Xenophobia and SA's structural riddle

A GROWING disillusionment and frustration among the youth of South Africa regarding the state of affairs in the country is playing out in an ugly fashion.

The economy continues to reproduce inequality and anger among the black youths.

Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) shows a better appreciation of the issue and perhaps the correct prediction that xenophobic violence, or its end, will not solve the problem.

The repeated xenophobic violence in South Africa is aporophobic, meaning it is targeting people from a poor and working class background, but also it is Afrophobic in that its victims are African migrants.

The violence is therefore not a generalised attack on foreigners, whereas there are many shades of foreigners in South Africa, but black poor Africans from countries to the north, including Zimbabwe.

The disadvantaged South African population hates fellow Africans due to their perceived role as competitors for dwindling opportunities, but the issue is much more complex.

As Malema says, if the foreigners leave, unemployment and inequality in South Africa will most probably remain.
A deeper structural issue causes the current state of affairs in the country.

One knows about this, because a pretty much similar anti-immigration sentiment has swept European countries, in recent years, leading to the rise in right-wing ideologies.
Similar questions about stolen opportunities have been heard there too.

In the case of the United States, veteran Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer argues persuasively that immigration has not stolen jobs, for instance, as much as industry automation.

Another view, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues, is that the problem of inequality and multiple societal frustrations and aggressions associated with it are probably a direct result of how globalisation has unfolded.

The South African economy compares highly in Africa among countries that have been integrated into global capitalism.

When one looks at South Africa, especially black and poor South Africa, the outstanding question could be how political independence has not been able to deliver economic goods, but has brought about a crisis of two nations.

It may be no wonder that the EFF’s stoke has risen in a very short period because its palm lies at the very pulse of the popular economic question and economic redistribution as a fulfilment of political freedom.

While today the frustration is being confronted, or more accurately unconsciously emitted through scapegoating of African foreigners, time may be running out before real social conflict among unequal layers of South Africans themselves emerge.

The democracy that Nelson Mandela helped build cannot exist in a frozen State, but it probably rested on the unspoken assumption that as the years progressed the many questions lying at the heart of Apartheid’s popular rejection would be dealt with amicably.

In this sense, for any group to neglect these questions, or seek to entrench the unjust distribution of wealth that the pre-1994 system promoted would be a betrayal of the miracle of South Africa’s peaceful democratic transition and its future promise.

The fundamental fact cannot be missed that the end of Apartheid was not the end, but the beginning of a consensual resolution of many of its toxic questions.

While it is important that many of South Africa’s political leaders understand that the Zimbabwean error, the (Robert) Mugabe-style confrontation and chaos, must not be copied because its disastrous results are self-evident, there is also need to appreciate the equal dangers of a do-nothing option.

Yet, it cannot be forgotten that the influx of economic migrants, including from Zimbabwe, or any other country, however, inconsequential to the deep structural questions affecting South African society as Malema correctly reads, this wave of immigration has worsened extant feelings of frustration and anger. 

Sadly, to cover up for their own omissions, some South African politicians, have made utterances, which have further promoted the othering of African migrants.

Just like the wave of migration to Europe across the Mediterranean sea, the African migrant crisis in South Africa is also linked to instability and economic collapse in source countries.

The subliminal message for Zimbabweans, for instance, including by politicians and ordinary South Africans, is that Zimbabweans must come back home and face their government.

The irony, however, is that the same South African government has been supportive of the same oppressive system, which continues to make Zimbabweans economic refugees for the past two decades.


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