Africa – a continent where many wars have taken place and where many wars still take place like the one in Sudan. I have never been to Africa but every time I read something about this particular continent, it is either connected with lack of democracy, or with poverty and meager chances for a positive change. A good support of my statement is that all of the ten poorest countries in the world are located in Africa and also that most of the countries in the list of HIPC, that is, Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, are African.
The countries in the list of HIPC are so heavily in debt that they can never return the money they were given by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other organizations. Moreover, the money and any other kinds of international aid do not make a great difference because of corrupt governments, unequal distribution of basic needs among the population and so on.
What we see nowadays in Africa, its southern part in particular, through the media is the result of all this chaos. Lack of basic needs such as food, huge inflation of over 100000% in Zimbabwe, central governments’ irresponsible attitude toward the different issues and last but not least – high percentage of unemployment – inevitably lead to desperation.
This desperation reached its peak, or at least I see it as a peak, about a week ago in South Africa which is, in my opinion, one of the most stable countries in the Dark Continent despite difficulties that it experiences. According to BBC, unemployment rate is 30% in South Africa and there are 3-5 million foreigners mainly from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Nigeria of 49 million people as total population. Not surprisingly, the unrest is caused by the poor unemployed South Africans. Mobs of them managed to commit several murders of different kinds, thefts, rapes of women, shoplifting and destruction of shops owned by foreigners, robberies and other crimes all of which are specifically targeted to foreigners, especially to the ones who come from hopelessly impoverished Zimbabwe.
Both of the sides, that of the South African xenophobes and that of the foreigners, make points that are worth hearing by the world community. I will begin with the foreigners’ situation. They come from different countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Somalia, Tanzania, Nigeria and other countries and they occupy jobs that some South Africans seek. Of course, they do not come to the Rainbow Nation just to deprive local people of job opportunities in the latter’s patrimony. In fact, I see almost no difference between those foreigners and the ones who come to the United States and Western Europe from Eastern Europe except for the difference in salaries being given. This difference is greater in Africa than in Europe and the United States.
Even if we ignore the fact that the situation in Zimbabwe is worse than we have ever expected, the money a Zimbabwean could make in South Africa for a single day is worth the money the same person could make in Zimbabwe for a year or even more than a year. I remember reading what a Zimbabwean woman in Zimbabwe said in a news website about a couple of months ago, that is, days before the elections there which aren’t over yet and which I will analyze in another article.
She said that the money that she made for a month was enough for a chewing gum only. Adding the fact that one in four Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe has a job makes it unthinkable to assume that they wish to remain in a country where if you are not member of the ruling ZANU-PF party, you are deprived of certain privileges there called basic needs throughout the world.
There are similar problems in Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia and other African countries. I do not think that those foreigners are to be blamed for taking jobs from South Africans, neither do I think that South Africans are to be blamed for anything different from the violence that they have caused for the last seven days or so.
After all, they are citizens of the country. I am a strong believer of the statement that a country’s government should take care of its citizens in providing them with basic needs and job opportunities to begin with. Without reading too much about the situation in South Africa, I can’t help but think that Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet has not provided its citizens with as equal job opportunities as possible compared to what foreign citizens find.
As a result, some South African citizens begin to see themselves as foreigners in their own country. It turns out to be that recent days have reached the peak of their dissatisfaction. Since they cannot change their fate peacefully by having their country find jobs for them, they do what every mass does – cause chaos and kill those foreigners who occupy jobs that they believe they would occupy: a means of frightening the foreigners and making them want to leave the country. The poor and jobless xenophobe South Africans are really starting to reach their goal. Some Zimbabweans in the Rainbow Nation really want to go back to Zimbabwe despite the serious situation in their patrimony where Robert Mugabe’s iron grip continues to strangle the local population.
What should be done in order to not just eliminate this chaos but prevent tension in the future as well? The first thing that Pretoria has to do is tighten customs control of the borders. That does not necessarily mean that the government should build walls like the federal government of the United States does to its border with Mexico. Mobilizing customs officers could turn out to be enough.
Then, the least the South African government could do is deport illegal immigrants just like Spain did 2-3 years ago when there was a great influx of Senegalese people packed on boats heading to the country’s southern lands. Politicians’ campaign sponsors may happen to not be pleased with such move most likely because of their hiring foreigners as cheap tax-free labor. However, it will very likely lead to the country’s interior security which is one of the most important issues in every country.
Besides, in my opinion, politicians and campaign contributors could arrange a certain decrease of taxes and at the same time hiring Zulus and other rioters for a minimum wage officially whereas paying them a little bit more unofficially. You may think that this is fraudulence toward the country but I see it as one of the few paths to eliminating the current problem for a very long time. This possible fraudulence could be eliminated in the long run but calculations are rather complicated in terms of how and when it will be eliminated. It does not depend on South Africa only but on the region’s events, gas prices and so on.
In general, I believe that tightening control of the borders – especially the one with Zimbabwe, and sufficient decrease of income taxes and property taxes should solve the problem in the Rainbow Nation. Of course, I do not say that this is the only path to solving it but that is what I think that Thabo Mbeki and his administration should do along with the legislature’s support.