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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hostility in South Africa

Photo by Karin Brulliard-The Washington Post

As many of you know, South Africa is very special to me. My visit there two years ago really opened my eyes to that country and the issues that are plaguing them. When I open the paper I always look to see what is happening there politically and socially.

The following is based on a recent Washington Post article:

Recently there has been an influx of violence that has been directed towards immigrants. These immigrants come from other African countries such as Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Congo, to name a few, to make better lives for themselves in South Africa. They have more opportunities than they did in the countries they left. Many of these immigrants were brutally attacked in South Africa’s slums this past spring.

Five months ago more than 60 people were killed in anti-foreigner beatings and burnings in South Africa. Immigrants have since sought refuge in government-run encampments to protect them after these brutal attacks spread through the slum areas where they lived. Many of the poorer people live in what are called townships, that we know as slums. Their homes are typically made from corrugated metal with tin roofs. They are lucky if they have electricity.

The refugee-style encampments where the immigrants sought refuge run contrary to Africa’s most developed country. Recently the government has torn down these encampments saying that neighborhoods are safe again. But many immigrants do not agree with that statement. They say that the South African government has done little tackle this long standing hostility towards immigrants.

Apparently the government has left the camps to civic groups to distribute aid and grants to help the displaced get back on their feet. But there are so many internal struggles going on with the government ruling party in South Africa that the plight of the foreigners has been virtually ignored. There has not been any type of investigation into the violence against these people. Of course there is great fear that this type of hostility and violence will happen again since it hasn’t been dealt with in the first place.

A majority of foreigners who are targeted are Somalis, legal refugees that run shops in townships. Many refuse to leave these encampments, even though they have been dismantled. They choose to stay even though the camps look like junkyards with mattresses and piles of clothing strewn about. They are afraid to go back to their homes saying they would rather be killed there than go back home and be killed.
Despite its wrenching poverty, South Africa is among Africa’s richest countries. Many immigrants, 3 million to 5 million, migrate there seeking jobs as mineworkers, or escaping conflict in their own countries. Many South Africans view these immigrants as competition for jobs.

It seems this issue is not high on the agenda of issues that the leadership has to deal with, so they are basically turning a blind eye.

I know that we have problems here in our own country, but I cannot comprehend living with this type of fear. Fear that my family will be killed, beaten or bludgeoned to death and nobody will do anything about it. How is that right and just? Who is going to help these poor people that just want to live and provide for their families?


organicyogamom said...

This article makes me so sad. I know it is happening and I know South Africa is not the only place in our world and I wish that it were not so. These atrocities are things we all need to keep in mind. Thanks for making it real for others.

julie.matteson said...

Having been to South Africa this year I found it to be a very oppressive place. My host and hostess live there approx. half the year and in Europe the other half. They are Europeans, but have lived in So. Africa many years. A country with no social welfare system, 70% unemployment can only expect to have horrendous crime. Crime in the streets, in the homes, etc. is the "norm". A government with blinders on is indeed a tragedy. Let us count our blessings each and every day and learn the lessons of history.

Rebecca said...

Julie. I am not disagreeing with your basic premise but South Africa indeed has a well developed social welfare system and its level of unemployment is far below 70% -- closer to 25%. Still far too high, I agree, but there is no need to exaggerate South Africa's problems in order to highlight them. While unemployment and failure to provide social services surely have something to do with crime, it is much more complex than that. Many post-internal conflict nations suffer from high crime rates out of proportion to their poverty or whatever problems they have. Furthermore the xenophobic violence in SA is not simple crime but a much more complicated phenomenon.