This is not just Xenophobia!
I am a student of Systems Thinking. When a problem or challenge happens, my first instinct is not to look at the problem itself but dig deeper to understand the root cause. Using that route in problem solving ensures that you do not waste your time cutting the head of an animal that regenerates after a few seconds. It helps you to shoot the animal in the right place.
The recent Xenophobic attacks in South Africa has attracted huge attention all over the world. I have a feeling that the world media just found their new goldmine for the month of April 2015. I have received numerous calls and social media messages from friends and families all over the world to ask if we are safe. I bet almost every foreigner living in South Africa is having the same receipt of concerns from loved ones.
I have South African friends. I studied in a South African University with folks from SA and outside SA. I have worked in multinationals in SA. I know my friends who have traveled a bit are not Xenophobic. Traveling opens the mind. Those that have not traveled but acquired ‘education’ also will never fuel Xenophobia.
I can say that there are still some educated bigots whose minds are closed and would once in a while make statements that ties to the smallness of their mind as they do not understand that not all foreigners lack choices. A good number stay outside of their home country by choice and as a result of either their educational achievements, skills or both. The presence of high quality migrants in a country points to its progress.
But on the whole, an average educated South African understands the principle of Ubuntu and knows history. S/he also knows that economic migrants who came in illegally were out of frustration and that the government could have done better in securing the borders. S/he knows that the growth of the Somalian/Ethiopian shop owners could have been a case study for small business courses in South African Universities that could help the average South African shop owner to grow too. They know that preventing crime is primarily the duty of government. They know that South Africa is not a Cocoon and contrary to what some South Africans think – the country has considerable economic interests outside of South Africa. And if those countries decide to reciprocate – SA’s GDP would suffer a great deal.
However, the latest Xenophobic attack is not that simple. It is a manifestation of a deeper problem that has been eating away at the heart of this beautiful country. Job creation especially at the bottom rung of the ladder is suffering. The South African economy would be doing better if the government focused on the shift from lower skilled jobs to higher skilled jobs. That shift can only be seamless when education growth shifts upwards. With the Affirmative action put in place by government – a foreigner must be very good to get a good white collar job. The first place is for previously disadvantaged groups in SA. A foreigner is considered only if the skill is scarce. When it comes to the low level jobs, it is a different story. Because of the informal nature of most of the jobs – employers might have more chances to employ a foreigner who is very grateful for the opportunity. People from certain parts of Africa don’t even bother trying to get jobs but they create jobs by opening shops called Spazas.
There has always been complaints of foreigners ‘stealing’ the jobs of the South Africans especially in the black collar categories. Can we try and tell ourselves the hard truths perhaps? I have interacted with lots of employers that employ black collar workers and the consensus is that it is easier to get more out of a Zimbabwean or Malawian than from a local. I do not believe it is because of laziness but most likely due to the fact that the foreigner is more grateful for the opportunity to earn his living while the citizen thinks he deserves more in his own country where his ancestors suffered during apartheid.
I think this is where the government has failed the people. A reward for suffering past hurts should not be for the people to continue mostly in black collar jobs. The best reward would have been to focus on educating the mass of the population and through this, up-skill and open the minds of the majority of the population. If you look at countries like Singapore that went through Colonization and somehow got to turn around their fate via great leadership – there is a lot to learn from them. Singaporeans still work hard but in more formal sectors and they allow foreigners from India, Bangladesh, etc to form the mass of black and blue collar employments without any strain. This is possible due to the preparedness of the country to educate their citizens, focus on their strength and not have to waste their productivity on mundane jobs.
The South Africans at the bottom of the food pyramids are unhappy that they have so much competition. Unfortunately, the country is surrounded by a few countries with serious economic challenges. It is thus up to the government to be systemic in their approach to problem-solving rather than short-term thinking. You cannot just tell your citizens to stop Xenophobia without a will to make their lives better. Are there active policies to address the poverty? What is the plan to address the education gap? How do we address the work ethics that has been a major concern for employers? Is there a plan to replicate what the University of Stellenbosch Business School is doing in Cape Town to empower local entrepreneurs in other places in SA? Can the primary school curriculum in SA address an obvious gap in Africa knowledge as even graduates have very little knowledge of “Amakwerekwere” and where they come from. An average township South African thinks he is superior to other Africans, how do we stop this? Are there any plans to secure the border in a better way? No need allowing people in and then get killed. How is the police going to deal with criminals – local and foreigners that hijack, sell drugs, etc?
The government must also introspect and remember that the same root cause of these Xenophobic attacks is linked to the farm murders. When the Xenophobia subsides – farm murders continue. It is like there is something to blame for the bad economic condition of the poor black South African at every point in time. Land grabbing is also a threat that is becoming real. When will the government understand that these issues are not isolated but all interconnected? When would there be a realization that if all foreigners are chased away and let’s even say all White South Africans leave – that it won’t solve the underlying issues that lead to these aggression? Do we know that there will be blame games between Ngunis and other Blacks even if no other ethnic groups reside in South Africa?
Until the government of the RSA decides to get to the root of the problems and address them rather than the symptoms – the concept of an eternal prosperous South Africa with its rainbow color will remain a dream. The economy has already taken a hit and the symptoms of a country on the brink of losing its path to greatness are already appearing in the form of load shedding and other obvious issues.
I will expect the government and well meaning citizens of South Africa to revert back to the report of the committee that worked on the Dinokeng Scenario. That scenario planning exercise could have saved South Africa lots of blushes she is experiencing today. This beautiful country has loads to offer the World with its beautiful environment, diversity and economic potentials.
God bless South Africa, Africa and the world at large!