Mess with Africa at your peril

2015-04-19 15:00

The rest of Africa is Simply, Better, Faster than South Africa, to borrow a phrase from Standard Bank, one of the big four banks that are minting it on our continent.

Growth rates in much of sub-Saharan Africa outstrip that of South Africa. The internet is often faster. Broadband is often cheaper. People are, in many cases, more optimistic.

And so, since the xenophobic attacks of 2008, the ground has shifted substantially in Africa and in South Africa’s relations with the rest of Africa.

Geopolitics is different. This will explain why our government had to shift into a higher diplomatic gear this week as foreign representatives called on the state to order the attacks on foreigners to stop.

Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika threatened to recall his ambassador. In Nigeria, locals marched to the South African consul-general’s office and across the continent, threats to boycott South African businesses came thick and fast.

If you travel on our continent, you’ll know why the threat of losing business is a problem. The minute you step off the plane in another African country, you will see signs for MTN, Vodafone (the international parent company of Vodacom), MultiChoice (owned by Naspers), Nando’s and Shoprite, among many others.

If you bank in Africa, it will likely be with Standard Bank or FNB. South Africa’s economic well-being is tied to that of the continent.

Violent xenophobic attacks against people from the rest of Africa will no longer go unpunished. After the horrifying attacks in 2008, South Africa came up with wide-ranging plans and initiatives to prevent a recurrence. But since 2008, xenophobic attacks have continued apace – they are a slow-burning constant of South African life.

Almost nothing happened after 2008 – from improved immigration laws to campaigns against xenophobia. Once the mobs are disarmed and peace is restored, will we go back to pretending the problem is solved?

A modernist political leader like Malusi Gigaba needs to lead a sustained campaign against xenophobia, while acknowledging that unchecked migration cannot be sustained in our poorest communities.

South African businesses need to step up and bring their skills and resources to ensure this does not happen again – for the sake of us all.

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