Violence In South Africa

Joao Silva's photographs from South Africa are very evocative of the trouble that has been going on recently there.

These three are particularly stunning to me. In the top one a man is demolishing a shack to stop the spread of fire, which is a desperate measure. In the second, a woman takes a backward glance at a corpse. There is a casual calm in this image - punctured by the dead man's hand rising from the shroud - which I find disturbing. In the third a severely beaten man awaits assistance, guarded by a policeman. The protection offered him has come too late.

Perhaps this could have been avoided if South African President Thabo Mbeki had been willing to put more pressure on Mugabe after this year's election farce. Maybe then there wouldn't be so many refugees from Zimbabwe in his country. Maybe then xenophobia against immigrants wouldn't be so high. Maybe then some people would still be alive. Maybe.


kshorty1 said...

The last couple of weeks have been so tragedy laden. What with the cyclone that hit Myanmar, the earthquake is China and then the pipeline explosion at Ijegun. Now poor hungry black South Africans have turned on other poor hungry Africans. With all the talk of African unity it is amazing how easily African brothers turn on each other. In Nigeria it's Ife vs Modakeke, Umuleri vs Aguleri, Tiv vs Junkun e.t.c. If small tribes can fight each other over land and other such trivial matters while their taskmasters in high places wine and sup then you can imagine how easily tempers can become flared over "foreign occupiers". Tutsis and Hutus in Central Africa have hated each other for centuries eventually leading to wars in Rwanda and Burundi. Nigeria has had it's own issues with the Igbos claiming to be marginalised eventually leading to the Nigerian Civil War. The boiling Niger-Delta has continued to defy attempts at a peaceful resolution.

So what exactly happened in South Africa? We all know that a bunch of criminal gangs got together and decided that the foreigners are the cause of their poverty, unemployment and lack of social amenities. Zimbabweans, Malawians and other nationals had put them into years of economic backwardness and repression. The solution? Kill all the foreigners and the jobs would come back, electricity would be restored and the shantytowns on Alexandra and Hilbrow would magically be converted to Sandton. So off they went on a killing rampage that has left 46 dead at the last count. But what could the real cause be?

In my humble opinion, the fault lies with Thabo Mbeki and the ruling African National Party (ANC) for a number of reasons:

The South African Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and Previously Disadvantaged Individuals (PDI) programmes were designed to correct years of imbalance in the earnings of blacks and whites post-apartheid. It was supposed to take ownership and management of companies away from whites while increasing the number of blacks occupying these same positions. But there was a snag. The apartheid South Africa had undereducated blacks and left very few qualified to take on these positions. Meanwhile SA companies that wanted to remain in business had to comply so they resorted to taking anyone that had even a whiff of a University degree. Never mind that they were put in non-technical positions where they couldn't so much damage or exert any influence. Instead of reducing the imbalance, it only created a new breed of rich blacks with strong ties to the ruling African National Party (ANC). People like Mosima Gabriel Sexwale (aka Tokyo Sexwale) and Cyril Ramaphosa have become billionaires because of this legislation. So rather than creating equality in wealth distribution it further widened the gap and eventually increased the level of violent crime. Why are South Africans so violent? Maybe years of toughening up under apartheid? South Africa has some of the world's worst levels of violent crime, with 52 people murdered every 24 hours, for an annual murder rate of 43.1 per 100,000 people. Added to that each year are 200,000 robberies, 55,000 rapes, and half a million cases of assault and attempted murder. (culled from Time). Unemployment is at an all time high of 40%.

Secondly, Thabo Mbeki failed to apply the appropriate sanctions to the Government of Robert Mugabe for his years of misrule. Although the policy of land redistribution seemed smart at the time, taking well-run and productive farms from whites and turning them over to blacks who subsequently turned the farms into squatter settlements ruined Zimbabwe. Inflation of over 100,000% and a ruthless civilian dictator forced millions to flee to neighboring and more prosperous South Africa. Unless I'm missing something here, Thabo Mbeki should have stopped Robert Mugabe from ruining his country if only to prevent a refugee crisis on his hands. That's why Nigeria intervened in Sierra Leone and Liberia! Instability in one part of a closely knit region can easily spill over as it happened in the aforementioned countries and Rwanda/Burundi.

Lastly his Government's inability to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis also exacerbated the problem. His denial that HIV causes AIDS and his insistence that traditional methods cure AIDS increased the prevalence of the disease. He also appointed a Health Minister that shared his views on the matter. A high number of AIDS related deaths and illnesses added to existing levels of poverty means poor families' resources are directed towards taking care of the disease and fending for each other without the breadwinner. In some cases both parents die of AIDS leaving the children to relatives already burdened with taking care of their own children. The result? Further hopelessness and despair.
So with this background, why would poor people turn on other poor people who are not the cause of their problems? Transferred aggression. If at all these people wanted to revolt, they could have turned on the affluent members of their society who keep getting richer while they get poorer. These poor foreigners are prepared to work while black South Africans think the Government owes them a living. Even if all poor foreigners are killed, the situation with black South Africans will not improve. More lasting solutions will have to be found. BEE should focus on equality for all South Africans and not just ANC cronies. It should ensure the word "township" is a thing of the past. Hey, this country has enough for everyone so this should not be happening. Focus should be on increasing the quality of education so that BEE can really make an impact.

With the impending presidency of Jacob Zuma it is doubtful things will change any time soon. What can Nigeria learn from this? Should we riot like we did in the late 70s chanting, “Ghana must go” and face the reprisal from Ghanaians as we are now experiencing? Kick out all Indians, Lebanese, Chinese and other foreign nationals? I doubt that what happened in South Africa can happen in Nigeria. Immigration is a natural occurrence and can lead to the development of a country as it has done for the US. We can't deny the contribution of other nations to Nigeria. So to my South African brothers I say, direct your anger elsewhere. Use all that aggression in a coal mine. Killing your brothers will not solve the problem.

Tom White said...

Kehinde, thankyou for your informative post. The neglect of people by their appointed - self or otherwise - is indeed a cause of many problems.