Thursday, May 22, 2008

Social Savagery in South Africa

The spate of xenophobic violence in South Africa may have been triggered by the realities of increased hardship in a society plagued by political and economic upheaval, but it is not the root of these attacks. South Africa is one of the most xenophobic societies in the world, and it holds the harshest anti-immigrant sentiments. Its policies, like those of other African nations, have been shaped around, and molded by, hating others. Its 400 year history, dominated by Colonialism and Apartheid, were structured from this perspective.

Yet, South Africa is a modern industrialized society, leading the world in the concept of "Rainbow Nation" under a very progressive constitution that advocates "the world in one country". It even conducted a much heralded "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" to forge healing. What the small minority of the political class failed to understand was that progressive laws and attitudes they had and hoped to lead the people with, ran counter to the instilled hate sentiment that the majority of the conservative and socially right wing people had. That the opposition to apartheid did not automatically produce tolerance, understanding, and openness.

The current attacks have been described by authorities as criminal behavior, a convenient ploy to deflect the social ills that pervade South Africa and avoid confronting the rapid rate at which these social pathologies have grown in the last few years. For a nation that isn't at war, it is considered the most dangerous country in the world, where 15,000 people were murdered in a span of 8 months last year. It has one of the highest crime rates globally topped by armed robbery, homicide, and rape. Guards, walled and wired fences are some initiatives to secure living but violence can be met at one's doorstep, in open areas, streets and homes with impunity. These are day-to-day realities in this modern state.

Societal order is breaking apart and violence is its face. The government seems unable to take control and this increases frustration. The attacks on foreigners may be a manifestation of a natural hate of others and their anger at rising criminality that threatens their shaky security. By accusing the foreigners of criminal acts, they are able to vent their frustrations at a single and proximate target that's not one of their own. For these South Africans who had expected a better life, the choice has come to death by starvation or survival through detestable acts. Such a choice surely elicits the worst in human beings.

The foreigners are leaving, and so are many South Africans - for their safety and sanity. The fundamental problem of economic inequality and poverty is compounded by the knowledge that there is corruption among the rulers, abuse of state institutions, silencing of people with principles, protection of the corrupt, and a floundering bureaucracy. For a generation that lived their entire lives traumatized by violence, this behavior is instinctive and is reflected in their psychological make up. Finding and recovering their dignity may alter this mental make-up considerably. But the hopelessness of their social and economic plight and the governments impotence to reduce crime and poverty will only ignite this violent behavior to greater intensity.

A country with vast resources, natural splendor, and beauty is being ravaged by its own people - those who have professed to love and build their nation - by acts inimical to its interest. Its modern industries are at risk and its investors pulling back. Its citizens living in fear or accepting abnormal conditions for safety's sake daily. The hate mindset and violent inclinations can be removed over time through education, and replaced with open attitudes and progressive thinking. But the government must act decisively and justly to stem the breakdown of order and respect for authority. It isn't far fetched to think that as things get worse, South Africans will eventually turn on each other.

It is disheartening to imagine that after all those years of struggle, freedom and self -rule, development and growth, it is descending back into the heart of darkness. They will have to learn the means to unshackle their minds and liberate their spirits, which may still be imprisoned by their own attachments to the past.



Kim said...

it's certainly a terrible story Durano...
I wonder if this beautiful country and its people will survive this type of persecution....:(

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

These are two successive posts on South Africa. The first is its energy problem, and the second its social and political upheavals.

I did receive e-mails about the first and was also informed about the crime rate and its effect on the citizens and visitors alike. All along I thought that the crime rate was typical of other urban centers, but it seems these are merely symptoms. The deeply rooted cause lie in their history of violence and hate under 400 years of colonialism and apartheid. They have to regain their dignity, and the poverty that is brought on by economic inequality only worsens their loss of dignity.

It's no secret that tourists can be robbed even in their hotel rooms if they are not careful, and may experience a gun being shoved in their faces for all valuables they carry. It is a dangerous place.

It's sad to think that such a beautiful country would return to its primitive ways after all it had sacrificed.

That's why I voted today in your site. I wanted to see some ideal visions of the world that are not trampled by hate nor intolerance, nor suffering. But I was surprised at the leading entries which depicted the current images of the time.

But I guess awareness is a good thing, it's just that it's not my idea of what constitutes beauty. :-) --Durano, done!


As a Nigerian who follows issues concerning Nigerians worldwide, South Africa frequently pops up as a country where hardworking Nigerian immigrants are treated extremely harshly.

These most recent incidents have affected many Nigerians and even Zimbabweans who have fled Mugabe-run Zimbabwe. As of yesterday, the SA Ambassador in Washington, D.C. was apologizing for the way Nigerians were treated. I can only hope that the SA government will do what it can to allay the xenophobic fears which are extremely high in that country. Most Africans, and in fact, the world, looks up to SA given their struggle to overcome Apartheid and create a better society that respects all regardless of race. I just pray for the best for everyone there.

BTW, when you say SA is one of the most xenophobic countries in the world, what do you base that on? Just wondering if you live there or have spent significant time there. I am sure that SA's will be quite saddened by that assessment. SA is like any other country where the people are struggling and wondering if foreign immigrants are competing with them for perceived limited resources or jobs. Over here in the States, one could argue similarities with regards to the current high rhetoric on Hispanic immigrants (legal or otherwise). Nevertheless, nice post.

Take care.


durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Solomonsydelle,

The sad fact is that South Africa's neighbors hid and cared for those fleeing persecution during the apartheid struggle, risking their own safety. Now, they are repaid by the South Africans with xenophobic violence bordering on ethnic cleansing.

The promise of the Rainbow Nation was in the minds of the more progressive leaders of SA at the time they took over. But the population in general was no not as liberal, but conservative and socially right wing. The culture of hate instilled by colonialism and apartheid was still in their psyche. They have not moved on as yet. This is part of the tragedy, i think. The constitutional promise and the reality of the state of people's mentality and attitude.Of course, this is made worse by the government's failure to plan appropriately and stem inequality and poverty.

I base the statement you refer to on the research project conducted by Southern African Migration Project done in 2005. This statement is one of their major findings.

As far as the US is concerned, some sectors also suffer from Xenophobia because of perceived taking of jobs from them by Latinos. However, the Latinos take jobs the whites don't like. Other whites see this as abuse by some employers that also forces salaries and wages downward, not necessarily xenophobia.

But the whole situation is painfully funny when their solution is to erect a wall along the entire border as if walls could prevent human intention. Nowhere is history was this ever achieved. And to think that they talk of illegal immigrants when it was the whites who came in droves uninvited, took the land, slaughtered the buffaloes, destroyed the environment, made war on their hosts, pushed the American Indians on the brink of extinction (genocide), and then settled what was left in barren land to become depressed and denied their rights.
These are the owners of America, robbed, deceived, betrayed and massacred by the illegal immigrants who now dominate the land.Now, they are paranoid. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zhu said...

I've been reading about the situation in SA Africa for a few days now and it looks pretty bad.

I read it's one of the country with the most inequalities... which led to violence, undoubtedly.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

Inequality it is, Zhu, but hate is in their psyche - and I refer to the general population. The progressive laws and attitudes were those of a small minority of the political class who wrote their constitution. But the people were not prepared mentally and attitudinally.

Xenophobia is in their blood too. The corruption and inequality has led to one of the highest crime rates in the world. And it appears that gender violence is also prevalent as rape is very high in the stats. They want to remove the dignity of women after dignity has been given high importance in their constitution.

It's appallingly sad for such a beautiful country. :-) --Durano, done!