SA has its own ter­rors to fear

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

Some years ago, I came close to blows with the ir­ra­tional face of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism. It was dur­ing the time of the Prophet Muham­mad cartoons, when vi­o­lent protests were sweep­ing across the Arab world and west­ern Europe. Mobs were ram­pag­ing across those coun­tries and de­stroy­ing at will as they protested against the pub­li­ca­tion of the cartoons, which they deemed sac­ri­le­gious.

Feel­ing left out, some lo­cal hot­heads tried to find a way of get­ting in on the ac­tion.

The eas­i­est way to do so was to bait, threaten and in­tim­i­date lo­cal news­pa­pers on the mere sus­pi­cion that we might be con­sid­er­ing pub­lish­ing the cartoons here. With­out go­ing into too much de­tail, suf­fice to say there were bomb threats, guns pulled and the vi­o­lent in­tim­i­da­tion of street sell­ers and traders stock­ing cer­tain news­pa­pers in some neigh­bour­hoods.

It was ugly – and could have got much, much uglier were it not for some ad­mirable in­ter­ven­tion by so­ci­etal el­ders.

Which brings me to the time I came up close and per­sonal with the ra­tio­nal face of main­stream South Africa.

As tem­per­a­tures rose among the ex­trem­ists here who were suf­fer­ing from Fomo (fear of miss­ing out), a group of Mus­lim lead­ers stepped for­ward to douse the fires. They in­cluded cler­ics, busi­ness­men and com­mu­nity lead­ers.

I re­mem­ber them say­ing that, as much as they ab­horred the cartoons, they would not al­low the im­por­ta­tion into South Africa of the ex­trem­ism that one found in some parts of the world.

They ex­plained that South Africa’s Mus­lims en­joyed some of the best – if not the best – lev­els of free­dom and tol­er­ance in the world. Whereas in the West they were “the other” and treated with sus­pi­cion, in South Africa they were part of the main­stream and were not sub­jected to pro­fil­ing.

And, un­like in many Mus­lim coun­tries, in South Africa there was lit­tle ten­sion be­tween the dif­fer­ent strands of the faith, so wor­ship was less di­vi­sive here.

Re­la­tions with other re­li­gions were also much more con­struc­tive and co­op­er­a­tive. Lead­ers par­tic­i­pated in joint struc­tures and of­ten pub­licly stood to­gether on so­cial is­sues.

Po­lit­i­cally, South Africa’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity fell in the cen­tre. This was high­lighted by their scor­ing in­vi­ta­tions to par­tic­i­pate as equals with all the coun­try’s other faiths in the open­ing prayers of state func­tions and the con­fer­ences of the ma­jor­ity party.

This good stand­ing, they ar­gued, could not be im­per­illed by a few crazy in­di­vid­u­als. Their in­ter­ven­tion worked won­ders and peace was re­stored.

This at­ti­tude is key to hav­ing en­sured that South Africa does not be­come fer­tile ground for the re­cruit­ment of fight­ers of ex­trem­ist causes else­where. The in­ci­dents where South Africans have been re­ported to be in Is­lamic State camps – or headed for such camps – have been few and far be­tween. At­tempts to set up cells and bases in this coun­try have been eas­ily thwarted by the se­cu­rity forces and re­ported on by the me­dia.

There are, of course, other pol­icy de­ci­sions that kept us safe – such as South Africa’s staunch pro-Pales­tinian stance, our re­fusal to get in­volved in West­ern-led mil­i­tary ven­tures and our strong lead­er­ship role in the non­aligned move­ment.

South Africa’s in­dig­nant re­ac­tion to the US and Bri­tish ter­ror alerts a few weeks ago, should be un­der­stood in this con­text. The man­ner in which the two pow­ers told the world that South Africa was a ter­ror tar­get was enough to get any­one’s back up.

While govern­ment re­sponded with a mid­dlefin­ger state­ment and a dé­marche, some South Africans were down­right abu­sive, re­spond­ing with sick com­ments on the hor­rific night­club ter­ror­ist at­tack in Or­lando, Florida. They glee­fully told the US to mind its own back yard in­stead of telling se­cure South Africa about the threats it faces.

South Africa has done a lot of work to en­sure that the coun­try is im­mu­nised against ter­ror­ism. This im­mu­ni­sa­tion may not be 100% ef­fec­tive, but to willy-nilly lump our coun­try with ter­ror­ism against vul­ner­a­ble na­tions – based on stringy in­tel­li­gence – smacked of sin­is­ter mo­tives.

In case this lowly jour­nal­ist is sound­ing like the ubiq­ui­tous In­tel­li­gence Min­is­ter David Mahlobo, or the for­ever phan­tom-chas­ing Gwede Man­tashe, it is be­cause South Africa’s govern­ment was cor­rect to feel in­sulted by the ter­ror­ism alert. Some ex­perts called the re­ac­tion over-the-top, but it was ab­so­lutely cor­rect to place on record that South Africa is one of the world’s most low-risk coun­tries when it comes to the scourge of ter­ror­ism.

Our risk lies else­where – in is­sues such as political in­sta­bil­ity, state cap­ture, vi­o­lent re­ac­tion to govern­ment fail­ures, sys­temic cor­rup­tion, a tot­ter­ing ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, and the wor­ry­ing in­ter­sect be­tween pol­i­tics and or­gan­ised crime.

This is not to say that it will al­ways be this way. But for now, it is safe to say that we can shop at leisure if the wal­let al­lows.

Swim­mers emerge from the most dan­ger­ous stretch of ocean on the planet, gig­gling

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