The sparks of SA’s xeno­pho­bia

Causes are var­ied, rang­ing from anger to­wards gov­ern­ment to seething re­sent­ment at mi­cro en­ter­prise com­pe­ti­tion, write and ANC can­not of­fer utopia for South Africans Town­ships lost their busi­ness to for­eign­ers

CityPress - - Voices - Khaas is a so­cial com­men­ta­tor and can be fol­lowed on Twit­ter @tebo­gokhaas

In a utopian world there are no na­tional bor­ders. Nor is there famine, geno­cide or con­flict. Hence, there is no ur­gent rea­son to mi­grate. In this world, though, hu­man mi­gra­tion is as old as hu­man­ity it­self. Pre­his­toric food gath­er­ers and hunters mi­grated in search of new re­gions that con­tained richer ed­i­ble plants and an­i­mal life more suit­able for their sur­vival. In 2008, I par­tic­i­pated in a re­search project con­ducted by Na­tional Ge­o­graphic and IBM, known as the Geno­graphic Project. It re­quired my sub­mit­ting sam­ples of my DNA to re­searchers, to en­able them to map my an­ces­tral jour­ney by analysing my Y-chro­mo­somes. The re­sults of this project iden­ti­fied me as a mem­ber of Haplogroup B, a ge­netic marker that lo­cated the ori­gin of my an­ces­tral roots in north­east­ern Africa.

What all this sim­ply con­firms is that I most likely owe my be­ing and cur­rent lo­ca­tion to eco­nomic mi­gra­tion by my fore­bears.

The last cen­tury saw ac­tivists in South Africa’s var­i­ous lib­er­a­tion move­ments set­tle in coun­tries around the world as po­lit­i­cal ex­iles. Zam­bia and Tan­za­nia ar­guably hosted the great­est num­bers of po­lit­i­cal ex­iles from South Africa.

Their un­wa­ver­ing hospi­tal­ity not­with­stand­ing, it was in­con­ceiv­able that any of these host na­tions would coun­te­nance law­less­ness by their guests, whether jus­ti­fi­able or not.

That said, there is gen­eral con­sen­sus by pun­dits that South Africa faces an acute eco­nomic mi­gra­tion cri­sis. This has pro­vided am­ple rea­son for cer­tain sec­tions of the poor and down­trod­den to vent their over­all dis­plea­sure with the ANC gov­ern­ment.

Let me nail my colours to the mast: xeno­pho­bia is an evil hu­man scourge. The 2008 im­age of a Mozam­bi­can mi­grant be­ing neck­laced re­mains etched in my psy­che.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have cor­rectly cas­ti­gated xeno­pho­bic acts, as did for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki this week.

How­ever, the com­mend­able alacrity with which gov­ern­ment de­nounces xeno­pho­bic at­tacks must also be matched by its un­der­stand­ing of the un­der­ly­ing causes and ef­fec­tive ac­tion to ame­lio­rate the sit­u­a­tion.

The rea­sons for this con­flict are based on var­i­ous fac­tors, in­clud­ing the lack of clear South African foreign pol­icy guide­lines on the mat­ter; lack of proper border man­age­ment and con­trol; weak po­lice pres­ence and law en­force­ment; lack of sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth; and the scarcity of job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Gov­ern­ment has failed to mod­er­ate, never mind mit­i­gate, un­rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions of it by its cit­i­zens and fel­low Africans post 1994. While it re­mains in­debted to those coun­tries which hosted its po­lit­i­cal ex­iles, the gov­ern­ing party must not al­low it­self to be held to ran­som by those who seek to un­der­mine the coun­try’s sovereignty and laws.

It is in­ter­est­ing that Zam­bians and Tan­za­ni­ans, who hosted most of our po­lit­i­cal ex­iles, are not lead­ing the pack of peo­ple try­ing to pass them­selves off as eco­nomic mi­grants with­out re­gard­ing in­ter­na­tional norms and South Africa’s laws.

But the ANC gov­ern­ment it­self does not have a good track record of up­hold­ing in­ter­na­tional deals, never mind up­hold­ing and de­fend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion.

That even Nige­ria had the au­dac­ity to threaten this coun­try with a com­plaint to the UN for crimes against hu­man­ity, af­ter reports abounded of at­tacks against its cit­i­zens, is in­dica­tive of how low South Africa has stooped in terms of its sta­tus.

In just over 20 years, the coun­try’s once-ad­mired foreign and hu­man rights poli­cies have been erased. The hope and ad­mi­ra­tion that char­ac­terised for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s lead­er­ship have been re­placed by a sense of de­spair, es­pe­cially when we bear wit­ness to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s dal­liances with Su­dan’s Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir – let­ting him slip out of South Africa in 2015, de­spite a court or­der pre­vent­ing him from leav­ing.

Fur­ther, it is clear that suc­ces­sive ANC ad­min­is­tra­tions have failed to an­tic­i­pate that the dawn of a demo­cratic or­der and South Africa’s po­si­tion as a re­gional eco­nomic pow­er­house, cou­pled with glob­al­i­sa­tion, would serve as a light­ning rod to those seek­ing bet­ter eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties. Had they done so, they could have put mea­sures in place.

The new demo­cratic gov­ern­ment faced an in­sur­mount­able ser­vice de­liv­ery back­log as a re­sult of apartheid. Suc­ces­sive ANC ad­min­is­tra­tions failed to ad­e­quately re­spond to legi­mate so­cioe­co­nomic ex­pec­ta­tions by the black ma­jor­ity. Add to this the de­mands posed by eco­nomic mi­gra­tion – par­tic­u­larly by those seek­ing to ben­e­fit from free pub­lic health, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and ex­ten­sive so­cial se­cu­rity pro­grammes – the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion was a cri­sis wait­ing to hap­pen.

The Stats SA 2016 Com­mu­nity Sur­vey shows there were 1.6 mil­lion mi­grants. Reports have in­di­cated that this num­ber could rise to as many as 6 mil­lion when in­clud­ing those who have no doc­u­ments. This places enor­mous strain on our emerg­ing econ­omy.

Over the past decade, the coun­try’s se­cu­rity clus­ter has been be­set with cor­rup­tion within its ranks. And it has be­come too con­sumed with fight­ing the ANC’s in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal con­tes­ta­tions to be cog­nisant of the ever-present threat that mi­gra­tion, un­em­ploy­ment and de­mand for limited pub­lic re­sources pose to South Africa’s na­tional se­cu­rity.

Faced with a stag­nant econ­omy and its con­comi­tant fail­ure to rapidly in­dus­tri­alise, a bloated pub­lic wage bill, prof­li­gate spend­ing by gov­ern­ment, cor­rup­tion and con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion by politi­cians, at­tacks on vul­ner­a­ble mi­grants are symp­to­matic of grow­ing im­pa­tience by the poor, who are vent­ing their frus­tra­tions with the gov­ern­ment with shock­ing xeno­pho­bic ac­tion.

Gov­ern­ment must recog­nise that un­fet­tered mi­gra­tion af­fects its abil­ity to cater for the ba­sic needs of its cit­i­zens. The ANC’s fail­ure to de­liver on its elec­toral promise of “a bet­ter life for all” – read “utopia for all” – and to ad­e­quately re­spond to ris­ing so­cial un­rest, pre­sented through xeno­pho­bic at­tacks, may ul­ti­mately be its Achilles heel.

Utopia is nonex­is­tent. Per­haps the clos­est to utopia the ANC can take its sup­port­ers is to con­cede that it has failed its peo­ple and stop bury­ing its head in the sand.

The un­for­tu­nate cy­cle of wan­ton vi­o­lence that has been meted out against mi­grants in Tsh­wane and other parts of Gaut­eng over the past two weeks – hark­ing back to the at­tacks in 2015 and 2008 – is scary and dan­ger­ous. It is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to ar­rest the cycli­cal na­ture of this con­flict and reded­i­cate our ef­forts to hon­estly con­front the un­der­ly­ing causes so we can re­solve the sit­u­a­tion once and for all. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence points to mas­sive lev­els of frus­tra­tion that have built up ex­po­nen­tially over a long time. These have reached a tip­ping point within black town­ship com­mu­ni­ties. Sus­tain­able so­lu­tions will only be pos­si­ble if we are hon­est and dogged in our ef­forts to com­pre­hend the con­text that has gen­er­ated this con­flict.

Black town­ships were con­ceived by apartheid’s ar­chi­tects as sources of cheap labour, lo­cated far enough not to di­lute the white so­cial mi­lieu and close enough to serve the pur­pose for which they were cre­ated.

Life in these com­mu­ni­ties was heav­ily reg­u­lated, in­clud­ing where one was per­mit­ted to trade and what kind of trade one could en­gage in. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, it is not sur­pris­ing that en­trepreneur­ship could not flour­ish. Those who suc­ceeded in es­tab­lish­ing busi­nesses are he­roes.

Com­mu­ni­ties in town­ships may be di­verse in terms of the cul­tures prac­tised and lan­guages spo­ken, but in al­most all of them liv­ing in har­mony is the norm. Com­mu­nal in­sti­tu­tions such as schools, churches and po­lit­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions have also played a cru­cial role in main­tain­ing the sense of a com­mon des­tiny and so­cial sta­bil­ity.

The level of poverty in black com­mu­ni­ties is har­row­ing. Poverty and un­em­ploy­ment have given rise to feel­ings of hope­less­ness and anger in these com­mu­ni­ties. This anger is most vis­i­ble among the youth, who con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of the un­em­ployed. If there was in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth, I be­lieve the sce­nario would be dif­fer­ent. Now, add to this the foreign traders who dom­i­nate the mi­cro re­tail sec­tor –rather than the pro­duc­tive sec­tor, where they should be – in those com­mu­ni­ties, and you have the in­gre­di­ents for a flare-up at any mo­ment. All it needs is a spark.

