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…

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