Mhambi has been redeployed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The rainbow racists are nationalistic and not that poor

Much have been written of late as to the root causes of the wave of xenophobic violence that has rocked the "rainbow" nation.

Press reports of comments by the marauding attackers themselves gave the reasons as follows:

* Foreigners commit crime;
* Take our jobs; and
* Sleep with our women;

Clever commentators have embellished on these prosaic themes: It's due to poverty, increased inequality, rising food prices, followed closely by government neglect and widespread corruption by the state when dealing with township dwellers. I endorsed and still do endorse these views to an extent.

Another view was expressed by the likes of Rhoda Kadalie. Kadalie argues that black South Africa has clothed themselves as perpetual victims which makes them oblivious to their own hate. Foreigners that are successful threaten this victim edifice.

Some pointed at a nation brutalised by apartheid.

Xolela Mangcu reckons the nature of the violence is the ANC's fault for using and creating a theatrical and terrifying form of violence to attain political hegemony.

Some commentators have pointed fingers at negrophobia. Black South Africans are hating themselves and projecting this hate onto people that are perceived to be more black.

Others have suggested that its a Zulu thing, and that Zuma's acendency have made the marginalised more bold.

Certain members of the ANC has pointed a finger at a "third force" with links to apartheid agents.

"Third force"

A third force
Let's deal with the last reason first. These events might have been organised. Yes.

But that does not make this some kind of a 'third force'. Mhambi worked as an investigator at the TRC, and South Africa did have a real 'third force' in action come 1989 to 1993.

How organised they were was never properly established but we do know this. From ordinary policemen to senior police generals were complicit in everything from destroying evidence against Inkatha operatives (like Themba Khoza who was caught red handed at a massacre in Sebokeng) and gangs, to supplying IFP members with Ak 47's and hand grenades.

Perhaps Krappies Engelbrecht is dishing out golf clubs from the back of his boot in Boksburg. But I doubt it.

All the other reasons advanced above are probably true to some extent, but there are also a few myths to be busted. Alexandra where this latest bout of violence started is not one of South Africa's poorest townships.

More importantly its one of the few townships surrounded by wealthy suburbs and therefore a very desirable address for job seekers. Most township dwellers spend a significant amount of their pay traveling to and from work.

So far there have been very few incidents of attacks in the Northern Province, South Africa's poorest region. Or in KwaZulu and the Eastern Cape, the other really poor provinces.

The Sunday Times publishes today two interesting pieces of research:

* The World Values Survey on International Attitudes to Immigration
* The Southern African Migration Project (Samp)

I have never met a nice South African
This song aimed at white apartheid South Africa is probably actually true for all of us.

We are according to these reports the most xenophobic nation in the world. Add that to the biggest man made hole as a feather in our cap.

The reports show that Mozambicans are far less xenophobic than we are. But it ads, they are also allot poorer.

The most unequal neigbours
We have the report says “perhaps the most lopsided regional economics in the world”, in which, per capita, Mozambicans earn 36 times less than South Africans, and Zimbabweans far less than that.

An imbalance that was greater even than that of some of the world’s most unequal neighbours – such as that between Mexico and the US, or Burma and Thailand.

It also mentions -

# An 81% food price hike in three years;
# The reaching of the “tipping point” of more than 25% of residents in informal settlements estimated to be illegal migrants;
# Widespread corruption at the Department of Home Affairs (Foreign nationals have been buying South African ID's and government subsidised homes for the poor.);
# The failure of the government to heed isolated xenophobic attacks and regular warnings from the SA Human Rights Commission, Idasa and the National Intelligence Agency; and
# “A perpetuation of negative stereotypes of migrants in the South African press” — and from public figures — according to a major report by Queens University, Canada, and Samp, which found that 52% of press reports on migration from 2000 to 2003 included negative references to migrants.

It confirms that all of South Africa is very xenophobic but: "For black South Africans, it’s personal. The 2006 World Values Survey showed that 21.3% of black South Africans did not want an immigrant living next door, compared with roughly 1% of whites, coloureds and Indians."

Black South Africans were significantly more suspicious of black African migrants than immigrants from Europe or North America.

Is this Negrophobia then?

Money makes you nasty
Well the report makes for some further interesting reading. It says that all of this happened in a context of an existing xenophobia.

One of the most severe in the world in fact - born of an acute nationalist pride over the “Rainbow Nation” and the fear that poorer African nations wish to plunder a rare African success.

And it says, South Africans are not xenophobic against all comers. Citizens of Botswana are sharp. But “positive views” of Zimbabweans, at just 12%, and Mozambicans, 14% and Ghanaians, at 11%, contrasted sharply with the 44% registered for Botswana.

