THE rainbow nation as conceived by the vision of the late Madiba Nelson Mandela was to be one that will be free from discrimination and a leveler for all to attain the acme of success through a platform that creates equal opportunity. The ugly idea of xenophobia was not part of the original package. How did the largest economy in Africa descend to this level of crude bestiality?
Xenophobia had been a recurring decimal in South Africa even before the dismantling of the evil apartheid system in 1994. Between 1984 and the end of the hostilities in Mozambique, 250,000 and 350,000 people fled to South Africa and were granted refugee status. Their hosts denied them access to the economic resources of the country. Between 1993 and 1997, many displaced Congolese migrated to the rainbow nation and were denied access to primary healthcare which they were technically entitled to. This nauseating trend worsened after the supposed uhuru came with the arrival of racial equality.
In September 1998, a Mozambican and Senegalese were thrown out of a moving train. In 2007, seven foreigners were killed in Cape Flats over a five week period. In the last week of 2005 and first week of 2006, four people including two Zimbabweans died in the Olievenhoutbosch settlement after some foreigners were blamed for the death of a local man. Some shacks belonging to some foreigners were burnt to the ground. In July 2006, 21 Somalis were killed and 26 more were brutally murdered in August that same year. Between 2000 and 2008 at least 67 people died in xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, a series of xenophobic motivated riots left 62 people dead.
There is palpable anger among the destitute and poor South Africans over the dearth of opportunities in the country. It was taken for granted that the end of the apartheid era will automatically usher in a reign of unprecedented prosperity. That has sadly not been the case and so their frustration is taken out on hapless foreigners who have nothing to do with the plight in the first instance. The unemployment rate stands at about 24 per cent and foreigners seem willing to do jobs which are rejected by the South Africans especially the blacks for far less pay. The government is not delivering effective public services to the poor while the ailing economy is in a slump with job losses in the public and private sector. The Parliament is viewed as having failed the poor South Africans. Many disillusioned citizens do not exercise their franchise totally refraining from politics.
To make matters worse, the King of Zulu land, Goodwill Zwelithini made an inciting statement when he compared foreigners to lice and said they should leave the country. Jacob Zuma’s son also made a similar inciting statement and both have been too proud to tender a public apology for the indirect killings their recklessness has caused. The response of the Jacob Zuma led government has been rather lacklustre. There is no hardline stance against the violence taken by the government with no arrests made up till now. The body language of the President doesn’t suggest that he is perturbed by the mindless killings that have put a large dent on not only his administration but on the capacity of the African National Congress (ANC) to propagate the ideals of Madiba and the other founding fathers.
South Africa has what it takes to emerge as a global cosmopolitan hub in the mould of the United Kingdom that is now the melting pot of the world. Many foreigners bring a lot to the table and are not parasitic as the warped minds of the xenophobes think they are. The skills, expertise and experience of these foreigners have a gargantuan impact on the economy. It’s high time the leaders of the country created it as the Dubai of Africa. It is not the fault of the smart foreigners that the blacks have failed to capitalize on the opportunities that liberty has brought. The blacks themselves should take a fair share of the blame for their continued poverty and not take it out on hapless foreigners, many of whom fled repression from their countries and came there to even create jobs.
There could be some protectionist policies on the part of the government to ensure that the locals get employed in these foreign owned companies as there is no harm in having affirmative action to douse the tension. This could serve as the springboard for them to acquire the needed skills for the development of the nation. The cosmopolitan nature of the country should serve as a blessing rather than a burden on the people.
The attacks have the possibility of having a ripple effect all over the continent as South African economic interests abroad could be greatly hampered. This is not a good way to pay back many countries that committed their resources during the struggle against apartheid. There should be sturdy talks of better economic integration and not mindless murders.
The African Union must take a definite stand on this issue and ensure the government acts responsibly to not only stem the violent tide but to bring the killers to book.
Sanctions should be forcefully applied and there should be a massive boycott of South African interests all over the continent if these unreasonable killings persist. It is high time the AU acted in the interest of Africans. Their past silence on the recurring killings in the rainbow country has more than reduced them to a mere toothless bulldog.
This century should usher in the era of peaceful coexistence and not irrational decapitations.
• Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos.