What we’ve witnessed in Soweto this week has been described in many ways – xenophobia, afrophobia, criminality, racism or looting that’s purely coincidental. It has also been attributed to various reasons – drugs (nyaope), greed, jealousy, diminishing moral values in our society, colonialism and apartheid, as well as economy-related problems such as housing and jobs. Each and every single one of these factors is relevant.
In part xenophobia is described as “prejudice against, or a dislike of, foreigners”. In 2008 those who died included some locals wrongly identified as Mozambicans for example. In the attacks this week, some of those who were affected were locals, and the properties the foreigners informally traded from are mostly owned by locals. So while locals were victims of direct actions, the fact that these attacks were intended and directed towards foreigners rather, ultimately means xenophobia is at play. Looters have been careful to spare locals where possible.
“Blacks are kwerekweres, Whites are tourists”. That’s been the narrow perspective among some perspectives, hence the regular reference to “afrophobia”. Surely when those affected include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians, it’s rather simplistic to reduce it to afrophobia. Particularly when Ethiopian and Somali traders are by and large the only affected African group, while Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, and other smaller African representations, are pretty much unaffected from their locations in the CDB and parts of Johannesburg South (Rosettenville, Regents Park, Turffontein, Alberton etc). Viewed in isolation there can be justification in terming the whole episode as such.
Those acts were acts of violence, trespassing and theft. Laws were broken, which amounts to lawlessness – which in turn invites police and legal action. So yes it’s accurate to say it was criminality. People died, got hurt and vengeance was meted out, but opportunists also took advantage of the situation - something that spread to areas very far from the scene of the original crime. That does not necessarily mean it’s racist or xenophobic. There was looting in Ferguson, USA, among those protesting the murder of Michael Brown by a White cop. In Paris, France, protestors against Israel’s deadly actions in Gaza looted shops. While here in Africa some protestors acting in solidarity with the Muslims rightly insulted by Charlie Hebdo’s “style of journalism”, looted shops in Niamey, Niger, and burnt churches. Greed, criminality and coincidence were at play.
Regarding where it all started in Snake Park, Soweto, the police reported that this was sparked by a group of 15 young boys who organised themselves and went raiding foreign owned spaza shops forcibly stealing items like airtime. The foreign shop owners who had already been hit, alerted other shop owners to be armed and ready for these boys. The resulting stand-off led to the death of this boy and countless others injured badly. Typical case of aggression versus resistance or self-defence! Except of course that resistance by the foreigners was aided by illegal firearms. A clear sign that some foreigners have become overly “comfortable” away from their home. Enough to more than irk any discontent struggling South African.
It is said these boys were high on the popular Tanzanian drug called nyaope* (aka whoonga/wunga). Foreigners introduced - and maintain - drug trade in South Africa! That the casualty was a mere 14 years old, points to deeper problems, and from where I’m standing, those are of an economic nature. Already, the future of this country is fed up at such a young age, so there will be no end in sight unless it’s addressed swiftly. This requires effective and long-lasting solutions.
True, we inherited the toxic legacy of close to 400 years of colonialism and apartheid, which was not resolved over the past 20 years of our democracy, nor will it be overcome at any point over the next 200 years. Only alleviated. However, those problems of an economic nature stem from how the presiding government has gone about confronting these challenges from 1994.
From 1991 foreigners from all over the world, not just Africa, sensed an opportunity with the end of Apartheid, and relocated to South Africa to enrich themselves. While non-blacks were generally away from African settlements and locations, it was an unusual experience for the Black South African, long restricted by evil Apartheid and its vestiges, to witness the enterprise and entrepreneurship of his fellow Black African bother (and sister) - albeit at an informal level. Over the years this influx grew, with our neighbours having earned independence 20+ years before South Africa and blessed with an army of qualified professionals who came to compete with an under-developed populace for jobs – menial, middle class and management; or used the wealth they had saved or accumulated in their home countries to simply set up here and live comfortably. This is coupled by multiple times more who cunningly migrate here and are merely an aimless burden on public services and limited resources.
Some have attributed these attacks to lazy, jealous bored louts. Again this is simplistic because residents of all demographics (and political affiliations) within those aggrieved communities performed these illegal acts on them. Not just the youth. Those people would never have had a reason to be “jealous” had the government put in place mechanisms to slow or control the filtering through of foreigners to take up opportunities which should rightly have been opened up to locals only, for a limited period initially. At the very least these last 20 years should have been designed for that.
We are aware that other African states, who were long independent at the time, extended goodwill to host our exiled brothers and sisters and militants working towards our liberation - of which some in my own family can attest, but it must also be said that some of our neighbours, comprising the three of the four major African migrants in South Africa, never extended that hospitality and contributed minimally to our cause. Therefore South Africa cannot be held to ransom as if to say they are now obliged to recompense, much to the detriment of the already strained social balance in this country.
