In the process, courted by the ANC to weaken Buthelezi, King Zwelithini soon recognized the immense power of his traditional institution to which he has put to abusive use as trained by his uncle. Since then, in the words of public commentator Mondli Makhanya, King Goodwil Zwelithini’s words and influence have always been used to sow mayhem and destruction. But he is an untouchable as President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu, understands too well where the king, the ANC and the country are coming from. It is therefore no coincidence that the latest madness began in Durban in Kwa Zulu Natal province. A viral SMS to the effect that a train full of Zulus armed to the teeth had arrived in Johannesburg and Pretoria sent the Hibrow cocoon of foreign professionals in Johannesburg into shivers. The Zulu king’s latest call for a halt to the killings and for the signing of a peace accord between foreigners and South Africans provides a face saving retreat from his destructive populism and nationalism.
Yet, the King’s public denunciation of foreigners gave vent to the well known anger of poor South Africans. Young, uneducated Black South Africans have felt strongly disadvantaged in the competition in the retail trade and petty services that had been taken over by fellow Africans from the continent. The tension had been palpable for some time with a few well meaning commentators drawing attention to the keg of gun powder in South Africa’s national lounge. Indeed the margins of South Africa would seem to have been given a short shrift and this is at the heart of the internal debate within the ANC. This has spawned a radical protest movement in the Economic Freedom Fighters of irascible Julius Malema.
But the situation has arisen not because of a lack of trying by the ANC. The ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program was designed to create a Black middle class. This has attained some remarkable progress. The idea was that this new Black middle class would create avenues for the empowerment to trickle down to impact the Black community. This expectation of the cascading impact of the BEE has floundered. The Black majority who were denied any education or who were outright victims of the Apartheid policy of deliberately stifling the development of the entrepreneurial capacity of Blacks are no match for the more experienced Somalis, Mozambicans and Zimbabweans. As is often the case with immigrants, the foreigners are more motivated to work extremely hard and to save through self imposed privations. Often too these communities of foreigners are not integrated, especially the Somalis whose clannishness has no bounds. As for Nigerians, who have so far gotten off lightly in this episode, the proclivity of drug trafficking and underhand business is well known. While these are no excuses for the inhuman degradation of life that has been witnessed in this country, they are very important factors that fuel resentment of South Africans.
What all this suggest is to moderate our sense of outrage against South Africa. South Africa must resolve its dilemma. Pretoria has to bite the bullet and institute an indigenization policy that must definitively restrict some the activities of foreigners to more advanced and relatively capitalized ventures and sectors of the economy. South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. For one thing, unemployment is a staggering problem especially as the unemployed are often also unemployable, except probably in the mines. Even by official estimates, and it tends to be conservative, unemployment rate in South Africa decreased to 24.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 25.40 percent in the third quarter of 2014. Unemployment rate in South Africa averaged 25.25 percent from 2000 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 31.20 percent in the first quarter of 2003 and a record low of 21.50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. Another source highlights that by 2014 the Black unemployment rate had declined from 43% to 40%. It notes that this is of no comfort to the additional 3.1 million African workforce unemployed. Since many in this category are unemployable and have no history and culture of working, it would require some measure of affirmative mobilization to inculcate a new working ethic, create self employment niches and nurture this category of deprived South Africans into constructive participants in society and economy. Therefore, an open door policy to all of Africa’s poor and wearied cannot be an option. As it currently stands, this kind of selfless solidarity is very unrealistic and can only sharpen current antagonisms between poor South Africans and other Africans. Solidarity unlimited is a politically defeatist route for the ANC. South Africa must find creative alternatives to pacify its roaring mass disenchanted. It is an imperative to defuse the ticking time bomb.
Some sacrifices are therefore required. South Africa must close some of its soft sectors to foreign participation as we theoretically did in Nigeria years ago. The retail sector, with clearly specified limits that are within the capacity of the marginalized South Africans, should preferably be closed to foreigners. Also, at the next level, Africans who so desire should enter into partnerships with South Africans in bigger wholesale outlets to enhance the stakes of South African Blacks in these joint enterprises. This would be nothing innovative as it is the practice in Ghana. SADC or no SADC, some soft sectors of the economy that have the potential to serve as platforms for the apprenticeship of the most business savvy of the lumpen mass lot should rightfully be reserved for nationals. The South African government should also provide lending facilities that are accompanied or preceded by training in management of small businesses with economic outreach officers from financial institutions to provide advisory services to this new cadres of Small and Medium young Black entrepreneurs. Also directly relevant is the need to reorient South Africans psychologically to begin to see themselves and their nation as integral part and parcel of Africa. The entrenched notion of South Africa as an autonomous social universe vis-à-vis the rest of the Continent should be addressed through formal and informal engagements with South African society. In this connection, Africa has the technological infrastructure to begin the cultivation of transnational people to people networks in the continent.
As for the rest of Africa, it is high time we learnt that we cannot continue to shirk our responsibilities at home and expect others to clean up after us. We are daily assaulted on our television screens by the consequences of the pervasive irresponsibility of our states and leadership as Africans choose to expose themselves to unimaginable risks of near certain death just to earn a menial living in Europe. As I write, 950 illegal immigrants just perished in the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Lampadusa. Even without the so called Xenophobic attacks, Africans are dying in horrific circumstances just to escape the fate at home.
African governments must empathize with the situation in South Africa and work to ensure that the solidarity of official South Africa is not abused any further. There is so much official irresponsibility in our national lives. An anecdotal point here illustrates this. There is a poor country in Sahelian West Africa that has specialized in breeding population and exporting it around the sub region. Population planning has no meaning in this country. Hopefully, the coming change promised by the in-coming Buhari democratic government would de-incentivize Nigerians from seeking all manner of escape valves from home, including drug trafficking in South Africa. As for those who cannot resist the temptation to get and flaunt their ill gotten riches through drug dealing and other nefarious activities, may they be caught in Thailand or Indonesia. In fact, it should be official policy that Nigeria’s consular help to its citizens abroad in cases involving drug trafficking should be scrupulously limited to ensuring that rule of law and the judicial processes are meticulously adhered to. Finally, Nigeria must learn to be more mature in handling challenges thrown up by the kind of situation we are faced with in South Africa. To threaten to close down South Africa’s investment in Nigeria on account of this unfortunate development as reported in the local media in South Africa does not reflect the sophistication one would expect of a country of our stature and experience in navigating this matter. Knee-jerk responses to crisis are not indicative of measured and reasoned leadership.
By: Ouolale Alalade