[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Who's to blame? Xenophobia, poverty, "crisis"
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat May 31 13:13:16 BST 2008
31 May 2008
‘No crisis, just trying times’
LEBOHANG THULO and LUPHERT CHILWANE
SA is experiencing “trying times, not a crisis” as food and petrol
prices increase and another interest rate hike looms, says Vusi Gumede,
the chief policy analyst in the Presidency.
Gumede was speaking at a critical thinking forum on the issue of
poverty, co-hosted by the Mail & Guardian, Southern Africa Trust and
Oxfam on Thursday.
Poverty has been fingered as one of the triggers of the xenophobic
violence in SA recently and experts warn that unrest could increase if
it is not addressed.
Gumede maintained that the government had not failed to deal with
poverty, which he admitted was a problem. “Poverty in SA is not a
crisis, the country is just going through trying times. It is a
multidimensional problem that requires the involvement of people,”
He said countries determined the levels of poverty they would tolerate
and “it exists as long as we want it to”.
Most of his statements on poverty were rejected by the other panelists
at the forum.
Isobel Frye, the director of the Studies in Poverty and Inequality
Institute, argued that poverty is a crisis in SA and that the situation
is made worse by the fact that there is no formal definition, and so
there are no statistics on how many people live in poverty.
“To solve the problem, there should be an equal allocation and
distribution of resources, with strong social security. It is important
that government engage more with the poor in the preparation of policy
that will be able to change patterns of exclusion,” she said.
While the availability of social grants meant that more people were
better off in SA, this had not led to a structural decrease in the rate
of poverty, which would happen only when more people had an income
generated from employment, she said.
Frye said poverty, to the extent that it was experienced in SA, would
have been, in normal circumstances, an urgent warning to the government.
But the government had ignored this warning, said Dale McKinley of the
Anti-Privatisation Forum. He said SA was an “African powerhouse, yet
people continue to go home hungry”. The sole reason for this was the
lack of political will to deal with poverty.
“The government has prioritised economic growth and ignored the poor —
and now it has to pay for it. Desperation is building up from the people
on the ground. If we don’t do something radical, the recent xenophobic
attacks will seem like child’s play,” McKinley warned.
“Time is running out, things have to change. Change will come from
below, from ordinary people forcing those in power to change.”
Frye said she believed the presidency was developing a comprehensive
anti-poverty strategy, but no one had seen it yet. The National Economic
Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) has been tasked with
establishing an official poverty line in SA.
31 May 2008
The old story in SA: blame the victim
IN CAPE Town, the picture of the official response to horrific,
undiscriminating ethnic cleansing is, so far, of political infighting
and divisive point scoring.
The city’s Democratic Alliance coalition appears to be at loggerheads
with the African National Congress provincial authorities. Meanwhile
volunteers shoulder most of the burden.
“Our politicians are squabbling,” sighed one harried human rights lawyer
whose nongovernmental organisation (NGO) office was packed this week
with despairing refugees. “It’s all about big egos.”
I was there with a shell-shocked refugee couple, seeking information and
advice. The lesson, repeated bitterly by most refugees, is: don’t look
to the government for help. There were perhaps 30 refugees scrunched
into this office, all fearful and angry. They represented a wide
spectrum of Africa. Yet the scene in that over crowded room reminded me
of being in exactly similar volunteer agencies many years ago — but back
then listening to pitiful stories from black South Africans persecuted
and dehumanised by the dompas and apartheid policemen.
The politics of Cape Town have been convulsed in recent months by
various spy scandals, with allegations and counter allegations flying
between the competing parties. All too clearly they’ve been too busy
snooping on each other to notice anything else.
IN HOUT Bay, where I live, nearly all foreigners fled Imizamo Yethu
township last weekend. Only the Namibians remained. “We attacked them a
couple of years ago,” a Xhosa speaker told me. “But they had catapults
and sent our guys running.” Now a local police report says their biggest
concern is that “the Ovambos refused to leave. They armed themselves
with pangas, bows and arrows, assegais and other homemade weapons. They
are waiting to be confronted and will defend themselves with their lives.”
