Panafrican News Agency

South Africa: South Africa a nation “filled with hate” (By Craig Urquhart, PANA correspondent)

Cape Town, South Africa (PANA) – Nearly 40 years ago, the youth of a sprawling township outside Johannesburg served notice that they abhorred the government’s policies - and the revolution to topple Apartheid began in earnest.

The Soweto riots spread and, despite emergency rule in the 1980s, the National Party government was brought to its knees and the country was eventually liberated in the early 1990s.

Over the past few days, Soweto has been back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Residents have set their sights on foreign nationals living and working in the area with devastating results.

On Monday, violence broke out between locals and the foreign owners of shops in Snake Park, leaving two people dead. A local teenager was shot dead, allegedly by a foreign national who said he fired a warning shot when a large group attacked his shop.

A foreign national was then killed on Wednesday when looting continued. The shop owner accused of killing the teenager appeared in court on Thursday and has been denied bail. Despite this breakthrough the violence has spread to other townships in the region. At least 80 shops, owned by Somali, Pakistani and Malawian nationals, have been destroyed.

In one particularly horrific incident, a 13-month-old baby was killed in Kagiso on Friday when he was trampled by a mob of stampeding looters. The looters who were robbing a foreign-owned shop fled when police arrived and trampled the young mother who was carrying the baby. The infant was certified dead on the scene by paramedics.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has called the ongoing violence in Soweto xenophobia, saying the attacks form a pattern similar to that which preceded the 2008 xenophobic violence that engulfed many parts of the country. More than 60 people were killed in the 2008 attacks which spread around the country and threatened to derail South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Ironically, those riots started in Alexandra, another Johannesburg township, when locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Some attackers were reported to have been singing Jacob Zuma's campaign song "Umshini Wami" ("Bring Me My Machine Gun").

In the following weeks the violence spread, first to other settlements in the Gauteng Province, then to the coastal cities of Durban and Cape Town. Attacks were also reported in parts of the Southern Cape, Mpumalanga, the North West and Free State.

A report by the Human Sciences Research Council identified various causes for the violence including “intense competition for jobs” and “South African exceptionalism, or a feeling of superiority in relation to other Africans”.

A subsequent report, “Towards Tolerance, Law and Dignity: Addressing Violence against Foreign Nationals in South Africa” found that poor service delivery or an influx of foreigners may have played a contributing role, but blamed township politics for the attacks. It also found that community leadership was potentially lucrative for unemployed people, and that such leaders organised the attacks.

The South African Human Rights Commission has concurred that the latest violence should not be considered criminality as the targets have been foreign nationals.

“The fact that they target only foreign-owned shops has a xenophobic undertone which is concerning,” said commission spokesperson Isaac Mangena.

Analysts say South Africa remains a pressure cooker with tensions between locals and foreigners who are often accused of stealing their jobs remaining high.

Leading journalist Ranjeni Munusamy noted that South Africans have again resorted to the lowest form of human behaviour. “Incidents of racism and xenophobia have again exposed South Africa as a superficial, ugly, violent nation that lacks respect for other human beings.

From exclusive restaurants in Cape Town that discriminate against black people to the killing of foreign nationals and looting of their shops in Soweto, we are showing ourselves to be once again a nation filled with hate.

The facade of a country that once represented the model of reconciliation and nation building is being gradually shattered. We are what we are: a nation in decline and at war with itself.”

While the ongoing violence has made headlines around the world, it is no secret that racial tensions remain high in the country 20 years after Nelson Mandela was swept into power on a ticked of racial reconciliation.

When he took the oath of office as the first democratically elected leader (and a moral beacon for all humankind) he famously declared: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

Those immortal words now ring hollow as the oppression of foreigners by locals continues unabated and world watches in horror.
-0- PANA CU/MA 25Jan2015