Heed the calls, or SA will burn

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

Af­ter the deaths of 62 peo­ple and the de­struc­tion of mil­lions of rands worth of prop­erty, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee prob­ing the 2008 at­tacks on for­eign na­tion­als came to the re­mark­able con­clu­sion that “xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tudes do ex­ist among some South African cit­i­zens”.

It said such at­ti­tudes were “largely based on un­founded and un­ver­i­fied fears, as well as the in­cli­na­tion to stereo­type for­eign­ers as the cause of so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems in the host coun­try”.

These at­ti­tudes, the com­mit­tee said, could have been ex­ploited to incite at­tacks on for­eign­ers.

At the con­clu­sion of its work, the com­mit­tee made wide-rang­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on how to pre­vent an­other out­break of xeno­pho­bic as­saults in South Africa. We all know that vi­o­lence con­tin­ued to sim­mer over the fol­low­ing years, with se­ri­ous flare-ups in parts of the coun­try.

In 2015, there was a more se­ri­ous out­break which, though not quite as bad as the on­slaught of 2008, made in­ter­na­tional head­lines.

When that one sub­sided, it was back to the sim­mer­ing ten­sions – un­til last week, when ter­ri­ble scenes erupted again in parts of Gaut­eng.

It was clear this week that we are un­able to slay this de­mon. Af­ter the cur­rent wave of xeno­pho­bic at­tacks sub­sides, you can be sure that it will be back to the same pat­tern. There will be a re­port. There will be some sim­mer­ing vi­o­lence, and then down the line there will be an­other big out­break.

There are many rea­sons we are un­able to de­feat xeno­pho­bia, one of which is the con­de­scend­ing man­ner in which those in author­ity and those who live in com­fort see those who are in in­volved in the at­tacks.

Be­fore any­one jumps up and down, what fol­lows is not a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of xeno­pho­bic ten­den­cies and the vi­o­lence that some­times ac­com­pa­nies such. It is rather a call for go­ing back to one of the key rec­om­men­da­tions of the post-2008 re­ports.

The com­mit­tee rec­om­mended that there was a con­tin­u­ous need to “deal with the mat­ters of con­cern raised by South African cit­i­zens and en­sure that these are ad­e­quately ad­dressed”.

These is­sues deal with the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of South Africans, par­tic­u­larly those in the low­er­mid­dle and lower stra­tums of so­ci­ety.

They feel the so­cioe­co­nomic pres­sures more than those in the mid­dle and up­per classes. It is they who com­pete for re­sources and op­por­tu­ni­ties. They ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand the il­le­gal con­duct of some in the im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties.

So, when the res­i­dents of Roset­tenville turned on their for­eigner neigh­bours last week, it was on the pre­text that Nige­rian drug deal­ers and pimps were dam­ag­ing the com­mu­nity. As al­ways, dur­ing these at­tacks ev­ery for­eigner gets painted with the same dirty brush. In­no­cents suf­fer.

But the big ques­tion is: If the res­i­dents be­lieved that drug deal­ers, for­eign or lo­cal, were pol­lut­ing their com­mu­nity, why did they not re­port them to the po­lice?

The an­swer to that is, they did. The un­ac­cept­able last re­sort came af­ter years of frus­tra­tion at see­ing the brazen crim­i­nals go about their busi­ness with an air of in­vin­ci­bil­ity.

A lo­cal man told the Ground Up news agency that he and his neigh­bour were “happy about how the com­mu­nity is deal­ing with this drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion thing”.

“We both have kids and when we step out­side our homes, we are con­fronted by pros­ti­tutes and guys sell­ing drugs on ev­ery cor­ner. This is not a good en­vi­ron­ment for our kids,” he said.

“The po­lice do noth­ing, so the peo­ple have de­cided to mo­bilise and han­dle the mat­ter them­selves.”

In Pretoria, the is­sue was about the al­leged crim­i­nal and eco­nomic reper­cus­sions wrought by for­eign­ers in com­mu­ni­ties. Res­i­dents ac­cused for­eign­ers of tak­ing their jobs, crowd­ing them out of busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties, hi­jack­ing build­ings and deal­ing in drugs. They said the same thing about hav­ing given up on the au­thor­i­ties’ will­ing­ness or abil­ity to in­ter­vene on their be­half.

There were the usual sanc­ti­mo­nious con­dem­na­tions. The protesters who had taken the law into their own hands were ig­no­rant, self­hat­ing Africans. There was the now tired story of how African coun­tries helped lib­er­ate South Africa from apartheid and the peo­ple of this coun­try there­fore owed a (huge) per­ma­nent debt to the rest of the con­ti­nent.

Nige­ria’s dys­func­tional govern­ment, whose fail­ures have re­sulted in the coun­try hav­ing a mas­sive di­as­pora, es­ca­lated the mat­ter to diplo­matic cri­sis-level.

Very few of those con­demn­ing the vi­o­lence both­ered to delve into the sys­temic fail­ures that are the cause of the frus­tra­tions of mainly work­ing-class South Africans. Few both­ered to ask what re­ally lies be­hind the per­cep­tions so deeply held by rea­son­able peo­ple. No, they were just back­ward thugs.

As de­spi­ca­ble as it is, the xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence is a des­per­ate plea to be lis­tened to.

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