But it’s apparent that, as in the rest of the country, there is a
drastic vacuum of leadership. “It seems that the biggest problem is
denial,” states this Hout Bay police report. “No leader accepts the fact
that xenophobia exists within Imizamo Yethu . They blame it on normal
criminal behaviour. They also blame employers of the foreigners for
safeguarding them and that it’s the foreigners’ fault that they left
Imizamo Yethu and that their shops were targeted.”
In other words, exactly as under apartheid, it’s that old alibi: blaming
the victim. Indeed, according to the police report, “it is very clear
that some community leaders are blaming everyone except themselves”.
At one scheduled meeting, to discuss a possible return of victims to
their homes, “only the South African National Civic Organisation chair
BEHIND the jostling refugees in the NGO office I spotted a glossy home
affairs poster with the title: “Who is a refugee?”
The poster doesn’t mince words: “A threat to life or freedom is
persecution. It is a systematic violation of human rights.” There are
six grounds for considering someone to be persecuted, explains the
poster, including, “Race or ethnic origins: the applicant has
experienced differential treatment based on colour, descent, national or
ethnic origin.” Today, however, the stark question is: who can these
terrified people possibly appeal to now about such systematic
persecution here in SA?
The poster boasts, “Home Affairs: Caring, Compassionate and Responsive.”
Tragically, judged by their own score sheet, so far it’s Persecution 3,
Home Affairs, 0.
31 May 2008
From hope of Africa to joke of the world
E-Mail article Print-Friendly
OUR president has inspired superb journalistic writing all around the
world. My favourite writer by far is Financial Mail editor Barney
Mthombothi. This is how he described President Thabo Mbeki’s absence
from the scene of the xenophobic violence: “Meanwhile the president has
finally been located. Sort of. He made a brief appearance — on TV. And
then hurriedly left the country for Japan. ”
I rarely agree with John Kane Berman, but this week he wrote the column
of his life in Business Day about the state of the state , saying that
“along with the legacy of apartheid and the liberation struggle itself,
the ANC inherited the most technically advanced state in Africa. No
other liberation movement started with so valuable an asset, built by
people of all races, yet it shows a greater capacity to run it down than
to run it”; and, “Like Mbeki in his aeroplane, the ANC seems remote from
the consequences of its failed policies.”
Aubrey Matshiqi captured the political dysentery thus: “What is his
excuse for being AWOL when he should be among his people performing his
presidential duties? In an attempt at responding to this question, a
presidential spokesman shared with the nation an insight of which none
of us were aware. He said the president was not able to go to the areas
affected by xenophobic violence because he was busy with domestic and
“As enlightening as this information is, I still do not understand which
part of the xenophobic violence was not domestic or international since
foreigners were attacked on our domestic soil.”
I then looked abroad to my favourite country to see what they might be
saying. America’s most influential newspaper, The New York Times, summed
up Mbeki’s legacy thus: “Crackpot and dangerous theories on AIDS.
Extreme and widening levels of income inequality. Enabling Zimbabwe’s
Robert Mugabe and only belatedly trying to halt mob atrocities against
desperate Zimbabwean and other African immigrants.
“This is the legacy of SA’s President Thabo Mbeki, who has one more year
in his second term. It would be hard to imagine a more depressing
contrast with the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Mr Mbeki’s predecessor
and one of the 20th century’s great heroes.”
Michael Gerson wrote an article titled The Despot’s Democracy in
America’s second most influential newspaper, the Washington Post in
which he said: “Whatever the reasons, SA increasingly requires a new
foreign policy category: the rogue democracy. Along with China and
Russia, SA makes the United Nations impotent. Along with Saudi Arabia
and Sudan, it undermines the global human rights movement. SA remains an
example of freedom — while devaluing and undermining the freedom of
others. It is the product of a conscience it does not display.”
And for an image that is now in tatters, we have Mbeki to thank. Well
done, you have done your ego very proud. As for the rest of us, we might
as well just eat cake.
