AS I write this, Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela, is dismissing the latest round of xenophobic attacks as nothing more than the ‘criminality of youth”. In effect the justifications for violence against immigrants, the looting of shops owned by foreigners, have become part of the cycle of violence.
Although Manemala claims there is no xenophobia, as he sees it, he is unable to explain why the victims are all immigrants.
The pogroms against immigrants are neither a rite of passage, nor random acts, and to suggest otherwise, is to make a mockery of our democracy.
Researchers at the University of Witwatersrand compared South African demographic data with the United States where immigrants make up 11% of the population and concluded that South Africa is nowhere close. They estimate that the overall foreign population in South Africa ranges from 1.6 to 2 million, or 3 to 4 percent of the total population.
Where the USA has turned immigration into an advantage, with hard-working immigrants contributing to society via taxes, ingenuity and the addition of their unique culture, South Africans still see immigrants as a threat to the allocation of supposed scarce resources.
Myths which need to be dispensed with since there is no evidence to show that immigrants take away jobs from nationals.
Competition is the basis for our mixed welfare and market economy. If immigrants are doing better, because they buy goods in bulk, township tuck shops need to be asking themselves why it is that they haven’t bothered to secure a better deal from their own suppliers?
South Africa is no exception when it comes to the problem of immigration. The countries failure to absorb and naturalise immigrants is thus not unique, but nothing seems to have been learnt from the last wave of attacks which occurred in 2008
The Wits researchers report for instance that there are between 1 and 1.5 million legal and illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa.
Instead of running anti-xenophobia programmes, assisting integration and helping immigrants to adjust to South African culture, via basic education (surely knowledge of our history should be compulsory for all prospective citizens?), the government has looked the other way.
Newspaper reports of drug issues to do with Nigerians, have merely stoked the flames of a drug war, with opposition parties such as the DA, calling for more money to be spent on anti-drug programmes.
The DA response is certainly opportunistic coming on the back of debate in the National Assembly surrounding the legalisation of marijuana which could benefit the economy and flies in the face of harm reduction strategies which would do more to alleviate the problem than building prisons.
The atmosphere in the townships is positively terrifying, with immigrants living in fear that their homes will be set alight by angry mobs, fueled by the ruling parties insistence on struggle-washing xenophobia.
The democratic revolution can certainly do without politicians who fail to uphold human rights.
UPDATE: SABC are reporting that Manamela has also denounced the looting as “the work of a few bad apples” but has not explained his earlier comments and the failure of police to protect immigrants from mob violence.