05.10.2020 Author: Vladimir Danilov

There is Social Unrest once Again in South Africa

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In September, in South Africa, in a clear repeat of events which took place last year, there was a new wave of demonstrations directed primarily against the massive numbers of Nigerians, political refugees, economic migrants, and expatriates from Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe immigrating into the country. The local population believes that they threaten jobs for South Africans themselves, by virtue of which the slogan “South Africans First” has gained particular popularity among the protesters.

Without a doubt, the exacerbation of the internal situation in South Africa is chiefly due to a host of social problems that have remained unresolved for a long time. According to official statistics, unemployment in South Africa is at about 30%, as indicated, in particular, by a recently published 60-page report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). The HIV infection rate among the country’s population is one of the highest in the world. Against this backdrop, the crime situation in the country is continuously declining.

Assessments made by individual experts about the development of the situation in South Africa often resound with proclamations it was the abolition of apartheid which has caused the crime that is rampant in the country, and the white population is considered to be the most affected because of its skin color. Although there is some truth in this, it is still hardly appropriate to oversimplify the current situation. Yes, the modern bourgeoisie and middle class among the indigenous black population only began to develop very recently, after the abolition of apartheid. Members of the middle and upper class, regardless of their skin color, live in guarded houses with high fences and to a certain extent have “cordoned themselves off” from social inequality and the problems present among the country’s ordinary population. After all, even though regime change led to official social equity in terms of the rights enjoyed by various races, the standard of living, education, and well-being of regular members of the indigenous population still lags behind the whites, which is causing the unrelenting growth of crime in the country.

The population’s social stratification has had a negative impact on the domestic situation in South Africa. Free education is still not widespread at all, and is conducted only in the local language, while going to universities that provide an education in English and lead to good jobs implies knowledge of the European language, and poorer residents cannot provide that for their children.

In addition, the abolition of apartheid has sparked an influx of illegal immigrants from other countries.  Industrially well-developed South Africa has been one of the most popular destinations for economic migrants in recent years. According to official data, there are now 3.6 million foreigners residing in this country with 56 million people: approximately 70% of them have come searching for a better life from neighboring Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho. In reality, the number of migrants in this country is much higher, since many of them are unofficially employed, and located in economically well-developed cities like Pretoria and Johannesburg, where the concentration of foreigners is significantly higher than the national average. Migrant workers from poor African countries agree to do hard or low-skilled work for less money than South African citizens, which is why local political leaders often use them as “scapegoats” for economic inequality and unemployment.

High levels of migration have increased poverty and crime even further and led to attacks on the wealthier segments of the population, which naturally means the whites since the end of apartheid. Migrants usually live in areas where not only white tourists, but indigenous people of any skin color fear to enter. The situation is aggravated by increased alcoholism among the population, which has recently turned into a social problem for the authorities.

In addition to these factors, the so-called “Nigerian factor” has exerted a strong influence on the country’s internal situation. Nigerians represent a long-standing ethnic problem in South Africa. They appeared in the country after 1992, and quickly occupied criminal positions throughout the country, dealing in drugs, arms, ivory, rare animals, counterfeit goods, and alcohol. Today, Nigerian migrants completely occupy not only those niches involving crime, but are also street vendors, which does not please the local population: the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and Tswana peoples. For the local population, Nigerians are element that is completely alien. They speak a language that is completely incomprehensible to the indigenous population living in South Africa, and impose their culture, including their criminal and religious culture, and are generally perceived by representatives from the Zulu and Xhosa peoples as something that is completely foreign.

Therefore, rampages on Nigerian shops and markets became a daily occurrence in South Africa long ago, and serious outbreaks of violence directed against them take place approximately once every six months. For example, during one round of Nigerian bashing last autumn, troops had to be sent to the suburbs of Johannesburg to stop people from beating up Nigerians, with Nigeria even recalling its ambassador from South Africa and evacuating its citizens back to their homeland using special planes. After the wave of rampages subsided, they came back, and everything began to repeat itself again.

As for the current deterioration of the situation in South Africa, it is noteworthy that, as occurred in 2019, hatemongers have begun to actively spread appeals in WhatsApp groups and social media networks to expel the foreigners from the country who traffic in drugs and take jobs. These calls are echoed not only by demonstrators, but also by crowds of rampagers, many of whom are armed with axes and machetes; they block the roads to impede the police from passing and show off their readiness to rob, smash, and burn property held by foreigners.

Although until recently the targets of this bashing and attacks in South Africa were mainly blacks from other parts of Africa, the emphasis has still begun to shift towards a “civil war against whites.” This is specifically indicated by Andile Mngxitama, the leader of the radical socialist party Black First Land First. “The current apocalyptic scenes of charred buildings and carcasses of motorcycles eaten by fire is a mere dress rehearsal of an eventuality awaiting white South Africa… The current riots in South Africa are incorrectly termed xenophobia, when it is instead a black-on-black war. A wave of this violence flares up with increased intensity. It’s just a matter of time before they (cycles of violence) transgress into the secured white zone,” warned Andile Mngxitama. An army of 10 million unemployed South African citizens, in his opinion, will soon refocus its anger away from foreigners (“secondary contradictions”) to the “main contradiction”: white South Africans who “turn black people into self destructive social beings”.

Julius Malema, leader of the popular opposition left-wing party, Economic Freedom Fighters, also points to the guilt of the white community in South Africa for allegedly pitting black residents of the country against each other by spreading exaggerated claims that migrant workers “steal jobs”. “Our anger is directed at the wrong people,” Julius Malema wrote on Twitter. “Like all of us, our African brothers and sisters are selling their cheap labor for survival. The owners of our wealth is white monopoly capital; they are refusing to share it with us and the ruling party ANC protects them.”

Vladimir Danilov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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