationship

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It is not the first time many African migrants in South Africa faced the brute anger of their fellow South Africans, who have accused them of stealing their jobs. Anger alone would be a mere understatement. For sure, many a time, South Africans have audaciously committed a heinous crime against African migrants living in South Africa in the name of the xenophobic attack. Not just xenophobic attacks that come to mind. The monstrous brutish butchery of African foreigners in South Africa goes sometimes with impunity and alacrity, some observers have argued. Yes, without fear or care of the consequences of their barbaric actions. Rather than hiding their evil acts (not that so doing would reduce the gravity of the crime, anyway), most of the xenophobic vampires, in fact, enjoy the media coverage of their attacks; perhaps to send a strong signal to others. Or to display the cruel, sadistic side of the attackers. Whatever the case may be, with the attacks on African migrants, South Africans are not only changing the colours of their rainbow country, they are, defining the relationship of their country with other African countries, and the world as well.

In March 2015 King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu of Zulu made a provocative and inflammable statement about foreigners being a threat to South Africans. Although hardly the first time, the gate of xenophobic attacks on foreigners was once again, made loose after the King’s infectious comments. The horrendous slaughtering of innocent foreigners in South Africa went on shamelessly with impunity. Some foreigners were inhumanly burnt alive.  The police seemed not in a hurry to apprehend or bring the culprits of the brutal attacks to justice, an act that made some argue that the attackers were actively supported by powerful elements in the government. Otherwise, how could those primitive attackers carry out such an open, fearless and lawless act without fear of being punished seriously? Many wondered.

The liberation and independence of South Africa encouraged many Africans migrants to rush to the newly independent country for a greener pasture. The wave of migration to South Africa has its negative results. Independence did not fulfil the high expectations of many South Africans. Decades of the apartheid has led to economic apartheid, White economic monopoly and marginalisation of Blacks, frustrations amongst Blacks. Although the White South Africans make up just 8.9% of the country’s population, they control an eye-bugging 85 per cent of the country’s wealth. More than two decades after gaining independence, many of the social problems facing South Africa are far from being tackled. Joblessness, lack of social services like education, housing, sanitation, adequate health care, drug-related crimes, prostitution, murder and other social ills are still intolerably high. More than anything else, corruption amongst the leaders has made it increasingly difficult to tackle the social problems successfully. Faced with all these suffocating social challenges, many South Africans have channelled their anger and frustrations rather on African migrants.

Historically speaking, many South Africans were migrants in different parts of the world as a result of the apartheid and economic factors. From former Presidents, Jacob Zuma to Thabo Mbeki, South African migrants had been welcomed with open arms and treated with respect, love and dignity by their host countries. Ironically indeed, a great number of the so-called African migrants presently in South Africa are from the countries that selflessly fought and sacrificed their soldiers for South Africa’s independence. Many of these migrants are now accusing South Africans of being ingrates and unappreciative of their commitments and sacrifices which led to the liberation of South Africa.

Many Africans have condemned the idiocy and barbaric acts of South Africa in the strongest terms. Killings of fellow Africans and burning down of their properties cannot be justified under any circumstance whatsoever, many have insisted. From drug-related crimes, prostitution, human trafficking, no doubt, some migrants have been involved in crimes in South Africa. Just like their South African counterparts.  But the questions many are asking are: Are South Africa’s law enforcement agents incapable of dealing with those lawbreakers? Could it be that there is an alliance between criminals and the police who are supposed to fight them? Why would South Africans take the law into their hands?.

Yes, we all cannot doubt the presence of the white monopoly capitalism and its control over the lives of the majority of South Africans, we should not, at the same time, neglect the failures of the governing African National Congress (ANC). Logically, it is unsustainable for the minority White South Africans to control 85% of the economy. There must be some degree of near-equilibrium to bridge the economic gap between the poor black South Africans and their White counterparts. However, some have argued that the ANC ruling party is craftily using the white monopoly capitalism as a shield against criticism of its inabilities and failures. Rather than addressing its failings as a party, the ANC has effectively shifted the blame for the country’s woes solely on the White South Africans. As such, issues such as poor economy, joblessness, corruption and incompetence, exploding inequality are often blamed on the White monopoly capital alone.

That makes it difficult for some groups to rationally understand why only African migrants are mainly targeted in the xenophobic attacks. Hear Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom front on the most recent xenophobic attacks:

‘The owners of our wealth is white monopoly capital; they are refusing to share it with us & ruling party ANC protects them. Our anger is misdirected at the wrong people. Like all of us, our African brothers and sisters are selling their cheap labour for survival. The owners of our wealth are white monopoly capital; they are refusing to share it with us & ruling party ANC protects them. “

Many African countries are now taking the recent attacks and burning of the citizens’ properties seriously. Most of these African countries believe the government in Pretoria is not doing enough to stop the violence. Even though President Cyril Ramaphosa had condemned the violence on national television, it did not stop retaliatory actions against South Africa. South African multinationals such as MTN, Shoprite, Vodacom, have witnessed attacks and vandalism in Nigeria, whose citizens are mostly targeted in the attacks in South Africa. Other African countries are equally taking retaliatory measures. That is not all. To show their displeasure, many African leaders such as Rwanda Paul Kagame, President Peter Mutharika of Malawi and President of the DR Congo Felix Tshisekedi have all withdrawn from the World Economic Forum (WEF) billed to take place in South Africa from September 4 – 6. Apart from those measures, famous Nigerian artists and celebrities have announced their boycotts of South Africa until the government in Pretoria takes active steps to stop the violence against African migrants. Zambian National team has equally cancelled its friendly match against South Africa for “security concerns.”

Will the furious reactions from African countries be a wake-up call for the ANC led South African government? Is this the beginning of a sour relationship between South Africa and other African countries? Will the recent violence force the ANC to take serious steps towards tacking problems of economic inequality, fair wealth distribution, unemployment, lack of good housing, education, good health care and other social services, which the government has failed to provide for its citizens? Will the government of South Africa challenge its police and other law enforcement agents to fish out lawless elements – whether amongst migrants, South Africans or security agents – who have been breaking the law? Will the law of the land rule over lawlessness?

It is only by taking unprecedented positive steps that South Africa leaders can restore dignity and erase the tarnished image of the rainbow country many brave and respected leaders like Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Walter Sisula fought and died for. Otherwise, history will judge South African leaders negatively for allowing the beautiful country – definitely, the most beautiful in Africa – to be turned into the bed of anarchy by a few lawless, selfish and unpatriotic individuals.

Photo 1:VOA Photo 2: NJT