Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Immigration and xenophobia in South Africa: the end of the liberation dream

As outbreaks of violence against foreigners prove near impossible to control, as the numbers of people fleeing and deportations increase and international pressure on SA mounts, there is another reason why government will not be able to leave immigration problems to fester as they have.

How do we know an illegal immigrant is more likely to break the country's laws and create trouble than a legal one? This seems to be the assumption in the current crisis, leading to general agreement it is ok for illegals to be 'sent home' while legals are ok to stay.
But the true answer is we do not know: we do not have here the easy solution to our problems many like to think we have. We are deciding on the basis that a legal immigrant has gone through some process - has been checked for a criminal record, can show means of support and meet other requirements.

The awkward truth is the ANC, like any other government, cannot in any circumstances treat everyone the same. They cannot avoid having criteria for letting any person in or keeping him or her out. Legals are permissible and made acceptable by legislation, which means 'xenophobia' is always there in the eyes of some.

Whoever is let in precludes others who are not let in because no government on earth can let in everyone. And the more efficient government is at enforcing the rules, the more cause there is for resentment and protest among the 'undesirables', backed or attacked by their sympathisers or maligners: the refugees and unemployed, who are said to be a drain on 'our' resources; those in honest work who are taking 'our' jobs; the educated middle classes whose skills mean 'they' are running the economy now.
These are the hard choices that must be faced and made by policy makers. In South Africa, an ANC government that had no clear policy and had done little or nothing to think one out was willing to make 'illegal' immigrants the scapegoats for all the problems: for 'crime and unfair business practices,' to quote President Jacob Zuma.

Broad sections of the public have little option but to go along with this. The issue is lost sight of in arguments about intolerance and controlling the violence, setting up refugee camps, appealing to an illusory Pan Africanism, the equality and brotherhood of all Africans. There is hair-splitting about whether the trouble is xenophobia or Afrophobia or just criminality. We hear the excuse of a Third Force again as a floundering ANC government that promises a better life for all does not know which way to turn.

When President Zuma admits, as if his government has just noticed, that SA's immigration laws are 'less than perfect' and under review, he is admitting the real world sets limits to freedom. He expects other African countries to take their share of responsibility. We glimpse we are at the beginning of a conclusive chapter to our liberation dreams.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Is early retirement for President Zuma the answer to South Africa's problems?

Most of us like a simple answer to a simple question, but history and society and politics always fail to oblige the closer you look at them.

Wars are not explained by a single cause and especially not by the fancy that they are fought between good guys and bad guys. In 2014 ‘the Hun’ is no longer solely blamed for the Great War a century ago and ‘oil’ does not supply the single motive for great power intervention in the Middle East it did just a few years back.

Once upon a time, a Jewish homeland in Palestine was not the crime against humanity some say it as now, but a long overdue effort to show some humanity to the Jewish people; the Ukraine and Tibet expose the one-sidedness of the charge of ‘the imperial west’; Africa’s and the world’s lived experience of socialism sinks its claim to be the solution to the ‘evils of capitalism’. There is no Happy Ending in the real world. The most disastrous idea human beings can have is that a heaven on earth is possible.

Coming down to earth, then, and closer to home, are we right to frame our questions and answers as simply as we do? Are the DA really a bunch of white racists and rented blacks? Is President Zuma a ruthless tyrant destroying the constitution to stay out of jail? Once he leaves office, will all be well? These are popular assertions, common beliefs.

How often does a comment or article begin: “I hold no brief for Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters, but ...” and then follows a brief for Mr Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters that presents them as the only chance we have of overcoming poverty and power.

In the search for a simple answer everyone can agree with, a handful of commentators dig a little deeper and discover a general lack of accountability in South African society. Accountability becomes the panacea. We must all become accountable.

Lack of accountability, we are told, accounts for why the arms deal is not properly investigated. It is the reason the Public Protector has trouble getting her findings to stick. Members of the ANC, and those connected, enjoy preferential treatment all because of the lack of accountability.

But when will the party elite, conscious as they are of the graft and corruption and waste of taxpayers' money, find themselves lacking in accountability? When will the ANC, indistinguishably both party and government, move beyond 'calling for' an end to abuses of power, when they were returned to power on the promise to end them?

It will be when people realise lack of accountability is not the sickness but a symptom.

In SA one party controls the state. The ANC constitute the executive and subordinate the legislature by appointing the majority of the legislators. The party staffs administrative posts, influences the law’s sanctions, determines preferment and punishes apostasy.

Call it a party dominant democracy or an effective one-party state. Whatever term we use, the majority of SA’s people at present do not find they have - or choose not to vote for - a political alternative. As a result, a hegemonic ANC, under no real threat of losing power, has no compelling reason to initiate change.

Not only that. For leadership to attempt a far-reaching clean-up, or adopt a strong policy line, risks a split, the last thing any in the ruling party will risk. The drift is towards inaction and inefficiency and an authoritarian response to dissent, developments long ago obvious in neighbouring Zimbabwe and, to some minds, begun in SA under former president Thabo Mbeki and merely gathering pace now.

One-party rule is radically unaccountable and unresponsive. It cannot be fully offset by a free media, by the courts and Chapter 9 institutions, by churchmen’s prayers for people's moral regeneration, or by idealistic calls for South Africans 'to all pull together’. Indeed, as disillusion with the ANC spreads, such calls appear to be giving way to enthusiasm for the dubious methods of its rowdy offspring, the EFF.

There is no simple answer to the new SA’s problems: they require a democratic society to underpin the institutions that are already in place and not honoured. That is not imposed from the top down. A democratic society emerges from the bottom up, through slow changes in people that are not simply explained in historical, social or political terms.