What can be done?

2008-05-29 00:00

Recently a great deal has been written about our xenophobic riots. But at the moment it is almost the only thing to write about. It represents a huge crisis in our political and social history. We need to get our thoughts and attitudes clear and ordered. There are certainly no slick solutions.

Again, the government under Thabo Mbeki’s leadership has to be blamed for many aspects of the crisis. Although people from all over Africa have been targeted in the attacks, the “tipping point” may well have been provided by Zimbabwe: streams of immigrants, mainly illegal, have fled here to escape the crisis in their country which Mbeki has doggedly refused properly to acknowledge. The government’s inability to produce an economy which generates more jobs has also played its part. At the same time, however, it would be unfair and unhelpful to blame everything on the government. Among poor people anger and anxiety have been raised by the worldwide rise in food and fuel prices — although the government may be able to offer some assistance here. Beyond this, though, the fact that South Africa possesses the most developed and attractive economy on the continent means that some degree of tension between South Africans and immigrants was almost inevitable.

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