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Friday, May 30, 2008

Is Thabo Mbeki the source of South Africa Xenophobia?

Finally deep rooted suspicions and condescending attitudes towards “the rest of Africa” have erupted into a wave of violence against black immigrants living in South Africa.

The seemingly well orchestrated xenophobic attacks (pitting locals against hapless “black foreigners” in the township of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg) has left many injured, dead or displaced after they were forcefully evicted and their houses destroyed. The violence has shown no signs of abating and has been spreading fast to the city center and across the Gauteng region. Reports indicate an increase of violence against women and children who have been left to bear the brunt of this insensitive fervor. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) which has treated many victims of live bullets, beatings and rape, it is a classic refugee situation that will eventually overwhelm the authorities. South African police were stretched so thin that the military had to be deployed to help quell the situation. Why the violence?

It is particularly shameful for the "Rainbow Nation" considering its past record on human rights abuses and democracy. South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki knows that what is happening in today is a replay of the situation in Zimbabwe some 10 years ago when Comrade Robert Mugabe began a controversial land redistribution program that saw many commercial farms seized from white farmers and turned over to blacks sending its economy into a spin. Zimbabwe has never recovered. The only difference comes in who is executing the anti “rest of Africa” policy in which poor South Africans are being used by hidden forces out to gain with the exit of black immigrants. It is therefore not strange that such violence can occur at a time when the country is preparing to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Mbeki ousted from the ANC leadership. Many hoped that the World Cup would bring new opportunities for the entire continent. But it seems South Africa is not ready to share such glory with the “rest of Africa”. It took days of violence for authorities to notice its magnitude. The statement from President Mbeki that “Citizens from other countries on the African continent and beyond are as human as we are and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity", was just that, a statement…a mere rhetoric.

He played a big role in the tremendous economic growth of South Africa, but seems Mr. Mbeki is ready to undo what he helped create. The problem began when Jacob Zuma was elected president of the ruling African National Congress. Mbeki felt undermined since it is very clear that Zuma stands a better chance of succeeding him as the next president. According to South African political analyst Harald Pakerndorf (speaking to VOA on Zuma’s election), the results were not necessarily a rejection of President Mbeki’s policies, but rather a rejection of his personality.

“It has to do with two things. First of all there is resentment against the same person being at the helm, which is good for democracy. And also Mr. Mbeki had a distance between himself and the general population, and Mr. Zuma on the other hand is a very populist kind of a speaker and has closed relations with people on the ground. I think the two balance each other. It’s not necessarily a rejection of Mr. Mbeki’s policies. It is a rejection of Mr. Mbeki’s personality,” he said.

Pakerndorf described Mbeki as a foreign educated South African while Zuma educated himself while serving jail time for the ANC.(Continues below)

Top posts in May 2008:
1. South Africa Violence: Why is Brother Fighting Brother?
2. Africa Day is not Socialism Day!
3. Keen on business, China is yet to flex its formidable military muscle in Africa
4. Top secrets: Gaddafi plotted to bomb Kenya
5. Democracy, reforms can end fear of instability
6. Kenya tea loses its flavor in Pakistan

Are the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa Justified?
(Give you view on the violence in South Africa in the poll at the top of this page)

“If you go back in history, Mr. Mbeki left the country when he was still a teenager and spent most of his time in Europe and latter part in Lusaka, Zambia and hasn’t had a real connection with people on the ground or ordinary South Africans” Pakerndorf said.

He said the fact that Mbeki turned South Africa’s economy around matters little to ordinary South Africans.

“What is interesting and important is that people on the ground actually expect that their lives should be better and could be better. They see their fellow black South Africans moving ahead, some of them becoming millionaires, moving into brick houses. And I think that’s part of what you see happening here. People on the ground are simply saying no more of the same. We want to be part of the economy,” Pakerndorf said.

In part, the situation in South Africa has been aggravated by the sudden surge in the cost of living attributed to the global increase of food and fuel prices. The volatile situation in Zimbabwe has also played a role in the escalating violence since many have moved to South Africa to seek refuge due to the political uncertainty facing their country. It is believed that up to 5 million “black” foreigners mainly from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Nigeria live in the poor township areas of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg further straining the scarce resources meant for South Africans. Unemployment is on the rise with many of the nation's largest employers resorting to massive layoffs leaving a desperate population to engage in crime for survival.

Since the apartheid era, many locals have slipped into abject poverty despite the newly expanded freedom that has done little to improve the quality of life of many in the rainbow nation. However, all blame should be targeted towards the South African government and not the immigrants many of whom are playing a positive role in the country’s development. The South African Xenophobia began with the end of apartheid, NOT yesterday like we are being made to believe. Granted, there are many South Africans who live in “the rest of Africa” but it would be despicable if they too were to undergo the same wrath.


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