30 May 2008
Do not blame deprivation, says minister
CAPE TOWN — Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula yesterday took
the bull by the horns and rejected poor service delivery and poverty as
reasons for the xenophobic violence that has raged in SA this month.
This is in sharp contrast to much of the expert analysis on the subject,
which places harsh and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions at the
heart of the violence against foreigners.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s statement, however, has resonance with the views of the
cabinet, which said in its post-meeting statement that it noted that
genuine concerns about service delivery were being exploited to
manipulate communities to make the attacks. However, in response to
questions, chief government spokesman Themba Maseko said yesterday the
violence could not be attributed to any single factor.
“Whilst acknowledging the urgent need to accelerate its programmes for
alleviating poverty, unemployment and other forms of socioeconomic
deprivation, the government appeals to all our communities to reject any
agitation from those who wish to reduce this country into a lawless
country, thereby dashing the hopes of millions of our citizens,” Maseko
Mapisa-Nqakula told a meeting of Parliament’s home affairs committee
that if poverty made people do violent things, then the whole of Africa
would be burning. She acknowledged there were service delivery
“challenges”, but said “we can’t say that barbarism is caused by a lack
of border control and documentation”.
She said her department’s mandate was to regulate the visits of people
to SA and not to exercise control over the borders; “it is not our mandate”.
Maseko told the post-cabinet briefing: “The cabinet once again condemns
the violence against foreign nationals in the strongest possible terms. ”
The government also lashed out at the media — both international and
domestic — for the way in which the story of the violence was being
told. It said media reports were giving the impression that the majority
of South Africans were xenophobic and that the violence was occurring
all across the country when it was a small minority taking part and the
attacks were in isolated areas.
“Stories not being told include the fact that the security forces have
dealt decisively with the violence; that in many of the affected
communities a number of citizens have stood up to prevent the attacks on
foreign nationals; and that many South Africans are launching different
anti-xenophobic initiatives and campaigns ,” Maseko said.
The much-publicised claims from some in the executive that there was a
third force stoking the violence could not be confirmed, he said, and
the government believed there was a variety of causes. He said there was
also evidence of copycat activities in which criminals took advantage of
“The government’s response to the violence has the following five key
elements; firstly, to deal decisively with the perpetrators of the
violence and all those who participate in the criminal and violent
acts,” Maseko said. “Our primary objective in this regard is to ensure
that everyone, including foreign nationals, is protected from any
criminal acts; to restore peace and stability; and to ensure that
justice is meted out to all law breakers in the shortest possible time.
“Special courts will be set up to speed up the prosecution of the
perpetrators of the violence. The South African Police Service and the
South African National Defence Force will remain on alert for as long as
it is necessary to deal decisively with any outbreak of violence. The
message to our security forces is clear: no violence will be tolerated,”
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla assured Parliament
yesterday that dedicated courts would be provided in the areas affected
by xenophobic violence to speedily bring the cases of those arrested to
court. More than 1000 people have been arrested in connection with
attacks on foreigners over the past two weeks in the two worst affected
provinces, Gauteng and Western Cape.
Introducing her budget vote, Mabandla said that “in order to expedite
all the cases, we will provide dedicated courts in the affected areas
where such a need exists. In dealing with these cases, however, we will
not only consider punitive measures, but all necessary measures will be
taken to address the concerns of our people.”
24 May 2008
State still in the dark
Two weeks after the outbreak of violence, the focus falls on the failure
of intelligence services, write WYNDHAM HARTLEY and KARIMA BROWN
WITH explanations ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, SA’s
intelligence community has thrown up its hands at the wave of xenophobic
violence sweeping the country. The nation’s top spies didn’t see it
coming, they don’t know what’s causing it and they don’t know who’s
On Friday, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, under pressure to
appear informed, managed only that the violence might be spontaneous or
it might not. There might, he suggested, be elements behind it “pulling
Kasrils was being taken to task in Parliament — 13 days after the
violence started in Alexandra after a discussion at a community police
forum meeting — for what opposition parties described as the failure of
intelligence services to spot the attacks coming.
