Surprised at Xenophobia? Why?

2015-05-10 16:11

In South Africa, xenophobia is a logical bye product of a state lacking economic nous, societal insights and the capacity to manage complex affairs. Government has no answer to grass roots outbursts against foreign nationals because it simply cannot think things through. An appreciation of cause and effect is absent.

Xenophobia was inevitable from the get go for the most obvious of reasons -

• When compared to neighbouring sub-Saharan states South Africa is an economic Shangi-la with a large economy by African standards and a great market for well priced goods, services and labour offerings – especially of a limited skills or commodity nature. Opportunities abound.

• Provided one is prepared to work hard, these opportunities beckon on account of a threadbare work ethic among South Africa’s main constituency, for whom entitlement and confiscation are more attractive options - albeit to the nation’s ongoing cost.

• Retail consumers with limited access to supermarkets (many in townships and informal settlements) wanting to stretch their rands often prefer supporting Somalian and other out-of-town merchants to their own kin because their pricing is more competitive. And who can blame them?

The net result is that many locals have to close down their businesses, leading to their becoming resentful and turning to incitement and violence.

Again, the absence of a South African work ethic and competitive culture is key.

• The country’s borders are porous, and controls and policing inadequate.

So now the chickens are coming home to roost - on the streets.

But the precedent was set way back, and is enshrined in the governing party ethos.

Those in leadership set an avaricious and poor example for ordinary people, from which they have learned. They know that if you are inept, there is a good chance that you might be bailed out or able to coerce, confiscate or despoil to get what you want. A host of high profile politicians have amply demonstrated that seizing things of value is OK.

In fact, it is official policy.

Benefits - from top positions in Eskom, SAA and Telkom, imposed directorships in public companies and tax funded bonuses for executives making a hash of running state corporations - are commonplace. So why should the man in the street not expect a piece of the same action? After all, that is what he voted for and sees in practice!

Morally, intolerance of immigrants putting their shoulders to the wheel is first cousin to BEE, affirmative action and the pursuit of “transformation” because each shares the objective of confiscation from those more industrious or of greater ingenuity. What was legitimately created by one is awarded to others as largesse for being of the right shade (generally black), and / or loyal to “the Struggle” or proxy.

Thus, “transformation”, “restitution” and “social justice” all masquerade as terms for the same felony whilst the notions of merit, competitiveness and customer focus are typically absent.

This unique set of values is underwritten and promoted by the liturgy of “the Struggle” which, like any ideology or religion makes its own rules and disregards economic and societal costs. Exacerbating this merit starved mindset is the NDR (National Democratic Revolution) which ignores economic logic and soldiers along a Marxist path courtesy of a dominant communist presence in the ANC cabinet (for more detail see the website http://www.politicsweb.co.za/news-and-analysis/the-anc-govts-actions-what-lies-beneath.)

And so, with an economy in decline, an expanding population and no plan in sight to address the core issues, considerably worse can be expected.

Xenophobia has become the lightning rod for our economy and society.

It was also predictable and indeed forecast by some back in the nineties when the die was cast in protectionist and “restitutional” legislation. Immigration on the scale that we saw could only ever have worked in a rapidly expanding, free economy – which South Africa’s new labour and legal environment precluded.

Instead -

• We created a worker environment shielding mediocrity, over-remunerating employed (and most notably unionized) workers, and insulating dead wood labour from competition. As a result, the demand for labour by businesses declined and unemployment soared.

In the same process, state education was laid to waste, further curtailing the development of skills for much of the population and making them even less competitive than they already were.

• We failed to control immigration of unskilled and uneducated people who competed very successfully (when allowed) with the South African proletariat. This was good news for employers but incompatible with a stalling, heavily regulated and mismanaged economy.

• We instituted “BEE” and affirmative action policies, billed as “restitutional”, which destroyed jobs, exacerbated inequality, and fostered corruption and incompetence.

At the end of the day it is all about a clash of ethics and an absence of economic reality on the part of government.

On the one hand we have immigrants trying to create value through a strong work ethic: on the other an indigent proletariat that feels entitled to better things for doing not very much. The South African work-force is encouraged to expect “decent” work - if that can be found - or an unemployment grant, should they fail to.

Thus we have two economies running in parallel.

The one is productive and sound according to the laws of supply and demand; the other distorted, unproductive and based on patronage, protection and granting political favour. And when the former is shown to work demonstrably better, resentment results and socio-economic pressures spill over.

Ordinary people – blinded by “Struggle” ideology and the delusion of a caring state - look for scapegoats. With a limited capacity for problem solving, they turn on immigrants because it is, after all, just so much easier to raise hell than to reason things through and work hard - especially when you are part of a majority.

This is the point at which things turn nasty and xenophobia becomes the end game for many immigrants.

It is a sad commentary on South African values that the dubious ethics of statism, patronage and the racially driven displacement of talent trump those of value creation and hard work.

The nation has been paying for this for many years now, but the penny has not yet dropped for the electorate. And for that reason, the outlook for us all – not just immigrants - is a sad one.

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