Inconvenient, unspoken truths about xenophobia

27 Feb, 2017 - 03:02 0 Views
Inconvenient, unspoken truths about xenophobia Mr Mashaba

The Herald

Mr Mashaba

Mr Mashaba

Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor 
Herman Mashaba.
Remember that name: he is the Mayor of Johannesburg, representing the opposition Democratic Alliance. If you recall that Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, who sparked off deadly attacks on foreigners in 2015 by likening them to ants and lice, this guy is in that mould. Last year, marking 100 days in office, he called foreigners criminals that should be flushed from his city.

He said: “You see, for me, when I call these criminals criminals, I want them to understand that they are criminals.

“They are holding our country to ransom and I am going to be the last South African to allow it,” he decreed.

He added: “But in the meantime I have already started engaging embassies in our country for them to know their residents in our city are here criminally.

“We will engage the provincial and national government to help us in this regard but I don’t believe anyone can expect us to tolerate activities of criminality.” In that same breath he claimed that under the ANC’s watch, criminals (foreigners) were allowed to come into SA without proper papers, but that cannot happen under the DA’s watch, as one report states.

And true to his word, he began witchhunting foreigners working for the city’s departments and as of last month he had fished out seven. Mashaba’s utterances received widespread condemnation.

Now, as the last fortnight has witnessed a flare up of xenophobia targeting black people in Pretoria and parts of Johannesburg, many have been pointing angry accusing fingers at him.

It is not without justification.

Feeling the heat, he has since asked people not to use him as the scapegoat

On that score he is right.

Entirely.

The problems that give rise to xenophobia are far bigger and more complex than Mashaba and his less than welcome reign as mayor of Johannesburg.

There are a lot of inconvenient truths as well. First of all, the overarching issue is poverty, the poverty being suffered by the majority black people in the townships.

It is a structural problem that is wrought by racial inequalities which has condemned blacks as economic benefits of their rich country have remained elusive. It is said 10 percent own the economy of this country — and that figure is indubitably white.

The land and factories are all in white hands and a seasoning of a clique of black individuals who have made it, and also thanks to black empowerment policies adopted by Government.

The empowerment drive has not been very successful and is riven by allegations of corruption. Most blacks are excluded in the cake called the South African economy and much worse there are people that live in real, continuing grinding poverty.

They are angry.

They often vent their anger on the easiest targets that happen to be blacks from other countries, including Zimbabwe.

To them, these are the cause of their suffering and they accuse foreigners of taking jobs, of crimes, prostitution and selling drugs. Somalis, Ethiopians and Pakistanis are resented for their resourcefulness in setting up small shops referred to as spazas. Hence, and this is a significant point, these shops are some of the foremost targets when xenophobic attacks get underway. They are looted and burnt.

When one looks closely at it, some of these attacks are a little more than periodical excuses to loot and ransack small businesses owned by foreigners and when one looks at it, especially when there are no fatalities as the latest episode appears to be, businesses were the biggest victims.

There is a lot of criminal enterprise in this. Which is to be expected of what can be called the crime capital of Africa.

It is not very convincing to hear locals blaming foreigners of engaging in crime — even when it is true that some foreigners are involved. Crime is actually human nature and generally knows no nationality.

Yet in the minds of Mashaba and his goons, it is a convenient excuse.

Xenophobia is a hate crime.

The word is self-explanatory.

The irony of it is that it is being practised by people who appear to hate themselves. That should be a result of the long night of apartheid which left psychological scars on blacks and their communities. Not only is self hate apparent, as a result of apartheid: black perpetrators of violence learnt that from their white oppressors. Whites still oppress black people in South Africa. You can bet that they are eternally grateful when they see their victims turn anger elsewhere. There have been reports of whites actively fanning hate among blacks and black workers. It is believable — what a way to create a buffer! An anecdote will suffice at this point. A few days ago, one news channel beamed images of carnage in a Pretoria suburb called Orlando West.

As hoodlums attacked and burnt houses, the camera captured some white people watching from the safety of their balconies. It was such a powerful image, and one which conveys a lot of meaning.

Some people have described this sort of violence as Afrophobia.

That is true.

You can imagine that the hoodlums do not even look the way of white people, wherever they come from.

Those whites we saw on the balcony could as well have been from England, Scotland, Canada, US or anywhere else for that matter. Yet they were safe.

The safety was in the colour of their skin. It tells us something existential.

Black people here, whatever their grievances, appear too afraid to confront white people, who ironically are the reason behind their disadvantages and general conditions. We do not have to apologise for this self evident fact.

But it is the choice of South Africans to confront this elephant in the room.

This is not to say there are no measures being taken to, at least ostensibly, correct this and just recently and increasingly so President Jacob Zuma has been speaking about radical transformation.

In due course this phenomenon will be explored as to whether it is just rhetoric or reality. Lastly, it will be critical to assess the role of politics in all this.

We have Mashaba and King Zwelithini. Their assertions are political and appealing to the basest instincts of populism. On the other hand, President Zuma and the ruling ANC have condemned attacks, but curiously, President Zuma has refused to call it xenophobia.

He reasoned last week: “I think we love using phrases in South Africa that at the time cause unnecessary perceptions about us. I think we are not [xenophobic], it’s not the first time we’re with the foreigners here.”

Not many people would agree with him on this one. He is a politician and statesman of course, one with a great moral and political responsibilities and a face to sell to the world. There have been reports of police and politicians colluding with vigilantes. The reports are not to be discredited.

(And even in Zimbabwe, the opposition generally cheers on xenophobia because in its twisted rationale, people were driven abroad by alleged Zanu-PF’s failures.) Interestingly, opposition is now blaming the ANC for the socio-economic conditions within which rent has been found for xenophobia.

It may just be one of those political footballs so often that plays out here.

In all this, it remains to be seen how the situation pans out.

It goes without saying that this is not the first and last people will be talking about xenophobia in South Africa.

And it’s complicated.

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