19 May 2008

Telling it like it is - why xenophobia

A lot of the blame for the growing xenophobia among ordinary South Africans must be laid at the door of the government, says Justice Malala.

The Times - A simple recipe for xenophobia:
A cocktail of factors, mixed by the ANC over the past 10 years, is responsible for the barbarism.

These people are behaving like barbarians because the ANC has failed — despite numerous warnings — to act on burning issues that are well known for having sparked similar eruptions across the globe.

This cocktail is made up of stubborn denialism on Zimbabwe, an increasingly incompetent and corrupt police service, poor service delivery and corruption in government departments.

The crime-does-pay culture fostered by the ANC — criminals such as the Travelgate fraudsters walk away scot-free — is a central ingredient of the cocktail.

But the bulk of the cocktail comprises the failed state that is Zimbabwe. The country’s economy has collapsed. Its political leaders, security services and agents are looting the treasury. Zimbabweans are fleeing.

Malala tells it like it is, and there is no point in repeating what he says, far better than I could.

But a few points could be added. The police and immigration officials have harassed foreigners, even those who have valid residence permits, and tried to extort bribes from them, because of the culture of impunity. The move to incorporate the Scorpions into the police is part of this culture of impunity. But this attitude of the police encourages xenophobia. When South African passengers in taxis see foreigners being singled out for bullying, it sets an example that people follow.

South African observers of earlier Zimbabwean elections have said they were not free and fair, but they were told to say that they were free and fair, so they did.

I get the impression that Thabo Mbeki has shrunk over the years. When he first became deputy president, I regarded him as one of those who had fought for our freedom, but he has become more and more gnome-like. Back in 1991, at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union, there was a communist-backed coup attempt. Gorbachev was on holiday at the Black Sea and was held incommunicado for several days, while Yeltsin in Moscow faced down the coup leaders. A few days later a cartoon appeared in some newspapers showing Yeltsin driving a car, with Gorbachev strapped into a child seat on the passenger side. Now one gets the impression that Mugabe is driving the car, and Mbeki is strapped in the child seat.

The government does not want to acknowledge that there are enormous numbers of refugees from Zimbabwe at present in South Africa, because to do so would be to acknowledge that there is a problem in Zimbabwe. And, sad to say, Zimbabweans are often better educated and harder-working than South Africans. Nearly 15 years after the end of apartheid, the government has failed to repair the damage done to the education system by Christian National Education. A whole generation of school children have gone through school without seeing very much improvement. By now, the school system in Zimbabwe has probably collapsed, but the average Zimbabwean aged between 25 and 35 is probably far better educated than their South African counterparts, and so find it easier to get jobs.

No one in their right mind expects Thabo Mbeki to behave like George Bush and to invade Zimbabwe to bring about regime change, but he could at least say something in favour of justice, freedom and democracy. We've heard his excuses for his impotence for the last eight or nine years now, and he's still strapped in the child seat and can't reach the steering wheel and the pedals, and his toy steering wheel fools no one but him.


Adam Gonnerman said...

I got what you said about the culture of corruption, but where does xenophobia come into play? Is it white and black South Africans looking at the world through prejudiced and fearful eyes, or something else?

Steve Hayes said...

Not a culture of corruption, but a culture of impunity -- that police can bully foreigners and get away with it, especially if they are illegal immigrants, because they get deported and can't complain.

The xenophobia is the usual thing, especially among the unemployed -- there are about 3 million Zimbabwean refugees. the unemployed say they take our jobs and so on.


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