Police have arrested hundreds of people who participated in the attacks,
but the intelligence agencies have yet to ascertain why and how they got
Kasrils, introducing his budget vote in an extended Parliamentary public
committee, devoted a considerable part of his speech to the violence.
That didn’t stop the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Freedom Front
Plus (FF+) asking why the intelligence community had been unable to
IFP MP Mfuniselwa Bhengu said: “The current xenophobic attacks, which
have cost us so many lives and tainted our country’s image, have a lot
to do with the intelligence capability and capacity of this country.
“The question on everybody’s lips is: was the intelligence caught
unaware of these xenophobic attacks? Why did they fail to detect it
before it erupted?
“It is totally unacceptable and, indeed, unfortunate that such a huge
calamitous violent episode in our country, which could have been
avoided, escaped our intelligence community’s eyes.”
FF+ MP Pieter Groenewald said there was clear evidence that the
intelligence services had failed to warn the government. He said if the
government had been warned, why had nothing been done?
Kasrils said the intelligence agencies “have been working flat out on
He said if the violence was indeed spontaneous then it would have been
very difficult for the intelligence services to have discovered it. If
there were strings being pulled, the services would have to get to the
bottom of it.
Kasrils also quoted a police station commander in one of the affected
areas as saying that even senior “indunas” in the hostels had not known
that the violence was coming. The policeman had been told by the elders
that the attacks were perpetrated by younger people who were undisciplined.
But Kasrils said the attacks could be the result of “opportunistic
elements” exploiting and manipulating genuine grievances for “their own
State failure — especially on the part of the security and intelligence
agencies, to alert government to the ticking time bomb in townships — is
also dominating discussions at the African National Congress (ANC)
national executive committee (NEC) meeting in Johannesburg this weekend.
On Thursday senior cabinet ministers acknowledged that failures in
government policy had contributed to the violence.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told The Weekender the ANC’s top
brass would be making its “own analysis” of the violence.
He said ANC officials had held a meeting with the government’s justice
and security cluster prior to the NEC meeting to get their understanding
of the crisis.
While the ANC has condemned the violence, calling on the government to
send in troops to back up overstretched police, party leaders are likely
to demand to be told why security agencies were not able to provide
early warning systems .
A senior NEC member said it was “unacceptable” that the National
Intelligence Agency (NIA) had failed to warn the government. Action
should be taken against Kasrils and the head of police crime
intelligence. “How can it be that they did not know about what was going
on?” the NEC member asked. “After all, it is the NIA’s mandate to deal
with threats to our national stability.”
Director-general of the NIA, Manala Manzini, claimed on Thursday that
the violence had been deliberately orchestrated and unleashed ahead of
next year’s elections. However, Safety and Security Minister Charles
Nqakula and Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad were unable to
explain his comments.
Pahad himself had hinted that right-wingers might be involved in
manipulating what he called the “lumpen” proletariat. In what must rank
as the most pitiful explanation for the violence yet out of government,
Pahad’s brother, Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, blamed the media.
On Wednesday the South African Communist Party (SACP) asked critical
questions about the government’s response to the crisis in its
publication, Umsebenzi Online: “How come the state intelligence
structures were also caught unaware?
“Not only that, even after the eruptions in Alexandra, and the prior
events in Tshwane and parts of the Western Cape, why were we not able to
prevent these xenophobic acts, and then stop them spreading to
Ekurhuleni and other parts of Johannesburg?”
Anger at the poor state of readiness in the national security agencies
is likely to resonate within the NEC this weekend. The meeting is also
likely to get an update from its provincial structures about how ANC
branches are dealing with the problem at local level. The NEC may
condemn the singing of Umshiniwam, ANC president Jacob Zuma’s anthem, by
those involved in attacks.
Zuma plans to visit townships in Gauteng on Sunday, after calls that he
inspect communities that have been hit by violence.
Last week the ANC Youth League also issued a warning to its members and
promised tough action against any of its members complicit in the
plundering and looting of homes and property.
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