Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tutu told you so, Mr President

It seems everyone had been warning the fool in command, Mbeggi of the impending disaster which went unheeded.

It smacks of an arrogance of colossal proportions on the part of Mbeggi that despite judges, Nobel laureates, NGOs and experts advising him of the powder keg about to explode, that the fool ignored all advice and today thousands of people are displaced and the image of the
country is destroyed.

Remove Mbeggi and the ANC. That's all there is to it.

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Four years ago, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu caused a spluttering avalanche of indignation when he expressed fears about the situation developing in South Africa as a result of growing gaps between the rich and the poor.

"Are we not building up much resentment that we may rue later?" Tutu asked in the 2004 annual Nelson Mandela Memorial lecture. "Many, too many, of our people live in gruelling, demeaning, dehumanising poverty. We are sitting on a powder keg."

The big bang may have just happened. It took just two weeks to kill nearly 50 people, displace 15 000 others, and get images of their burning, bloodied and terrified victims into the international spotlight.

'We are sitting on a powder keg'

Immigration challenges and xenophobia are nothing new, nor are they peculiarly South African. But, the chilling bloodlust on our doorstep has shocked the nation into action.

Female victims at the Alexandra police station clutched business cards of victim support groups. White tents were pitched in the parking lot. Neat queues lined up to patiently receive bread and soup from volunteers in scenes that flew in the face of the South African government's official "no refugee camps" policy

In Pretoria sit the relocated victims of the earlier Atteridgeville attacks. They live cooped up in the concrete courtyard of an old tyre warehouse. The youngest is three months old and he has already spent nearly two-thirds of his life here. There are no toilets, no security and now the group has been ordered off the premises by June 1.

They have been given some money to help in the relocation, but even this makes them scared.

In the group is Rebecca Marai, who though born north of the border, is one of five green ID book-carrying South African citizens at the makeshift shelter. Once she had a home, an intact family, a kitchen with a wall unit and groceries for the month.

"I really want to go back to Zimbabwe," she said, 11 years after she got her first ID book. "I cannot live like this. The situation is forcing me to go back - I'd rather suffer in my country."

Her oldest child, Miriam, 19, is used to living in the open but misses her siblings - now sent to school elsewhere - and her own bedroom. "What do I miss? Peace," she says.

A table of sorts has been propped up on tyres. There is a mattress-less bed fashioned from blankets, scavenged wood and cardboard. A blackened coffee tin is used to cook on a small stove. Raggedy fabric has been strung up to separate sleeping areas.

The group at the building are surviving on hand-outs. Among them are two, kindly middle aged supermarket employees who arrived to drop off bags of baked goods from a local supermarket. Included were breads, chocolate sandwich cakes, and vanilla sponges. The disparity was surreal.

The hungry oozed out of the bush with outstretched hands to ask for whatever was going. They met expressions of apprehension and horrified empathy. Desperation is difficult upfront.

When scenes from the recent violence were flashed around the world, ordinary citizens started acting.

They started signing on as volunteers and they started pointing fingers.

On the analysts' blame list so far are service delivery failure, the propping up of a brutal crony in Zimbabwe and an apathetic response to a growing immigration crisis.

The Inkatha Freedom Party and Zulu speakers have also cropped up a few times. And the ANC's own "100% Zulu Boy", party president Jacob Zuma, has spoken against reports of locals singing his trademark song Umshini Wami when attacking foreigners. Translated into "bring me my machine-gun", it's a macabre self-fulfilling prophesy if true.

The government's favourite attribution appears to be a mysterious "third force". Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad has hinted at right wing involvement but would not clarify. It would be "mere speculation" until a task team had completed its work, he said.

Swart gevaar paranoia could not have done a better fudge job in a country built on ethnic divisions.

One foreign-born victim believed that a force was behind the attacks and that the violence would not stop before next year's elections, elections that foreign-born ID holders were eligible to vote in.

"I think this is a political issue. Someone is behind it," the victim said.

The government has said service delivery was also not to blame. This despite each attack having happened in congested urban fringes, where "a better life for all" is often still just a catchy slogan.

The message on the ground has been anger at foreigners supposedly muscling in on jobs, girlfriends, crime and RDP houses, most of which relates to service delivery.

Research released last year showed that a third of black and coloured residents in Gauteng metro areas were dissatisfied with service delivery. In towns, 44 percent of blacks were unhappy. The conclusion was that more unrest was on its way.

Political gobbledygook has also claimed that the attacks are criminal but not xenophobic. But does it really matter if foreigners were first targeted and then their fridges, DVD players, and homes were stolen?

Armed crowds have carried weapons and marched down streets, chanting non-obtuse slogans such as "hambani makwerewere" and "kill the shangaans".

Government has insisted on carrying out its arrest and deport strategy instead of introducing alternatives. In fact, South Africans are so obsessed with deportation that they recently tried to send a Mpumalanga teenager to Mozambique because he was too dark.

The costly approach simply does not work, says Tara Polzer of the Forced Migration Studies Programme at Wits University.

Deportations were more of a show of power than a way to an effective outcome and were counter-productive in protecting economic and social interest.

"Deportation never works, and it is definitively not working in the case of Zimbabwe. It's a complete waste of money," said Polzer.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nkaqula has hinted at a "new approach" - including a temporary residence permit - but there has been zero action.

The fact is that, even if the minister was a firecracker policy maker, the department is confined by national government policy which boils down to good ole "silent diplomacy".

"There is a lot of pressure on the Department of Home Affairs, but it is not her (the minister's) decision alone," commented Idasa researcher Kate Lefko-Everett.

This week, Mapisa-Nkaqula said her affected foreigners, documented or not, would not be deported.

"South Africa belongs to all who live in it; foreigners have helped to develop the economy of the country - we cannot be seen as attacking people," she said.

It was a brave statement, particularly to anyone who has visited Musina and seen the numerous deportation trucks - fingers clutching through metal grids - heading to the Zimbabwean border.

In 2004, Mbeki unleashed a 3 000-word response to Tutu which included terms like "gratuitous insults". The verbal sparring briefly continued, then faded.

But in a speech of poignant foresight, Tutu had spoken of hope for a government that allowed more debate and discussion without slinging matches. Such as whether South Africans were satisfied with quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe.

"Surely human rights violations must be condemned whatever the struggle credentials of the perpetrator," Tutu said.

The Nobel Laureate spoke of a nation where all belonged and knew they belonged. The end of the bad days of indiscriminate massacres was also celebrated. A time when eight killings in 24 hours was a good figure.

Over to you Mr President.

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