Ralph Mathekga

The DA and parochial politics

2016-12-19 08:20

The DA’s City of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has got himself embroiled in a xenophobic gate after making comments to the effect that illegal immigrants living in Johannesburg were responsible for a wave of crime. Mashaba was clearly not referring to high profile immigrants such as Rodovan Krejcir who have indeed been involved in organised crime. He was referring mostly to the brothers from the north of the country, thus Zimbabwe.

For a political party that is seen as polished and mature as an opposition; the statement by Mashaba is a leap into the past. Unlike the ANC whose leaders often make ridiculous statements including the idea that the party will rule until Jesus comes back, the DA is now known for such gaffe.

I once came across a student who wanted to write a mini dissertation claiming that illegal immigrants were responsible for crime in South Africa. What the student wanted to prove in the dissertation was that illegal immigrants were responsible for specific type of crime taking place in SA including “cross border” crime. I asked the student if she really believed she can prove the claim.

It is difficult to prove that illegal immigrants are responsible because one would have to demonstrate that in the absence of illegal immigrants, crime would not take place in South Africa, or at least not in the levels it would when immigrants are involved. 

What makes it even more difficult to prove that illegal immigrants are responsible for crime is the fact that in their countries of origins, crime is usually very low. It actually makes sense that in cases where illegal immigrants are actually involved in crime, South Africans play a role as enablers of such crime. To take this further, in a situation where South Africans are not involved, crime is distinctly low. One could say that the reason why there are lower levels of violent crime in Zimbabwe is because there are fewer South Africans living in Zimbabwe, or in other countries for that matter.

Therefore, Herman Mashaba’s half-baked theory fails tremendously in giving real picture regarding who is responsible for crime in Johannesburg. There are communities where crime takes place and immigrants, illegal or legal, are not involved. Mashaba’s suspicion that illegal immigrants could be terrorising everyone in Johannesburg should not merely be dismissed as a poorly thought through allegation. What Mashaba’s statement represents is a growing trend to blame the vulnerable for social ills experienced in our society. It is the same parochial idea that has captivated US politics and also European politics. It is a phenomenon of right with resurgence based of fear mongering and casting immigrant communities as the inconvenient Others.

This might be confusing when one considers the fact that Mashaba is a black man who made a ton a money by exploiting the tag line “black like me” to sell his greasy hair products. Clearly, not everyone is as black as Mashaba, at least not the illegal immigrants. Surprise surprise! Mashaba is punting to the right wing ideology of protectionism and isolation from the other world, as he fears crime and probably degeneration of his culture upon contact with illegal immigrants. 

Once in a while within the DA, incomprehensible statements are made often leaving one surprised about the party that sees itself as the future of the country. A few years ago Mashaba’s boss within the party, Mmusi Maimane, stated that homosexuals were sinners and he will be praying for them. Maimane’s homophobic rants slipped out in the middle of his preaching session.

The DA seems to be made up of many layers like an onion; the deeper you peel through the views of the leaders of the party, the stronger the smell. Such views only show panic about an integrated world, and it could be a setback for growth prospects of the DA, the party that ought to embrace diversity as a value.

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