By Tendai Chabvuta | Follow his Blog |
This is September 2019 and South Africa is again dominating the news for the wrong reasons – this time it’s violent attacks on foreigners living in South Africa by South African young men and women.
Social media is awash with solidarity messages and condemnation for the barbaric acts from the whole world. Africa is appalled as calls are made to boycott anything South African from music concerts, food, supermarket chains etc.
The South Africans who are allegedly causing the mayhem argue that the “foreigners” are behind the rampant armed robberies, the wanton murders, the out of control drug trafficking and incessant human trafficking rings common in most major cities in South Africa.
Arguments for and against the violence are very strong. What is important to note however is that the only plausible explanation for this violence is that while these xenophobic attacks are carried out by ordinary South Africans, it has now become unwritten government policy on how to handle foreigners in South Africa.
Public policy experts say politics is what governments choose to do or not do. The South African government has for ages elected to remain on the fringes when violence is unleashed on defenseless foreigners even after prominent leaders have issued inflammatory and criminal statements beforehand.
The central argument is that there is nothing to stop the police, government leaders, traditional leaders who are constitutionally mandated to provide leadership in dealing with the problems that are attendant on migration and refugee problems.
The police can investigate and arrest alleged foreign criminals. The immigration officials can put their foot down and prevent illegal entry into the country. Trade Industry and Economic Planning Units can stamp out fake products imported into South Africa’s markets.
The Labor Ministry can implement stringent controls on who is employed in South Africa’s restaurants and farms and bar employers from employing cheap labor. This is not done; the government blames ordinary South Africans and this is convenient for them.
The ultimate truth remains however – the hands-off approach by the successive South African governments from Mbeki to Zuma to Ramaphosa is very deliberate. It is an effective way of ridding South Africa of unwanted foreigners.
Xenophobia – an eternal ticking time bomb for South Africa
The ordinary South African man or woman who hosts the ordinary African migrant and refugee in his or her community in Khayelithsa, Germiston, Alexandra, Springs etc. is being blamed for the deadly and wanton violence.
It is reported that the ordinary South African is angry because Nigerians have destroyed young South Africans’ lives through drugs peddled in areas such Hillbrow, Yeoville and many others across South Africa. Zimbabweans are accused of providing cheap labor to industries and farms in South Africa and thus edging out South Africans from well paying jobs.
Other East and Central African citizens are accused of electronic fraud and scams that has cost South Africans millions of Rands in losses. The ordinary South African is said to be concerned that public resources such as schools, hospitals, government housing schemes and the social welfare system are inundated and saddled with pressure from the foreigners who have now besieged it.
But is this really what influences the violence?
I beg to differ and argue that the South African political leadership is playing a dangerous game of blame shifting for their incompetence in planning and providing public goods.
Herman Mashaba and Cyril Ramaphosa have been quoted on several occasions noting that foreigners must be flushed out of South Africa. They have raised almost similar reasons as the ones pointed out above by the ordinary South African.
The convergence of thought is suspicious and unintelligent. There is no doubt that the voices of the political elite are powerful and influence public opinion in a great deal which could lead to open violence as meted out on foreigners in several epochs of violence described as xenophobia in South Africa since the end of apartheid.
What must be admitted is that when it comes to social services, the South African central and local arms of the government continue to struggle to provide those services. That the foreigners who live in the same suburbs with ordinary South Africans also benefit from such services as schools, hospitals, housing is not denied.
However, the South African government needs to be taken to task on a number of issues which include getting information on what the exact expenses are by the alleged foreigner.
The South African government must first provide for its own before it can start blaming the “foreigner” for its failure to deliver social services to its citizenry. South Africa needs to put its house in order and violently setting its citizens on “foreigners’ is not the solution”.
The case of the kettle calling the pot black – who causes crime in South Africa?
The ordinary South African is said to be scared of the criminal gangs, activities and shenanigans of the “foreigner” in South Africa. But it is also true that the South African citizen himself has been at the helm of the crime rings in South Africa.
Any society is bound to have crime and this cannot be ruled out. What is disputed is the blanket apportioning of blame on each and every “foreigner” in South Africa as a criminal. The onus is on the South African government and its arms of the law to ensure that criminals be they South Africans or foreign are investigated, arraigned before the courts and prosecuted if ever found committing offences.
Due to the lackadaisical nature of crime investigations in South Africa, many criminals South African or foreign continue to go scot free and that cannot be the problem of “foreigners” – makwerekwere or whatever they want to call them. South Africa needs to put its house in order and violently setting its citizens on “foreigners’ is not the solution”.
The housing and social welfare nightmare
South Africa came out of apartheid with a huge backlog for housing and the need to provide social welfare grants to its people. One of the biggest outcries by the ordinary South African is that Zimbabweans and many other African citizens have found themselves on the lists of beneficiaries for those social welfare grants and houses ahead of them. This is a genuine concern for any citizen.
However, what is not made clear is how those same “foreigners” end up receiving such resources when they are supposedly not entitled to receive them. That now, is a case for the South African government to answer.
