Why is it that at the first sign of things getting hairy, the calls go out to send in the army? Does anyone actually think about the signal they’re sending to our fellow South Africans by deploying troops against these communities?
The current xenophobia problem in South Africa arises, primarily, out of the government’s failure to adequately regulate immigration and deliver on promises made to the electorate. This has occasioned widespread anger among our poorer communities who, in addition to their exisisting hardships, are bearing the brunt of seemingly endless waves of strangers arriving on their doorstep.
The South African Institute for Race Relations sets out nine causes they believe gave rise to the current crisis. It is a well thought out and logical analysis and certainly worth reading.
I fully endorse the observation that calling in the army is not a good idea but for a different reason. It will send out the worst possible message to our angry citizens and create enormous resentment. Put yourself in their shoes. You complain about unemployment, housing and crime and the government’s response to your outrage is to send in military force, rather than the answers to your grievances.
I’m not saying that a strong and swift response is not called for. Just that it should not come from your last resort at this point in time. Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa’s approach is correct ; this decision falls to the top police management (rather than hysterical politicians).
Instead of playing party politics, it’s time for our politicians to earn their wages. What is stopping all parties getting together as a matter of extreme urgency and agreeing which parties are best representative of each community? If it’s one party or a combination, send their representatives out to negotiate an interim settlement with individual communities.
If they can reach agreement it will open the door for the police to go in and hammer all rogue elements with the endorsement of the community. Identifying criminals as opposed to outraged citizens would then be a matter of course.
It is vital to reach an interim agreement along the following lines :
An immediate cessation of violence and confirmation that anyone who confronts the police will now be considered as hostile. In return, an undertaking from the government that it will revert within an agreed period of time on proposed solutions to the resident’s grievances. All immigrants who are refugees will be required to live within a designated area agreed between the refugees, community and the police. Any refugee who simply erects a unit of whatsoever description outside the demarcated area will be removed by the police and taken to the designated area. Because of fears of food shortages, the minister might advise the communities of contingency feeding schemes they envisage should the situation deteriorate further. Communities and the refugees should put together an informal working arrangement on what jobs foreigners may or may not acquire from now on, or at least until the government has had time to work through this. For the moment everyone retains their existing jobs. This applies to new jobs. All immigrants and refugees are to be advised of their current legal status in order to allow them immediate access to the police without fear of deportation. This must be relayed to the police as well.
While I’m sure this is a million miles from ideal and can be vastly improved upon, it will give locals and foreigners certainty.
More importantly, with all parties in agreement , the police can then step in and hammer rogue elements and criminals. If you don’t do this you will land up with police arbitrarily trying to decide which are the criminals, the angry residents, and who are refugees who may be defending themselves.
Both the courts and the police must be ruthless in rooting out the criminal element as well as denying bail to anyone who commits violence linked to the current xenophobia.
Two points on capability:
Our police are quite capable of dealing with crime and community policing if they are given clear directions from the politicians, and their resources are better managed. In one trial I ran in Johannesburg Court recently we were told how two and sometimes four policeman are sharing a vehicle at Meadowlands Police Station.
Either we have the determination and resolve to deal with crime or we don’t. If we do, then we’d best start rethinking budgets and mandates to our long suffering policemen. I need hardly remind readers of the current decision to destroy the Scorpions rather than simply make changes in personnel to correct any perceptions of bias.
Our security companies provide vast under–utilised resources which could assist the police. Warren Goldblatt, spokesman for Specialised Services Group, told me that “Methodology must be worked out in terms of a public and private partnership to utilise the resources of the private security and investigation industry which would vastly increase the capability to fight crime.”. In his opinion, this could well provide the short term solution to fighting crime overall. As a means of assisting the police, they could prove invaluable right now.
Between them, and without calling out the army, we will be able to contain the violence. The last thing we need right now is to see the army patrolling the streets of South Africa because nobody can be bothered to speak to the communities and empower the police and private security.
On an even less pleasant note, I appeared on the BBC on Monday night in order to put forward the views of South Africa’s poorer communities. While people were not unsympathetic, I was horrified to learn that our African brothers believe that we are ungrateful to Africa for their help during apartheid, snobs who complain about our jobs being taken by foreigners all the while turning our noses up at those jobs, and generally xenophobic to the rest of Africa.
The guests, calls to the program from Africa, and even the emails kept going on about South Africans as stand–offish, intolerant of anyone who doesn’t speak our languages, and unwilling to integrate with the rest of Africa. Leaving aside the current problems, foreigners are snubbed, abused and ill–treated in South Africa. They believe that a lot of this stems from our ignorance of African and black civil rights leaders who played a significant part in African liberation.
This was coming from countries all over the continent and sends a clear message to us all.
The need to go about educating our kids about our continent is vital if we are to play a beneficial and meaningful role. The time has come for us to take a good hard look at ourselves in the mirror. If you think that you are superior to any person who is a different colour, nationality, language, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender or howsoever, then the biggest doos at the funfair is you.
As I keep hammering home the solution to other South African’s — and our guest’s — problems is a solution to one of our problems. If you think that having money or degrees or whatever else makes you supererior then best you get over yourself. There are stronger, brighter, better looking people all over the world. The only moron is the one who believes his own crap.
Let us hope and pray that we can all come down to planet Earth so that we can start caring about and for each other, so that South Africa can be recognised for its humanity, not as the powerhouse of Africa. That is the greatest achievement of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu — that they are ascribed greatness for their achievements in the field of humanity and not in law, science or politics.
If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us.