Alex Anarchy

2008-05-19 00:00

Xenophobia is the simple explanation for the violence that has flared in Alexandra and Diepsloot, near Johannesburg. While outsiders are the main target, South Africans have also been victims. Resentment of foreigners is a major symptom. But the pathology is more general, even symbolic of the failures of President Thabo Mbeki’s government.

Such unrest is typical of all poor communities under extreme socio-economic stress. South Africa has already seen violence over lack of service delivery and the unfilled promises of a post-apartheid society. Now poverty-stricken areas, severely affected by unemployment, are faced with another crisis in the form of inflation in essential commodities.

Scapegoats are sought in such circumstances. Foreigners, whether legal or illegal, are an obvious target. It takes just a rabble-rouser or two to persuade desperate people that jobs, houses and other essentials are ending up in the wrong hands. Townships like Alexandra descend into anarchy.

The government likes to present crises as challenges: whatever the terminology, the current situation is extremely serious and requires something more than the usual platitudes.

Service delivery and job creation were always going to prove a massive task after decades of National Party misrule. But the government has proved alarmingly susceptible to the lure of vanity projects such as the Gautrain and the Coega project. In recent months it has also indulged in destructive turf wars.

Foreign policy chickens are also coming home to roost. The security risk posed by the implosion of a modern economy on our northern border has been wilfully ignored. Both the Zimbabwean people and South Africa’s interests have been betrayed by redundant, blind loyalty among liberation movement elites.

Porous borders have been ignored and millions of refugees now live in South African cities. No one, apparently, foresaw that given the fragile state of urban areas this was like throwing a match at a tinderbox.

As KwaZulu-Natal also hosts large immigrant communities, its people can only hope that the government starts providing leadership before it is too late.

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