South Africa And The Challenge Of African Solidarity

South Africa And The Challenge Of African Solidarity

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 2:34 pm

By Osuolale Alalade

South Africa is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. But it is not South Africa that is in the news. It is Africa that has been caught in the beams of international hypocritical searchlight. Perhaps, for good reason. Events in South Africa at least present an opportunity in enabling us to x-ray our own assumptions in relation to this seminal development on our continent. Whatever compulsions, instinctive, emotional or plain and hard-nosed rational, drive our responses to the terrible happenings in the country, they are indeed horrible, going by the footage of blood cuddling murder that we are assailed with. The question as a columnist Mathatha Tsedu, put it in the Johannesburg City press is “Why are we failing as Africans? Meanwhile, since the last public blood-letting outing of the xenophobic gangs in 2008, African artists resident in South Africa, among them Akin Omotosho, the 41 year old internationally acclaimed multiple award winning Nigerian actor and movie director, have focused on distilling strong counter arguments against xenophobia; the popular understanding of what has become predictable seasonal gory flare ups.

This activism and other initiatives do not seem to have made a light dent on the problem, because the attacks are symptomatic of larger festering challenges that South Africa has been unable to resolve in twenty one years of post Apartheid black rule. South Africa has been unable to wean itself from some of the most devastating legacies of Apartheid. This includes delegitimizing a dangerous mindset that was needed to validate revolutionary violence that was unleashed to overcome Apartheid. The structures of the economy are skewed and its society increasingly differentiated between an emerged small black elite and a mass black impoverished. These failures have all impacted the character of post Apartheid South African society. Mainstreet South Africa deals with the horror of unimaginable violence practically on a daily basis. But this happens behind the fortified walls of highly secured gated communities. Once in a while, this sanguine reality is expressed along the margins of mainstream of South Africa in the scapegoating of fellow Africans.

•Akin Omotosho, Focused on distilling strong counter arguments against Xenophobia

•Akin Omotosho, Focused on distilling strong counter arguments against Xenophobia

These are manifestations of a crisis that has engulfed this embattled rainbow nation. All residents of the country, across the social strata, are caught in the throes of violence. Only a very brutal re-evaluation of the failed social and developmental paradigms employed by the South African government can begin to instill a semblance of normalcy in relations among South Africans, between South Africans and the continent. These harsh measures to be adopted are the default approaches that have been adopted in many other African countries. It would require the understanding of other Africans to give South Africa a chance to recalibrate its economic and social blueprint to meet the legitimate aspirations of those in the margins who perceive themselves being left behind as South Africa moves into its third decade of majority rule.

Meanwhile, all over the world, from the United States of America, through Ukraine, Austria, France, Australia and China, immigrants have been made scapegoats of. The differences are in the approaches and who is leading the charge against foreigners. Where the state leads the charge against foreigners to protect the threatened hegemony of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) dominant in the United States of America or in Australia, the more sophisticated institutional violence that is unleashed is taken off the streets and rationalized in carefully couched euphemisms in carefully arranged and managed bogus discourse. The violence against foreigners can be very crude when the militias, both from the mainstream as in the USA and Australia or the margins as in South Africa take it upon themselves to help the government to solve perceived threats of foreign invasion. Xenophobia is a phenomenon or a crisis that belies globalization.

The US shares a common border of about 2,000-miles (3,200 kms) with Mexico and has a large Latino community. This is the largest minority and fastest growing community in the United States. The US Customs and Border Protection spent $2.4 billion between 2006 and 2009 to complete 670 miles of border fence that is designed to keep foreigners or their vehicles from crossing into the United States, according to a Government Accountability Office report. When completed, a 2,000 mile state-of-the-art border fence has been estimated to cost between four and eight billion dollars. A poll conducted by conservative news outlet suggests that the American people favored a proposal to build a 2,000-mile security fence by a 51-to-37 percent margin. Meanwhile, the total illegal alien population was estimated by Secretary of Homeland Security at 8 to 12 million in December 2003, even though to heighten perception of the threat posed to American way of life, some major news outlets regularly use 20 million as a more realistic number of illegal aliens in the US. The conservatives who are the main backers of fencing America off the Mexican border claim that a sea of illegal aliens provide a cover and an environment in which terrorists can hide, and the tide of in-coming aliens provides terrorists with a reliable means of entry. Foreigners, they also allege, are drug couriers. Such is the fear of Latino immigrants that private minutemen and anti-immigrant militias have been established in states like Texas and Arizona “to do the job their government refuses to do” and “protect America” from tens of millions and plundering of the nation. They argue that “it should be legal to kill illegals.” This must sound familiar.

In Australia, the government dumps desperate immigrants who have survived perilous sea journeys to escape poverty and discrimination in facilities totally inappropriate and ill-equipped, with people cramped into leaking tents, suffering from physical and mental ailments–creating a climate of anguish especially during the repressively hot monsoon season. Australia is also known to have refused to rescue people caught in storms who died when their boats capsized. The waiting time to be processed in these inhabitable hell located in Nauru is five years under the Government’s horrendous ‘no advantage’ policy. Offshore processing of the so-called illegals on Nauru and Manus Island is designed to break vulnerable people in these ill-conceived limbo camps. China’s very stringent monitoring of foreigners is legendary as many Africans are forced into debt and imprisoned for merely overstaying their visa. There have been deadly riots. Also, the perennial conflagration in the outskirts and ghettoes of French cities need no recall. The French government is known to have offered monetary incentives to get rid of unwanted foreigners, including gypsies that were once forcibly ejected from the country.

