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Xenophobia symbolic of disparities between rich and poor

Submitted by Obert Mathivha

As we are still nursing the pain of Africans beating and killing each other in Kenya and Zimbabwe, the same Africans are now attacking each other in the southern part of Africa.

This is a result of the state of service delivery in our country, which is below average. We are still to see the flourishing of this concept within our government systems.

The outbreak of xenophobic attacks around many parts of Gauteng is also a result of weak immigration control systems in our country, and not just an act of criminality nor instigated by an individual or group of people as has been widely suggested.

We should refrain from petty politicking and avoid deepening confusion by misinterpreting the actual motivations behind these fast-developing incidents. It should not be about who might be behind it all, but rather what fundamentally lies under it.

It will be vital firstly to acknowledge that these incidents go beyond the capacity of law-enforcement agents to deal with. While the deployment of law-enforcement agents might be necessary to calm the situation, the appalling socio-economic conditions prevailing in our society are not simply going to disappear.

The whole dilemma is about the entrenched socio-economic legacy of the past and a failed collective responsibility to tackle it effectively. Let’s accept the fact that people are poor, hungry, desperate and therefore frustrated. Let’s equally accept the fact that frustration and rationality do not always overlap.

The values of the constitutional democracy
Our society must aspire to score highly in terms of embracing the values and norms enshrined in our constitutional document. Often the poor and the marginalised hardly know about values, socio-economic rights and responsibilities that come with our democratic freedom.

Our 1996 Constitution provides as follows with regard to fundamental human eights and the role of the state:

Section 7
1. This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
2. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights in the Bill of Rights.
To make complete sense, Section 7 should be read together with the Constitutional Preamble, Sections 1, 2, 8-12, 20, 24, 25(5), 27, 28(1), 29, 32 and 36 of respectively.

How far have gone to educate our citizens about the constitutional value system and the policy direction our country is pursuing? Have we done enough work as government (both educational and tangible) to discharge our constitutional obligations? Have we moved swiftly to ensure that our loyal voting citizens reasonably and equitably share in the country’s limited resources? Do we know the conditions in which our citizens and foreign nationals are living? As we assume responsibility to govern, these are some of the questions we must always be ready to answer.

One should acknowledge that, no matter how well motivated they might be, the mob-driven attacks on immigrants are surely wrong. In addition to condemning such repressive conduct, we should ask why we have Africans targeting each other.

In the recent past, we have witnessed pockets of mass demonstrations, violence and other shocking incidents. From Bushbuckridge’s “new regionalist struggle” to Khutsong, from the Skielik shooting to the University of the Free State racist video, from price-fixing to an ever-increasing cost of living … today we are sitting with an outbreak of senseless, mob-driven and xenophobic violence around Gauteng.

These incidents cannot be treated in isolation. These are remnants of a sick society that developed over many years of colonialism and apartheid; a society full of disparities and inequalities, extensive poverty, joblessness and homelessness; a society whose authority and direction are at times lacking.

Early warning systems
In a society as ours, the government must not play only a reactionary role to possible incidents of civil clashes; rather, it should adapt a pro-active and preventative role. This must be made easier through visionary leadership and early warning systems. This is the only way the government can maintain the confidence of its citizens.

The more people start feeling neglected and hopeless about their own collective future, the more disloyal and hostile they become towards the system — and, unfortunately, some people become unnecessary causalities as is happening now.

The prevailing violent madness is a result of a failure to manage both politically and administratively. On the one hand is the relationship between the government and its desperate citizens, particularly those from disadvantaged communities. On the other hand, these incidents expose the weaknesses embedded in our immigration-control systems that do not effectively manage the high volume of immigration into South Africa, due to political and economic reasons. The 2010 Soccer World Cup and the friendly democratic environment should obviously call for better immigration planning and control systems.

We must vigilantly prevent the creation of an environment that becomes a breeding ground for senseless civil unrest.

Assuming full responsibility
The government and all relevant stakeholders must place the agenda to defeat poverty high on their priority lists. This should happen in reality and not just on paper. South Africans must radically and consistently be taught how to co-exist in an environment filled with peace, hope and prosperity. This should be taught as the only ultimate truth.

There is a dire need to remove elements of intolerance among our people despite our diverse backgrounds. Educating our youth to embrace the constitutional value system must be intensified. South Africa needs to intensify its effort to educate its citizens to become caring and prosperous in their wider diversity.

Any attempt by the government to educate its citizens about the constitutional value system should be seen as the first step towards getting everything else right. Our children must grow up understanding that South Africa is a home for us all.

The currently beleaguered South African Broadcasting Corporation must be at the centre of the struggle to inform our people about the values, services and responsibilities that come with our democratic freedom. In adopting this approach, we should be able to knock sense into those who target fellow Africans.

In fulfilling its constitutional mandate, the government should speedily identify challenges and constrains that our people face daily. This should be followed by logical and viable strategic programmes that have practical meaning to the majority of our people.

It is crucial for the government to make people understand how to relate productively to the country’s strategic set-up for their own self-empowerment as well as the development of the country as a whole. Our government can empower people to take charge of their lives and their communities.

Towards this end, I wish to submit that the entire government, not only the Department of Home Affairs and law-enforcements agencies, must take full responsibility for the prevailing violence, strengthen existing empowerment strategies and intensify the struggle to optimise service delivery.

The Batho Pele values must take precedence in all services being rendered by each and every public servant, politicians included. All governmental institutions must be able to talk to and complement each other, otherwise South Africa — and Africa — will always be plagued with civil unrest targeted at the wrong people. The time is now to act!

Obert Mathivha is the Southern African Development Community regional coordinator of the Afro-Arabic Youth Council. He writes this article in his personal capacity