The corruption and sheer incompetence exhibited by government officials in allocating such resources shows that the government of South Africa and its officers is complicit in such acts and needs to be held accountable. South Africa needs to put its house in order and violently setting its citizens on “foreigners’ is not the solution”.
How do foreigners end up in South Africa?
There is no doubt that South Africa provides a relatively safe haven for people fleeing war, political violence, persecution, violence and poor economic conditions from countries such as the DRC, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana etc.
The question that begs answers is how so many refugees and immigrants end up in South Africa without proper documentation. It is a known fact that most Zimbabweans “jump” the border through the crocodile infested Limpopo .
It is a known fact that many other citizens coming from East Africa pay huge bribes to human trafficking smugglers who work hand in glove with Immigration and Police officers in South Africa to create safe passages for the immigrants and refugees.
It is baffling then to see the South African government exhibiting signs of shock when it has shown incompetence in controlling its borders as well curbing corruption within its immigration and police departments to curb illegal migration. South Africa needs to put its house in order and violently setting its citizens on “foreigners’ is not the solution”.
South Africa’s hands-off international diplomacy approach will continue to bite it
The immigration and foreigners’ issue in South Africa is akin to the snake that bites the hand that feeds it. South Africa has for a very long time opened its doors willingly or by some form of coercion to scores of immigrants and refugees fleeing persecution from their home countries.
However, the story that is not told to the ordinary South African is also that the South African government has squandered multiple chances of dealing with problems from these refugee and immigrants contributing countries because of political bungling or political expediency in its foreign policies in certain instances.
South Africa chose “quiet diplomacy” in Zimbabwe. South Africa chose to be “actively engaged” in the DRC conflict. Largely though, the hands-off approach by the South African government has meant that conflicts and crises that could have been prevented or de-escalated in other African countries have continue to rage on unabated with the resultant effect being that people flee their own countries. The closest destination far from the Mediterranean madness becomes South Africa with its attractive economy, functioning systems and hospitable people.
The moment South Africa stops handling countries such as Zimbabwe with kid gloves and closes its borders to incessant unregulated migration is the day Zimbabwe will see that it cannot continue on its deadly undemocratic path.
The day South Africa stops a hands-off approach to countries such as Malawi where election results take long to come out and are manufactured by the Election Commission is the day Malawi will behave and know that it cannot continue on its undemocratic path. The role for South Africa in SADC is clearly cut out. South Africa has one of the biggest economies in SADC if not in Africa.
The country’s political and social system are well developed. It therefore means that the country through SADC and the African Union can play a role in standards setting. South Africa can only continue fumbling with its foreign policy for so long but in the meantime it must expect an influx of refugees and migrants into its territory. South Africa needs to put its house in order and violently setting its citizens on “foreigners’ is not the solution”.
What to do with the foreigners in South Africa?
The political leadership in South Africa knows that every human being on its shores has indivisible human rights protected by its Constitution. The leadership knows that the foreigners undocumented or not they still have their rights to life, dignity and freedom from torture.
The political leadership knows without doubt that the government also has a duty to protect every human being (refugees and immigrants) in South Africa from attacks by civilians (CRIMINALS). Thus the police, immigration officials, and intelligence officials have clear duties to ensure that services are provided for duly deserving “foreigners”.
The South African government has systems and laws in place to deport and remove from their soil any person deemed not deserving to be in South Africa. The SA government does not do the right thing because its officers are corrupt and inept.
International laws governing the management and treatment of undocumented migrants, people trafficked and refugees is clear on how countries such as South Africa must manage these people. South Africa’s failure to abide by international law shows its laxity and ineptitude and must take the blame for the chaos that then occurs between its citizens and “foreigners”.
There is absolutely no reason why South Africa should cry foul about robberies, drug trafficking and human trafficking by “foreigners”. “Foreigners” are human beings who can be investigated and brought to justice. There is no reason why the South African police should leave its policing and judicial systems to be hijacked by private citizens unless of course if it’s the government of South Africa that is allowing such to occur.
King Zwelithini has castigated foreigners before, Herman Mashaba has called for foreigners’ extermination, Cyril Ramaphosa has endorsed the clamping down on foreigners before. Why would anyone in their right mind not think and believe that what the political leadership has been saying is NOT government policy?
Just like Marikana, just like the Guptas, just like the impunity with rapists, just like the torture, burning and destruction of “foreigners’ in South Africa, the South African government is responsible and allows for these things to happen.
What way SATAnFRIKA?
South Africa’s political, traditional and community leaders need to have a different conversation among themselves about foreigners in their country. It is useless to appeal to the boys and girls who beat up foreigners on South Africa’s streets to stop the violence on African immigrants. The problem is much bigger than them. The problem is more political than anything else.
The moment the government chooses to attend to its criminal justice system, social services and immigration policies as well tackling corruption in its civil service, these problems will be resolved. The improvement of community relations between host communities and refugees or immigrants will just be a topping on the cake.
For now, Cyril Ramaphosa must put an end to this violence forthwith and govern his country properly. He is the only one who can turn of the fuel that powers this violence.