The South African situation deviates in many respects from these cases. The problem with official South Africa is that it is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It must resolve the challenge of accommodating its sprawling internal constituency of those who are left behind while at the same time be sensitive to African solidarity in managing the avalanche of fleeing economic migrants from badly managed African countries without provoking the kind of backlash that it currently faces. That is not all. Its balancing act is in the context of a very difficult national process.

•Goodwill Zwelithini- Allegedly instigated the mayhem in South Africa

•Goodwill Zwelithini- Allegedly instigated the mayhem in South Africa

The current madness betrays the turbulent undercurrents of South Africa’s politics, in particular the structure of its economy and their impact on national life. The horrendous hackings to death of foreigners, now symbolized by the brutal daylight stalking, bludgeoning and stabbing to death of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole, are strong reminders of the dire consequences of pervasive disillusionment of the black masses in post Apartheid South Africa. The attacks that seem to have acquired a xenophobic character are indeed the other side of the violence that seem to have become a quotidian reality of this land struggling hard to translate its vision of a rainbow nation into actuality. For good or for evil, as Nigerians would have realized in the bizzare contortions of the nation’s rendezvous with Olusegun Obasanjo, the fortunes of a country in a generation or two could be mercilessly impacted by the interests of only one or two persons. South Africa has been beholden to the King of the Zulus, Goodwill Zwelithini, and his uncle, Mangosuthu Gasha Buthelezi, from the Apartheid era. It should come as no surprise that the immediate instigator of this latest mayhem is no other person that King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The traditional King of the Zulu is famed for being a political tool, manipulated and implicated in the murderous activities of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) by his uncle Mangosuthu Gasha Buthlezi during the Kempton Park negotiations between 1990 and 1993 that ended Apartheid in South Africa. In fact, some suggest that the Zulu traditional hierarchy worked hand in glove with the Apartheid regime. Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Third Force use of unmitigated force to back its demand for a federated South Africa in order to maintain the territorial and political integrity of the Zulu Kingdom in the new South Africa failed. The idea was for what is today’s Kwa Zulu natal province to be treated as a quasi-autonomous political entity with wide ranging powers for the king. Buthelezi and his nephew the king remained a thorn not just in the flesh of the Mandela led African National Congress in the dying days of the Apartheid regime, they remained a lightning rod of the ANC until only around 1994. In the process, courted by the ANC to weaken Buthelezi, King Zwelithini soon recognized the immense power of his traditional institution to which he has put to abusive use as trained by his uncle. Since then, in the words of public commentator Mondli Makhanya, King Goodwil Zwelithini’s words and influence have always been used to sow mayhem and destruction. But he is an untouchable as President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu, understands too well where the king, the ANC and the country are coming from. It is therefore no coincidence that the latest madness began in Durban in Kwa Zulu Natal province. A viral SMS to the effect that a train full of Zulus armed to the teeth had arrived in Johannesburg and Pretoria sent the Hibrow cocoon of foreign professionals in Johannesburg into shivers. The Zulu king’s latest call for a halt to the killings and for the signing of a peace accord between foreigners and South Africans provides a face saving retreat from his destructive populism and nationalism.

Yet, the King’s public denunciation of foreigners gave vent to the well known anger of poor South Africans. Young, uneducated black South Africans have felt strongly disadvantaged in the competition in the retail trade and petty services that had been taken over by fellow Africans from the continent. The tension had been palpable for some time with a few well meaning commentators drawing attention to the keg of gun powder in South Africa’s national lounge. Indeed the margins of South Africa would seem to have been given a short shrift and this is at the heart of the internal debate within the ANC. This has spawned a radical protest movement in the Economic Freedom Fighters of irascible Julius Malema.

But the situation has arisen not because of a lack of trying by the ANC. The ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program was designed to create a black middle class. This has attained some remarkable progress. The idea was that this new black middle class would create avenues for the empowerment to trickle down to impact the black community. This expectation of the cascading impact of the BEE has floundered. The black majority who were denied any education or who were outright victims of the Apartheid policy of deliberately stifling the development of the entrepreneurial capacity of blacks are no match for the more experienced Somalis, Mozambicans and Zimbabweans. As is often the case with immigrants, the foreigners are more motivated to work extremely hard and to save through self imposed privations. Often too these communities of foreigners are not integrated, especially the Somalis whose clannishness has no bounds. As for Nigerians, who have so far gotten off lightly in this episode, the proclivity of drug trafficking and underhand business is well known. While these are no excuses for the inhuman degradation of life that has been witnessed in this country, they are very important factors that fuel resentment of South Africans.

