AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. But it is not South Africa that is in the news. It is Africa that has been caught in the beams of international hypocritical searchlight. Perhaps, for good reason. Events in South Africa at least present an opportunity in enabling us to x-ray our own assumptions in relation to this seminal development on our continent. Whatever compulsions, instinctive, emotional or plain and hard-nosed rational, drive our responses to the terrible happenings in the country, they are indeed horrible, going by the footage of blood cuddling murder that we are assailed with. The question as a columnist Mathatha Tsedu, put it in the Johannesburg City press is “Why are we failing as Africans? Meanwhile, since the last public blood-letting outing of the xenophobic gangs in 2008, African artists resident in South Africa, among them Akin Omotosho, the 41 year old internationally acclaimed multiple award winning Nigerian actor and movie director, have focused on distilling strong counter arguments against xenophobia; the popular understanding of what has become predictable seasonal gory flare ups.
This activism and other initiatives do not seem to have made a light dent on the problem, because the attacks are symptomatic of larger festering challenges that South Africa has been unable to resolve in twenty one years of post Apartheid Black rule. South Africa has been unable to wean itself from some of the most devastating legacies of Apartheid. This includes delegitimizing a dangerous mindset that was needed to validate revolutionary violence that was unleashed to overcome Apartheid. The structures of the economy are skewed and its society increasingly differentiated between an emerged small Black elite and a mass Black impoverished. These failures have all impacted the character of post Apartheid South African society. Mainstreet South Africa deals with the horror of unimaginable violence practically on a daily basis. But this happens behind the fortified walls of highly secured gated communities. Once in a while, this sanguine reality is expressed along the margins of mainstream of South Africa in the scapegoating of fellow Africans.
These are manifestations of a crisis that has engulfed this embattled rainbow nation. All residents of the country, across the social strata, are caught in the throes of violence. Only a very brutal re-evaluation of the failed social and developmental paradigms employed by the South African government can begin to instill a semblance of normalcy in relations among South Africans, between South Africans and the continent. These harsh measures to be adopted are the default approaches that have been adopted in many other African countries. It would require the understanding of other Africans to give South Africa a chance to recalibrate its economic and social blueprint to meet the legitimate aspirations of those in the margins who perceive themselves being left behind as South Africa moves into its third decade of majority rule.
Meanwhile, all over the world, from the United States of America, through Ukraine, Austria, France, Australia and China, immigrants have been made scapegoats of. The differences are in the approaches and who is leading the charge against foreigners. Where the state leads the charge against foreigners to protect the threatened hegemony of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) dominant in the United States of America or in Australia, the more sophisticated institutional violence that is unleashed is taken off the streets and rationalized in carefully couched euphemisms in carefully arranged and managed bogus discourse. The violence against foreigners can be very crude when the militias, both from the mainstream as in the USA and Australia or the margins as in South Africa take it upon themselves to help the government to solve perceived threats of foreign invasion. Xenophobia is a phenomenon or a crisis that belies globalization.
The US shares a common border of about 2,000-miles (3,200 kms) with Mexico and has a large Latino community. This is the largest minority and fastest growing community in the United States. The US Customs and Border Protection spent $2.4 billion between 2006 and 2009 to complete 670 miles of border fence that is designed to keep foreigners or their vehicles from crossing into the United States, according to a Government Accountability Office report. When completed, a 2,000 mile state-of-the-art border fence has been estimated to cost between four and eight billion dollars. A poll conducted by conservative news outlet suggests that the American people favored a proposal to build a 2,000-mile security fence by a 51-to-37 percent margin. Meanwhile, the total illegal alien population was estimated by Secretary of Homeland Security at 8 to 12 million in December 2003, even though to heighten perception of the threat posed to American way of life, some major news outlets regularly use 20 million as a more realistic number of illegal aliens in the US. The conservatives who are the main backers of fencing America off the Mexican border claim that a sea of illegal aliens provide a cover and an environment in which terrorists can hide, and the tide of in-coming aliens provides terrorists with a reliable means of entry. Foreigners, they also allege, are drug couriers. Such is the fear of Latino immigrants that private minutemen and anti-immigrant militias have been established in states like Texas and Arizona “to do the job their government refuses to do” and “protect America” from tens of millions and plundering of the nation. They argue that “it should be legal to kill illegals.” This must sound familiar.
In Australia, the government dumps desperate immigrants who have survived perilous sea journeys to escape poverty and discrimination in facilities totally inappropriate and ill-equipped, with people cramped into leaking tents, suffering from physical and mental ailments–creating a climate of anguish especially during the repressively hot monsoon season. Australia is also known to have refused to rescue people caught in storms who died when their boats capsized. The waiting time to be processed in these inhabitable hell located in Nauru is five years under the Government’s horrendous ‘no advantage’ policy. Offshore processing of the so-called illegals on Nauru and Manus Island is designed to break vulnerable people in these ill-conceived limbo camps. China’s very stringent monitoring of foreigners is legendary as many Africans are forced into debt and imprisoned for merely overstaying their visa. There have been deadly riots. Also, the perennial conflagration in the outskirts and ghettoes of French cities need no recall. The French government is known to have offered monetary incentives to get rid of unwanted foreigners, including gypsies that were once forcibly ejected from the country.
The South African situation deviates in many respects from these cases. The problem with official South Africa is that it is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It must resolve the challenge of accommodating its sprawling internal constituency of those who are left behind while at the same time be sensitive to African solidarity in managing the avalanche of fleeing economic migrants from badly managed African countries without provoking the kind of backlash that it currently faces. That is not all. Its balancing act is in the context of a very difficult national process.
The current madness betrays the turbulent undercurrents of South Africa’s politics, in particular the structure of its economy and their impact on national life. The horrendous hackings to death of foreigners, now symbolized by the brutal daylight stalking, bludgeoning and stabbing to death of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole, are strong reminders of the dire consequences of pervasive disillusionment of the Black masses in post Apartheid South Africa. The attacks that seem to have acquired a xenophobic character are indeed the other side of the violence that seem to have become a quotidian reality of this land struggling hard to translate its vision of a rainbow nation into actuality. For good or for evil, as Nigerians would have realized in the bizzare contortions of the nation’s rendezvous with Olusegun Obasanjo, the fortunes of a country in a generation or two could be mercilessly impacted by the interests of only one or two persons. South Africa has been beholden to the King of the Zulus, Goodwill Zwelithini, and his uncle, Mangosuthu Gasha Buthelezi, from the Apartheid era. It should come as no surprise that the immediate instigator of this latest mayhem is no other person that King Goodwill Zwelithini.
The traditional King of the Zulu is famed for being a political tool, manipulated and implicated in the murderous activities of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) by his uncle Mangosuthu Gasha Buthlezi during the Kempton Park negotiations between 1990 and 1993 that ended Apartheid in South Africa. In fact, some suggest that the Zulu traditional hierarchy worked hand in glove with the Apartheid regime. Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Third Force use of unmitigated force to back its demand for a federated South Africa in order to maintain the territorial and political integrity of the Zulu Kingdom in the new South Africa failed. The idea was for what is today’s Kwa Zulu natal province to be treated as a quasi-autonomous political entity with wide ranging powers for the king. Buthelezi and his nephew the king remained a thorn not just in the flesh of the Mandela led African National Congress in the dying days of the Apartheid regime, they remained a lightning rod of the ANC until only around 1994.