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Foreigners 'need to fail

04 November 2011, 08:25
Ego is a powerful force that is often neglected when trying to understand social issues. Take, for example, the perplexing issue of xenophobic attacks against black African immigrants and business owners from places like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Somalia in South Africa, whilst wealthy European and Asian business owners are left largely alone.

Sure, all businesses are subject to random acts of crime such as burglary and hi-jacking, often with violent results - but nowhere besides the poorest townships do we see a co-ordinated drive in certain communities to target specific ethnicities in an attempt to drive them out.

How does ego explain this phenomenon? I think the answer is simple. If one takes the racist past of South Africa and understands that many local black people think that non-blacks are born to privilege, even unfairly, it is easy to envy them but difficult to hate them to the extent that you will gather in a mob, march into Sandton and drag them out for a stoning, although you may occasionally march or strike to get their attention. This is because the poor recognize that that kind of success is beyond their control and the result of structural inequalities. Oppenheimers and Ackermans are rich because they are “born that way”. In the minds of the poor shack dwellers this is undesirable, but tolerable. One’s ego and pride are not affected by this kind of success, far removed from your community and personal circumstances. It says nothing about you that someone totally different is rich, you don’t have to feel ashamed or inadequate because you were never given the same chance as those people to begin with.

However, let’s look at the situation of the poor African refugee arriving from Somalia, Rwanda or Zimbabwe. They come to South Africa with nothing but the rags on their backs after walking sometimes thousands of kilometres. They have little to no skill in any of the local languages but they set up a shack in the informal settlements. During the next few years they walk to the city and act as a car guard for a pittance. They scrape and save as much as they are able. They only buy goods and services from other refugees from their countries, but offer their services to anyone with money.

In this way money enters the community and stays there. This is a well-established economic model sometimes referred to as the “spider-web model”. Maybe enough of them generate money in this way to open a little spaza shop, a workshop, anything. They begin trading and offer cheaper prices because they, being illegal immigrants, are exempt from labour laws such as a set minimum wage or government regulation and taxation. In 10 years this rag tag foreigner has the biggest store in the community, he drives a nice car, his kids are in the best school in the area and he is always seen with his pretty wife in nice clothes. He is paying for his relatives’ kids to attend school, too. Soon the Somali community is so large that signs in Somali start popping up. They are all doing so well, in their exclusive little community.

Oh how it must burn the ego of South Africans who have sat around waiting for their useless ANC government to secure them houses, a better quality of life and a monthly social grant for the last 17 years, just as poor as they ever were under the Afrikaner. There are only two options available; either the members of the community must hate themselves for failing to have the desire to improve their lot, or they have to hate the immigrants for surpassing them, as if by magic, in the same time frame. When choosing to hate oneself or another, people usually choose to hate the other.

The stagnant portion of the community is outraged. Accusations of witchcraft, ethnic exclusivity, thefts and gratuitous insertion between producer and customer start to emerge.  This foreign community is denounced as 'parasitic' - they don't drive a taxi or make anything tangible. They exist only to ‘steal’ the wealth of the surrounding community. The very same excuses we saw levelled against the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Asians in Uganda and the Chinese in Indonesia – in fact this is a common thread wherever successful foreign communities are found surrounded by less successful local ones.  Again, there is nothing new here, only that South African analysts are so obsessed with race that they fail to see that offended, fragile human egos are driving the whole thing.

The title of this article was that foreigners need to fail. Unfortunately, in the absence of understanding, the “parasitic” communities are usually driven out because they ‘serve no purpose’ and later the local economy collapses, but the lesson is never learned. There are only two paths to acceptance these types of successful foreigners can follow. Either, they can petition the South African government to grant them more protection and foster a level of understanding in the South African poor’s psyche, or they could fail economically, and continue to live in squalor to maintain ‘equality’ and ‘harmony’ in the poorest areas of our land. I think we can all chalk up the government’s response over the last decade to contributing to the latter.

In the land where failure is rewarded, it is surely folly to succeed.

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