What all this suggest is to moderate our sense of outrage against South Africa. South Africa must resolve its dilemma. Pretoria has to bite the bullet and institute an indigenization policy that must definitively restrict some the activities of foreigners to more advanced and relatively capitalized ventures and sectors of the economy. South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. For one thing, unemployment is a staggering problem especially as the unemployed are often also unemployable, except probably in the mines. Even by official estimates, and it tends to be conservative, unemployment rate in South Africa decreased to 24.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 25.40 percent in the third quarter of 2014. Unemployment rate in South Africa averaged 25.25 percent from 2000 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 31.20 percent in the first quarter of 2003 and a record low of 21.50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. Another source highlights that by 2014 the black African unemployment rate had declined from 43% to 40%. It notes that this is of no comfort to the additional 3.1 million black African workforce unemployed. Since many in this category are unemployable and have no history and culture of working, it would require some measure of affirmative mobilization to inculcate a new working ethic, create self employment niches and nurture this category of deprived South Africans into constructive participants in society and economy. Therefore, an open door policy to all of Africa’s poor and wearied cannot be an option. As it currently stands, this kind of selfless solidarity is very unrealistic and can only sharpen current antagonisms between poor black South Africans and other Africans. Solidarity unlimited is a politically defeatist route for the ANC. South Africa must find creative alternatives to pacify its roaring mass disenchanted. It is an imperative to defuse the ticking time bomb.

Some sacrifices are therefore required. South Africa must close some of its soft sectors to foreign participation as we theoretically did in Nigeria years ago. The retail sector, with clearly specified limits that are within the capacity of the marginalized South Africans, should preferably be closed to foreigners. Also, at the next level, Africans who so desire should enter into partnerships with South Africans in bigger wholesale outlets to enhance the stakes of South African blacks in these joint enterprises. This would be nothing innovative as it is the practice in Ghana. SADC or no SADC, some soft sectors of the economy that have the potential to serve as platforms for the apprenticeship of the most business savvy of the lumpen mass lot should rightfully be reserved for nationals. The South African government should also provide lending facilities that are accompanied or preceded by training in management of small businesses with economic outreach officers from financial institutions to provide advisory services to this new cadres of Small and Medium young black entrepreneurs. Also directly relevant is the need to reorient South Africans psychologically to begin to see themselves and their nation as integral part and parcel of Africa. The entrenched notion of South Africa as an autonomous social universe vis-à-vis the rest of the Continent should be addressed through formal and informal engagements with South African society. In this connection, Africa has the technological infrastructure to begin the cultivation of transnational people to people networks in the continent.

•Foreigners being attacked in South Africa

•Foreigners being attacked in South Africa

As for the rest of Africa, it is high time we learnt that we cannot continue to shirk our responsibilities at home and expect others to clean up after us. We are daily assaulted on our television screens by the consequences of the pervasive irresponsibility of our states and leadership as Africans choose to expose themselves to unimaginable risks of near certain death just to earn a menial living in Europe. As I write, 950 illegal immigrants just perished in the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Lampadusa. Even without the so called Xenophobic attacks, Africans are dying in horrific circumstances just to escape the fate at home.

African governments must empathize with the situation in South Africa and work to ensure that the solidarity of official South Africa is not abused any further. There is so much official irresponsibility in our national lives. An anecdotal point here illustrates this. There is a poor country in Sahelian West Africa that has specialized in breeding population and exporting it around the sub region. Population planning has no meaning in this country. Hopefully, the coming change promised by the in-coming Buhari democratic government would de-incentivize Nigerians from seeking all manner of escape valves from home, including drug trafficking in South Africa. As for those who cannot resist the temptation to get and flaunt their ill gotten riches through drug dealing and other nefarious activities, may they be caught in Thailand or Indonesia. In fact, it should be official policy that Nigeria’s consular help to its citizens abroad in cases involving drug trafficking should be scrupulously limited to ensuring that rule of law and the judicial processes are meticulously adhered to. Finally, Nigeria must learn to be more mature in handling challenges thrown up by the kind of situation we are faced with in South Africa. To threaten to close down South Africa’s investment in Nigeria on account of this unfortunate development as reported in the local media in South Africa does not reflect the sophistication one would expect of a country of our stature and experience in navigating this matter. Knee-jerk responses to crisis are not indicative of measured and reasoned leadership.

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One Comment

  • bobsled says:

    A very balanced contribution however, it does not go far enough to ask difficult questions about many sub-Saharan countries where citizens escape from political violence and the role of AU in it. The immigrant population in SA would not be that as large as it is without millions of Zimbabweans the majority of whom have had enough of political violence and persecution in their own country (the same can be said about Rwanda, Burundi and DRC). The AU appears to be act as a trade union of presidents where violence on citizens is never vigorously addressed at all. Violence worse than the xeophobia in SA took place in Zimbabwe (over the last two decades but especially after Mugabe lost elections in 2008) but there was never any solidarity from neighbouring countries. I guess the continent does not count citizens of other coutries as their own, if it does not involve citizens of one’s country then it ceizes to be one’s concern. Where was the disgust when Zimbabweans were being butchered by their own government in 2008, or when Kenyans were slaughtered by Al Shaba???

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