South Africa burns…where is the fiddler?

There are cries of xenophobia everywhere; the newspapers are full of it, news on TV, the blogosphere, people discussing it in groups. Pictures of a poor man burning is travelling around the world. Most South Africans, and in all likelihood people all over the world are perplexed. The victims are just shocked, horror written all over their faces. Is this really a scene from the new South Africa, only just 14 years old? What is happening here?

I have spent a few days taking in the reports of violence, killings and destruction of property from around the Province, trying to make sense of it all. Most of the attacks seem to be targeted at foreigners, mostly illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, but there have also been attacks against locals. The perpetrators of the attacks are referred to constantly, as “they”. Who are “they” really? Are they Zulus or Xhosa’s or some other linguistic or tribal group, as has been claimed in some reports? Or are they just a mixture of poor South Africans, living in the squalor of the townships, shanty-towns and ghettos?

We have been living alongside illegal immigrants for a number of years now, but why the sudden torrent of anger directed toward them, originating in Alexandria township? Apart from the first half or so years, of the country’s transition to democratic rule of government, there has been a noticeable decline in the state of the economy and quality of government. The first signs were the escalation in the rate of crime being perpetrated on people of all races. The poor got steadily poorer and more desperate by the day. Criminals became more brazen when they realized that the police and indeed the government were quite helpless, nay clueless when it came to protecting its citizens. While the poor suffered intense hardship, prominent members of the government were helping themselves to the taxpayers money. The government (local and national) lost sight of its vision to rebuild the country, pave the way for creation of equality, wealth and justice for all; instead, with the exception of a few dedicated politicians and civil servants, most concentrated on lining their own pockets. Meanwhile, our President continues to support Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, while his people stream into South Africa to escape that brutal regime.

And then came higher and even higher interest rate hikes, and to add insult to injury, monthly fuel price hikes with its concomitant rise in the price of food and basic necessities. The poor were now reeling from the double whammy. Is it then inconceivable to imagine that the recent outbreak of so-called xenophobic attacks could be linked to the desperate situation the poor have now been cornered into. Fourteen years after being freed politically, they now find themselves enslaved economically. It could have started as a small squabble in Alexandria, but quickly escalated out of control. We will never really know. The victims certainly don’t know why they have been attacked. The problem is that it has happened.

But, the government has been obscenely silent about the whole mess. Where is the fiddler? Mr. Mbeki, it is time for you to go, don’t wait for the 2009 election…

Life of Brian

A few weeks ago, I purchased a DVD of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, on sale at a local music shop. In between everything else I managed to squeeze in yesterday, I watched the movie on my home theatre system. I remember watching the film at one of the local cinemas in Durban, some time after it was released in 1979, and had forgotten all about it until I spotted the DVD on sale.

Now, I don’t exactly remember any of the controversy surrounding the film when it was released in South Africa, but given the subject matter of the film and the conservative Apartheid society of the time, I would have been very surprised had there been none. The film which portrays religion as hypocritical and fanatical, certainly did cause a consternation among the religious community in Britain and the USA when first released. If there were any protests in South Africa, on a scale equivalent to that of Britain and the USA (apparently it was banned outright for 8 years in the Republic of Ireland), I must have missed it.

But, after watching the film yesterday, I was struck by how timid the perceived blasphemy and criticism of Christianity and religion in general, really was. Oh, to be sure the portrayals were quite funny and relatively current, but compared to the scathing criticism found widely today in mediums such as the blogosphere, I thought it was quite timid. I’ll bet a film made today with the same subject matter, won’t be as accommodating to the religions of the world.

Well, I’m not overly disappointed though, since the film is regarded as a classic Monty Python feature and makes a welcome addition to my DVD collection. Anyway, the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Eric Idle in the film’s closing scene is one of my favourites.