Nationalism, the silver lining in a dark cloud?
And Botswana and Namibians, who earn close to the average South African wage, showed levels of xenophobia almost as high as our own.

The report says that South African xenophobia is a unique brand in Africa; distinct from that in Botswana. Its xenophobia of the nationalist stripe.

The questionnaire included an apparently arbitrary category – “It’s our country – keep out!”, which recorded scores of 3 and 4% for most SADC countries.

However, researchers were astonished to find that this was the most important factor for over 15% of South Africans – higher, even, than concerns about foreigners importing crime.

Could this outbreak of violence, actually be an unforseen part of what Idasa's Steven Friedman has called a flowering of democracy? He recently said in reference to the Zuma ascendancy:

"IS THIS the best of times, or the worst?"

Perhaps it is both.

And just today the studies assertion of South African nationalism was confirmed, as was its democratizing potential, when Jacob Zuma visited the trouble spots.

"While the leader was loudly welcomed by the crowd -- packed into a small community centre -- he received an unusually tough response as members demanded the government deal with the influx of foreigners.

A young man shouting from the back of the hall urged Zuma to ensure government kept out foreigners from neighbouring countries.

"You talk to (Zimbabwe President Robert) Mugabe, you talk to (Mozambique President Armando) Guebuza. Tell them to tell their people they must not harass us in our country. This is our country."

He said foreigners in the country were "riding on the gravy train".

"We are looking to make you our president (in 2009 elections) so beware. If you are a stumbling block, we are going to kick you away," the man warned, as the crowd erupted with deafening support for the sentiments."

Mhambi has written before on how lack of nationalism is one of the biggest impediments to African development. Could there be a lining around this dark cloud??

When nationalism first flashed onto the European scene in the 19th century, it was seen as a progressive force. Strengthening and uniting the people against the power of hereditary monarchy and ushering in democracy.

In his book The Criminalization of the state in Africa Bayart points out that - counter to popular belief - African culture is hyper individualistic. This individualism causes all manner of social ills such as corruption and state failure.

Nationalism is an antidote to the rampant individualism found in African culture.

It's an antidote to big-man syndrome, tribalism, corruption and predatory elites. But only if harnessed and channeled correctly. Nationalism can breed fascism in certain conditions. Many of whom are all to present in South Africa.

If this survey is correct, we should draw the following conclusions. The xenophobes are acting rationally on what they believe is true. They acting in concert because of government inaction.

This report suggests that if the white cliffs of Dover towered just South of the Limpopo, and if the English border control resembled a sieve, and their police and home office was corrupt, then perhaps Conservative British MP Enoch Powell's Rivers of blood speech would have become true. Yes, even in England's green and pleasant land.

Western lefty inspired slogans adopted by our anti-xenophobia marchers with slogans like "no one is illegal" are romantic but misplaced and insult the intelligence of the poor.

Yes, the US and Europe can afford and carry many more unskilled migrants, but South Africa, whose future is far from certain can hardly be a successful developmental state without population control.

If South Africa uplifts its poor as the new pro-poor ANC intends, the impetus will be even greater for others to come.

Or look at it this way. If South Africa with a GDP of more than 40% of the continent fails and becomes a failed state it will drag all of Southern Africa and parts of East Africa with it. South Africa surely will fail if it can't better the lives of its poor. The levels of inequality is not politically sustainable.

So what should we be campaigning for?

We should be campaigning for anti-corruption measures, proper border controls, efficient officials, political asylum, prosecution of xenophobic attacks, action on the crisis in Zimbabwe, for the legal status for those foreigners that have been living here and attracting immigrants with skills.

We could also conclude that the attacks won't readily spread along tribal lines, and also will not become black on white.

That is if the ANC stops it's startling non-management and non-rule, if they don't, all bets will be off.

Zuma can not say he has not been warned.

For another interesting perspective, hear what Professor Sakhela Buhlungu has to say. (Audio)

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1 comment:

Mike said...


This is such a serious issue that it is difficult to see humour amongst the dark clouds. But I'm interrupting reading your post to comment on something you've clearly picked up on as well.

"Perhaps Krappies Engelbrecht is dishing out golf clubs from the back of his boot in Boksburg. But I doubt it."

Is that a pitching wedge hanging over the mob in the picture above? At first glance I thought it was a boom microphone from a camera crew and I thought that was strange... Then I realised that it was in fact golf going 'grass roots'! I think xenophobia is going to make it to my golf blog :-).