The Sad Irony of South Africa’s Xenophobic Attacks: darkness descends 25 years after democracy

The irony of the xenophobic attacks currently plaguing South Africa will not be lost on most people. Black South Africans, notoriously repressed by the white-minority Apartheid regime for the majority of the 20th century, are now turning their disillusionment on migrants from across the continent.

The attacks have been accompanied by fearsome riots

Starting as a semi-formal practice after the Boer War, and becoming government policy shortly after the Second World War, Apartheid under the National Party (NP) became a byword for racism and colonial degradation. Black South Africans were forced into ‘homelands’ and shanty towns away from white accommodation and business, their everyday lives segregated from their masters and any dissent ruthlessly crushed.

Resistance was quelled through political imprisonments and exile, with the now-ruling African National Congress (ANC) forced underground. Those of its leaders that were not put in jail sought solace in neighbouring African countries, particularly those that had already freed themselves from European colonial rule. Without this shelter and support it is unlikely that the ANC would have been able to maintain a coherent movement and enable the global public relations campaign that eventually secured the release of Nelson Mandela and democracy.

The Apartheid government attempted to herd blacks into homelands or ‘Bantustans’

Memories are seemingly short, for it is natives of some of these countries (such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Nigeria) that are bearing the brunt of the xenophobic assaults taking place in South African cities today.

Where once there was solidarity and common cause, now there is only bitterness and divisiveness. The ANC’s South Africa – beautified by Mandela’s declaration of a ‘rainbow nation’ – has become the racist pariah on the continent, its allies shifting uneasily as their subjects suffer undiluted discrimination. The situation has become so desperate that Nigeria is repatriating hundreds of its citizens.

Nelson Mandela popularised the idea of a rainbow nation in South Africa that would inspire other countries

Unfortunately, the origin of this tragic scenario all boils down to the incompetency and colossal misgovernance of the ANC, whose inability to manage immigration, corruption, the economy and crime are leading South Africa to become the continent’s latest basket case.

Its easy to say that the Mozambicans are ‘stealing jobs’ or that the Nigerians are turning once desirable suburbs such as Hillbrow into ‘drug slums’ but that is to deny the reality of contemporary South Africa.

Huge numbers of South Africans live in crowded and unhygienic shanty towns

On the ascension of the ANC to power in 1994, there were strong hopes amongst the previously disenfranchised majority that they would receive reparations for their years of submission. Over the last 25 years ANC politicians have done little to temper the hopes of their impoverished people who are now looking for a scapegoat for their troubles.

The government itself is becoming an increasing target – not helped by embarrassing broadcasts such as that aired of President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking on the xenophobia issue – but there is still a degree of gratitude shown towards the ANC for delivering democracy, whereby their inadequacies are overlooked. As with many countries across the globe, day-to-day problems and poverty are being blamed on the ‘other’.

A sad reality is that for many black South Africans, they are now worse off materially than they were during Apartheid. Of course you will find very few who would openly yearn for those terrifying times but political disenfranchisement and social repression can seem trivial compared to an empty stomach.

It is important to remember that South Africa was a fabrication rendered by the early Dutch and English settlers. It was not a nation before, nor did it ever contain any ‘great’ civilizations. But it had, and still has, a myriad of tribal groups, each with their own distinct belief systems and customs. Traditional enemies such as the Zulus and Xhosa were often willing to forego their differences to fight a common enemy during the Apartheid era. Now, ethnic divisions are ripping the country apart.

The Dutch planting in South Africa in the 17th century was arguably the start of the region’s problems

Where it stops is anyone’s guess. Shortly after the death of Robert Mugabe – who delivered independence to Zimbabwe but then destroyed the country from within – the ANC stands at a precipice. If its politicians cannot find a way to re-unite their people in a manner befitting of Mandela, and putting in place altruistic policies that do more than grease the palms of family and friends, civil war is a distinct possibility.

The extremists of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters wait slavering in the wings. A dark era now looks set to envelop South Africa, a mere quarter-century after that famous rainbow light.

ANC Failures Hasten Malema Rise: White South Africans Prepare for Exodus

Julius Malema drew thousands of supporters to his Economic Freedom March earlier this week, continuing his incision into the support of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) whose faltering performance, corrupt tendencies and listless leadership have led to widespread protests across the country.

Malema at the Economic Freedom March
Malema at the Economic Freedom March

Whatever the faults of the ANC – and there are many within the Jacob Zuma administration – growing support for Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is an alarming development, particularly if you happen to be a white South African. Malema has made no secret of his desire to completely disenfranchise the white population in favour of the blacks, advocating a raft of ridiculous economic policies likely to send South Africa back to the Dark Ages.

Left-wing struggles are not new in South Africa. In 1919, the Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) launched in Cape Town to provide a radical political vehicle for labour reform (regardless of race) and they were joined in 1921 by the South African Communist Party (SACP). These two groups provided a more effective opposition to white minority rule than the ANC did during the early days of protest.

The ICU pursued a populist mandate which neglected effective labour organisation
The ICU pursued a populist mandate which neglected effective labour organisation

Although the ICU was a short-lived organisation, the SACP would later align itself with the ANC as one of the foremost opponent groups of Apartheid. Indeed, the SACP actively encouraged and organised some of the earliest anti-pass book protests and bus boycotts in South African cities and townships during World War Two (WWII).

Of course the ANC would later be painted as communists by the ruling National Party (NP) in an attempt to retain the political backing, and economic support, of their Western allies. There was certainly a conflation of ideas and endeavour between the ANC and SACP. Indeed, longtime SACP leader Joe Slovo was one of the most prominent anti-Apartheid campaigners and a commander of the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe wing of the ANC.

Through a combination of militant violence, international lobbying and political and social persuasion, these ‘left-wing’ groups helped bring about the fall of Apartheid.

These groups were, however, fighting against an unjust and repressive political system. Malema and his EFF seek to topple the democratically-elected ANC so that they can use the levers of power to punish the whites. Should the EFF ever displace the ANC then there will be a repeat of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in South Africa.

Robert Mugabe has allowed blacks to seize white farms in Zimbabwe, destroying productivity in the process
Robert Mugabe has allowed blacks to seize white farms in Zimbabwe, destroying productivity in the process

The ANC has performed a wholly inadequate role in the post-Apartheid era. In a desperate attempt to reverse the racial discrimination of the Apartheid era, they have progressed too swiftly and with tragic results. Few incentives remain for white businessmen and farmers to stay in the country and yet they are the ones with the experience, capital and organisation to provide a sound economic basis for the country. The blacks, because of their stifled development under Apartheid, do not have the same economic capacity and this scenario will not improve if they are simply handed rewards without work (something Malema is keen to extend beyond the current ANC policy).

City centres have become slums and impoverishment amongst the black population has increased under the ANC’s watch. Why? Because its leaders are more interested in lining their own pockets and protecting their own business and political interests than improving the lot of their people, a sad fact common across the African continent.

The once-trendy district of Hillbrow in Johannesburg is now a crime-ridden slum
The once-trendy district of Hillbrow in Johannesburg is now a crime-ridden slum

It is therefore understandable that Malema and his populist rhetoric have struck a chord with poor black South Africans. Undoubtedly, should he ever attain political office he is likely to go the same way as Jacob Zuma and all those other self-serving ‘freedom fighters’ he claims to revile.

More worryingly, however, is the fact that he will plunge South Africa into anarchy, sealing its economic fate and driving out the remaining few whites who have resisted the racist policies and declining opportunities of the past few years to contribute what they can to the country that they love.