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Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. (Gallo Images)
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One wonders what advantage leaders derive from invoking issues of identity and nationality in dealing with criminal elements, except to incite xenophobic and Afrophobic sentiments from innocent citizens, writes Zenzo Moyo.
The past few
years have witnessed a decline in democracy as we know it, with the election
into power of neoliberal, inward looking political demagogues like Donald Trump
in the United States, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India, Jair
Bolsonaro in Brazil, and recently, Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom. The
above are polarising figures who are united in their narrow-nationalism
postures seeking to promote a crude version of nationalistic conservatism, not-so-subtle
racism and pro-market populist policies.
In addition to
these populist leaders are many insurgent opposition parties in Europe (like
UKIP in the UK; Alternative for Germany and National Front in France) that have
supported each other in their populist anti-establishment, anti-immigration positions,
crystallising the birth of the "local", while characterising
immigrants as an embodiment of all social maladies. This does not inspire hope
about the future of democracy.
But what makes
these former models of democracy slide towards fascism? Above all, can Africa,
and South Africa in particular avoid this decline in global humanism, which
seems to be defined by anti-immigration and super neoliberal policies?
talk by Giorgio Romano Schutte, a Brazilian intellectual, will give some
insight into this. Professor Schutte has been invited by the Mapungubwe
Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) to give insight into the global decline
in humanism and leftist politics, drawing on the Latin American experience.
ANALYSIS: The foreign invasion? How the anti-immigrant backlash makes us all unsafe
of what happened before and after the clashes of August 1 leaves one wondering
if the country's political elite has not fallen into the "anti-humanism"
trap which has defined demagogic global trends outlined above.
After the clashes,
social media went into overdrive, with many accusing the police of being
cowards running away from illegal immigrants. Others, including political
leaders called for foreign nationals in South Africa to be put in their "place".
A week after the clashes, operation #OkaeMolao was conducted by security
agencies, and over 500 immigrants were arrested, partly as criminal suspects,
but also to verify their status in South Africa.
There is no
doubt that there are many foreign nationals in South Africa who are deeply
involved in criminality. However, aside from being an illegal immigrant, there
are no other criminal acts that are exclusively a preserve of either immigrants
or citizens. Thus, it becomes wrong to conflate migration, identity and
criminality as if one is a precondition for the other. Those who commit crime
should be treated the same, regardless of the person's identity. Surely the
rights of suspects should be observed in a non-discriminatory manner.
This is why
the tactical withdrawal by the police on that fateful day should be applauded
rather than denigrated. Without withdrawing, many people would have perished on
that day, and a multi-pronged diplomatic crisis would have been ignited, had it
not been for that brilliant and decisive leadership by whoever was in charge of
A day after
these clashes, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba tweeted, "I am deeply
hurt and devastated to wake up this morning to learn that not a single criminal
is arrested after a blatant disregard of our
country's laws… [emphasis added]". The mayor went on to accuse the Department of
Home Affairs for being "complicit" in this criminality because of its
failure to police South Africa's porous borders.
This kind of
speak is now consistent with Mashaba. In February 2019, for example, he
attempted to divert attention away from demonstrations against poor service
delivery in Alexandra by accusing Home Affairs and foreigners of making it
difficult for the city to provide proper service to citizens: "Please
assist us to get @HomeAffairsSA to deal with undocumented foreigner nationals
in Alexander (sic). Uncontrolled number of people in Alex is a challenge way
beyond the @CityofJoburgZA competency", he wrote. Body mapping, and the
characterisation of foreigners as bodies of crime distracts from the deleterious
tendencies of neoliberal planning, for which the DA is synonymous with.
what advantage leaders derive from invoking issues of identity and nationality
in dealing with criminal elements, except that such invocations, more than anything
else, will incite xenophobic and Afrophobic sentiments from innocent citizens,
whose logical reaction to such views cannot be assumed.
To define the ghastly criminal acts of August 1
within a failed immigration framework is to miss the fundamental genesis of the
very criminal behaviour that such views seek to eliminate. It also circumvents
the need to address foundational questions necessary to avoid a repeat of the
violence such as: What is the City's role in regulating informal trading? How
can the City address the spatial dynamics of informal businesses that have
fostered different forms of exclusion on race, gender and class?
Abusing people's fears for selfish ends
bolstering of neoliberal policies in South Africa, levels of unemployment have
drastically risen, informalisation of livelihoods has continued to increase, and
competition for political power at all cost has taken over. As aptly expressed
by Arjun Appadurai, today's connection between leaders and followers has become
accidental, mainly informed by overlaps between leaders' ambitions and
strategies, and followers' fears, wounds and anger. The mayor's tweets as
quoted above are not very far from abusing people's genuine fears and wounds
for selfish ends.
of the police raid which led to the violence must be questioned if one is to
shun the pitfalls of accepting too quickly the basic arguments given by the political
elite. The goal of the raid, we are told, was to confiscate counterfeit goods
being sold by the informal traders. Occasional confiscation of goods is but a
minute fraction of the story in the value chain. There is massive corruption
involved – from the point of where these goods are received at ports of entry, their
transportation inland into Johannesburg, to the security forces who often forewarn
when raids take place. This cannot be ignored.
But again, corruption
is just but one aspect of a complex issue. There are also consumers of these
products, who often are very poor households, with low or no income. It may be
morally wrong for them to consume counterfeit goods, but what alternatives are
they offered? The fight against poverty cannot be a secondary outcome of a "stable"
economy that emerges only after one rids it of counterfeit goods. Since
regulation and survival must happen simultaneously, the poor must be given alternatives,
or the potentiality of sliding back to the status quo becomes a given.
The attempt by
political leaders to "foreignise" criminality in South Africa is
likely to undo the gains of the political culture which defined the liberation
struggle, and shaped post-apartheid democracy.
Simplifying a very complex problem of criminality – narrowing it down to
the ineptitude of the Department of Home Affairs – all for the purpose of
consolidating political power, possibly with an eye on the ultimate position in
the land, is a threat to democracy. It is worth remembering that Bolsonaro and
Johnson, with their prejudiced dispositions, rose from councillorship positions
to occupy the highest offices in their respective countries.
Mapungubwe Annual Lecture will provide a platform to identify patterns of
populism and unreason in South African politics. Prof
Schutte's insights into Brazil's 2018 electoral outcomes will provide valuable
lessons for South Africa before voters embrace fascism as a "progressive"
alternative, in the process peripheralising the source of the socio-economic
crises the country is facing.
- Zenzo Moyo, PhD, is a researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for
Strategic Reflection (MISTRA). The Mapungubwe Annual Lecture 2019 by Professor
Giorgio Romano Schutte on "The Age of Unreason and Ignominy" will be
on the September 4, 2019, at the University of Johannesburg. More information here.
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