It’s far too late to invest in closing the borders now, as we can see that other well resourced countries have failed via that route. Better opportunity-costs exist for that investment. All over the world governments are grappling with problems from migrants. The USA is faced with migrants from Mexico, Central America and South America. The UK is also struggling with migrants from the rest of Europe. Australia and New Zealand have to deal with migrants from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. We are aware of France’s long standing problem with North and West African migrants. In either case, it’s not just migrants from those territories mentioned, but from all over the world too.
All of these countries are employing and proposing stricter measures far much more excessive than what I suggest below. Smarter and more effective solutions, where foreigners finance the costs of their own existence here, are required. The following is what I propose because at the root of it all, economy-related problems are the cause.
1. Heavy Taxation – A minimum tax rate of 60% PAYE must be applied on all foreign employees. It will be distributed in this way.
· For African foreigners – 40% to SARS for normal application; 10% towards the administration of this collection and other regulation set out below (that will be run and staffed strictly by South Africans); and 10% repatriated to their home country. This money repatriated to their home countries will I presume appease those governments who feel that their human resources - which they skilled - “stolen”. It also serves to appease those who feel something is due to them for their assistance during apartheid. Furthermore, it encourages foreigners to play a role in their home countries, or “vote wisely” as some would say.
· For non-African foreigners - 50% to SARS for normal application, 10% towards the administration of this collection and other regulation set out below (that will be run and staffed strictly by South Africans). They cannot receive the same treatment as out African brothers, not to mention their superior economies.
· South Africans would no doubt be appeased by the availability of more revenue for social support, courtesy of foreigners. In which case they would not be quick to revolt. That ire can only be directed towards the government managing or mismanaging this.
2. Employer Levies - All non-state employers are to pay a R12,000.00 levy in order to employ a foreigner for 12 months in whatever capacity; in line with the critical skills requirements as set out by law. A minimum R24,000.00 penalty to be levied on the employer for non-compliance. This is per employee.
3. Informal Trader’s Levies – A minimum of R12,000.00 must be paid to trade informally for 12 months. Essentially this amounts to a Visa fee. After all, if you’re not employed and not on a limited holiday visa, it’s obvious that you’re self-employed and that privilege must come at a cost.
4. Compulsory Employment of Locals – Any informal traders are obligated to employ locals if they need employees.
5. Compulsory use of Public Services paid for in Cash – Foreigners by and large use public clinics and hospitals. This should be made compulsory for all of them and charged cash.
6. Permanent Residence and Permits:
· Finalised outside of South Africa - In all cases above it should be compulsory for foreigners to renew and pay for their permits outside the country (as DHA have in part attempted to do).
· Work Permits - Their prospective employers should have paid the R12,000.00 Foreign Employee Levy (refundable within 30 days if the employee is no longer available), in order for their Work Permit to be approved.
· Permanent Residency – Only possible after 12 years.
7. Children – Using clinic/hospital issued birth cards, within the first year children born to a foreign male are to receive a birth-certificate/Pre-ID, and Passport from the father’s home country or embassy within South Africa, before they can continue in the country or have access to public services. No South African birth certificates are to be issued to them. (Even if they are born by South African women, you will notice that Nigerian men always take their children back home to be raised by their mothers in Nigeria. They consider South Africa to be too damaged to raise children in. Regardless of the reason they know they belong in Nigeria and all intend to return there. The problem is other nationals whose primary intention is to relocate permanently.)
8. Public Health Professionals – They are not allowed to practice privately and can only work for state-owned health institutions.
9. Lindela & illegals – The finance to pay for the administration of these detention and repatriation centres will at least now be the responsibility of the 10% tax portion for administration. This way legal challenges, plus those serial offenders who are stubborn, will be constantly sent back or challenged at their countrymen’s expense. Naturally, any shortfalls will be covered by the 10% intended for the home country.
10. Foreign Affairs Department – This shall be the responsibility of the Foreign Affairs department. For once it will have something to do, as opposed to pretending we have any meaningful Foreign Policy to dedicate a portfolio … as do most countries that are globally insignificant or irrelevant.
It’s inevitable that governments will be caught in a situation where they have to defend foreigners from the very citizens the Police represent. In a country as volatile as ours, due to various historical and current issues, that police action – however legal - can easily be misconstrued as betrayal. That kind of betrayal can breed distrust of the state and ultimately widespread revolts against it. Police action in Marikana acting in “defence of foreign capital” proved as much.
Where a government can prove to its citizens that foreigners have paid their due to live and trade in South Africa at any given time, it makes it difficult for any citizen to criticise any stringent action by the government. That is what is absent right now, and that is what must be attended to as a matter of urgency.