China meets chal­lenge of South Africa ri­ots

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

On April 18, South African Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma can­celed his visit to In­done­sia to at­tend the Asian-African Sum­mit in or­der to end the deadly xeno­pho­bic at­tacks at home. Good­will Zwelithini, the tra­di­tional king of Zu­lus, too has called for an end to the vi­o­lence that has swept across parts of South Africa.

The at­tacks on im­mi­grants in South Africa are a se­ri­ous is­sue, be­cause they have claimed the lives of seven peo­ple and forced more than 5,000 for­eign­ers to seek refuge in makeshift camps. The at­tacks have also dealt a deadly blow to the peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of dif­fer­ent races which South Africa has boasted since 1994, when apartheid ended in the coun­try.

Many have blamed Zwelithini for mak­ing an im­pas­sioned speech last month to drive for­eign­ers out of the coun­try. But the Zulu king’s provoca­tive words, which he has said were “taken out of con­text by the me­dia”, only served to in­flame the pas­sions and in­ten­sify the chaos that had al­ready gripped parts of the coun­try, es­pe­cially Jo­han­nes­burg and Dur­ban.

Like the 2008 blood­shed, which mainly tar­geted Zim­bab­wean work­ers in South Africa and claimed about 60 lives, the lat­est burst of vi­o­lence can be at­trib­uted to wide­spread poverty in the coun­try. A large num­ber of im­pov­er­ished South Africans, mostly blacks, are un­happy with their liveli­hoods. Their anger and frus­tra­tion have been of­ten ex­ploited by op­po­si­tion par­ties to attack the rul­ing party, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Af­ter South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in 1994, blacks who com­prise an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, ac­quired equal po­lit­i­cal rights. Yet there was no im­prove­ment in living con­di­tions of a ma­jor­ity of the black pop­u­la­tion. In fact, most blacks in South Africa have been strug­gling to emerge out of poverty, be­cause 80 per­cent of the coun­try’s wealth is con­trolled by around 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion (mostly whites).

The glar­ing in­come dis­par­ity in South Africa has widened fur­ther be­cause of the coun­try’s slug­gish econ­omy in re­cent years. South Africa, home to a once-pros­per­ous open mar­ket, which re­lies heav­ily on the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem, has suf­fered more than any other African coun­try the con­se­quences of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, the un­em­ploy­ment rate in the coun­try is about 24 per­cent, and as high as 50 per­cent among youths.

Be­sides, the slump in the value of rand, the South African cur­ren- cy, has ac­cel­er­ated the in­fla­tion rate, which was nearly 5.7 per­cent in 2013 and 6.3 per­cent last year. Com­pound­ing the mat­ters is the less than 2 per­cent eco­nomic growth of South Africa in the past two years.

But South Africa is still a popular des­ti­na­tion for for­eign­ers be­cause it re­mains the largest econ­omy in Africa. The less-ed­u­cated South Africans are in­fu­ri­ated be­cause many of an es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion im­mi­grants from coun­tries like Zim­babwe andMozam­bique have taken up un­skilled and semi-skilled jobs, mostly in mines, farms and gro­cery stores. As a re­sult, the at­tacks have tar­geted against im­mi­grants.

Although not aimed against the about 350,000 Chi­nese na­tion­als in the coun­try, the at­tacks have still caused huge fi­nan­cial dam­age to their shops in Dur­ban, and made China’s job of pro­tect­ing its cit­i­zens over­seas more chal­leng­ing.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the anti-im­mi­grant vi­o­lence broke out, the Chi­nese Em­bassy and con­sulates in South Africa urged lo­cal po­lice to take ef­fec­tive mea­sures to pro­tect Chi­nese na­tion­als and their prop­er­ties. They also is­sued alerts through var­i­ous chan­nels to re­mind Chi­nese na­tion­als and en­ter­prises to strengthen their safety mea­sures. And the fact that no Chi­nese na­tional in South Africa has be­ing at­tacked so far speaks vol­umes about China’s quick re­ac­tion in tak­ing all mea­sures to pro­tect its na­tion­als and their prop­er­ties in the coun­try. The au­thor is a se­nior fel­low with The Charhar In­sti­tute, and a re­searcher at the In­sti­tute ofWest Asian and African Stud­ies, Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

WANG XIAOYING / CHINA DAILY

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