There are cur­rently 278 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the coun­try, and al­most all the black town­ships in these mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have a busi­ness run by a foreign trader. The traders’ un­spo­ken set-up strat­egy was to es­tab­lish at least two busi­nesses close to the ex­ist­ing busi­ness of a lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur, choke it out of ex­is­tence and then dom­i­nate the area.

This strat­egy has been repli­cated in all black com­mu­ni­ties. As­sum­ing the av­er­age size of a town­ship com­mu­nity has a min­i­mum of 15 foreign traders, the num­bers and im­pli­ca­tions are fright­en­ing. Most of these busi­nesses are owned by mi­grants who come mainly from So­ma­lia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, Nige­ria and Ethiopia. They have been very suc­cess­ful. It is al­leged that a large num­ber of them are un­doc­u­mented and trad­ing il­le­gally. Such an ef­fi­cient scale of in­va­sion and dom­i­na­tion of in­dige­nous trad­ing spa­ces is un­prece­dented glob­ally. En­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­ni­ties for the lo­cals, at a ba­sic level, have thus been frus­trated.

Black South Africans lived with the legacy of ex­clu­sion from the apartheid era. Con­fronted with another wave of dom­i­na­tion and ex­clu­sion in this, the new demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, a toxic sit­u­a­tion re­sulted. So, an up­ris­ing was pre­dictable.

As stated above, there ap­pears to be very lit­tle cul­tural com­pat­i­bil­ity with the com­mu­ni­ties in which the mi­grants trade, but un­til re­cently, this did not ap­pear to be prob­lem­atic.

How­ever, as I un­der­stand it from the so­cial an­thro­pol­o­gists, this cul­tural in­com­pat­i­bil­ity is the first fault line in so­cial har­mony and sta­bil­ity.

The mi­grants’ dom­i­nant pres­ence in town­ships has re­sulted in a form of cul­tural dis­rup­tion. Nat­u­rally, they will be viewed with sus­pi­cion as un­wel­come “strangers”. This is what xeno­pho­bia is all about.

It is in­struc­tive to visit any black town­ship and ob­serve groups of ado­les­cent men hang­ing out at street cor­ners with for­lorn faces and noth­ing to do, while peo­ple un­known to them are en­gaged in suc­cess­ful trade in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Even more per­ilous is the con­stant blame these com­mu­ni­ties place on il­le­gal im­mi­grants for the grow­ing prob­lem of drug deal­ing and sub­stance abuse. Com­mu­nity mem­bers in the down­trod­den cen­tral busi­ness dis­tricts in par­tic­u­lar claim to know the drug deal­ers. They know their names. They know that they are il­le­gal mi­grants and they know where they live. Clearly, the po­lice have failed to pro­tect their com­mu­ni­ties and en­force law and or­der. As we have seen in Roset­tenville, the next step was in­evitable.

A more crit­i­cal fac­tor that helps us un­der­stand the grow­ing level of frus­tra­tion in com­mu­ni­ties is how ex­ter­nal forces have played a role in shap­ing the cur­rent con­flict. They have added ur­gency to the sit­u­a­tion, turn­ing it into a per­fect storm. South Africa is trapped in a slow growth sce­nario for the next five years, with the for­mal sec­tor shed­ding jobs on a con­tin­u­ous ba­sis. We are cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the high­est lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity in the world.

Our dys­func­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is not pro­duc­ing the in­tended out­comes to aid and abet a growth tra­jec­tory that re­quires higher skill lev­els and tech­nol­ogy-driven pro­duc­tion. Few among the work­ing pop­u­la­tion are em­ployed or en­joy gain­ful ac­tiv­ity. Lev­els of en­trepreneur­ship are low com­pared to our com­peti­tor coun­tries.

At the cen­tre of this is our failed im­mi­gra­tion con­trol sys­tem. The home af­fairs de­part­ment has no clue how many il­le­gal mi­grants re­side in the coun­try. Tar­get­ing em­ploy­ers to iden­tify un­doc­u­mented em­ploy­ees can­not be re­as­sur­ing.

The big­gest prob­lem is this coloni­sa­tion that has been al­lowed to ex­pand un­abated in black town­ships over the past two decades. This begs the ques­tion of whether mi­grants should be per­mit­ted to com­pete at the mi­cro en­ter­prise level.

Mot­sohi is an or­gan­i­sa­tional strate­gist at Lenomo Strate­gic Ad­vi­sory Ser­vices

TALK TO US Do you think the writ­ers cover all the causes of this con­flict, or are there oth­ers?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word XENO­PHO­BIA and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

GET­AWAY In this 2015 photo, loot­ers es­cape with goods dur­ing xeno­pho­bic at­tacks, which resur­faced af­ter the in­fa­mous 2008 vi­o­lence. The 2015 con­flict was prompted by the death of a teenager, who was al­legedly shot while loot­ing a foreign-owned shop in Soweto

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