Since August this year, we have seen the streets of Gauteng and Johannesburg go up in flames and get drained in blood. They have become the scene of violence, looting, and mass protests. In the space of one week, many streets have been ravaged, lives have been lost and a lot of properties destroyed.
This latest rampage across states in the country is among a series of violence that is targeted at foreign nationals, and it has blown up from time to time across the country since it first started in 2008.
Where there have been many talks about the attacks, there are debates about the actual nature of the violence. Is it motivated by hate for foreigners or more specifically, hate for other Africans? Analysts have come out to describe it as a product of a dying economy that is increasingly failing to accommodate the country’s working-age population.
On one hand, the recent wave of attacks in South Africa tells the world that the country’s peace is really fragile and that it may dissolve soon. If the victims decide to fight back, the country may crash. The wave is more than just an issue of crime but is also an issue of failure in governance.
If it is just a matter of crime and these attacks keep spreading as they do, it indicates a failure of the law enforcement agencies in the country. The waves of violence look planned and they take place in broad daylight.
The president of the country said in a recent tweet that he would meet with ministers to make sure they keep a close eye on the acts of violence and find ways to stop them.
He did that to take the attention away from the government and make it look like he is concerned. He was only repeating what has become the usual line for most African governments. Diplomacy now means talking serious on social media and taking no physical actions. At best, they make sure they point out that the problems are not of their own making and take slow strides in tackling them. This they do when it does not affect them directly, or affect the businesses they have established for themselves and their families.
On another hand, a look at the evidence of the damage done as captured by members of the public and newsmen around the world suggest that the police have not been effective. They should be well aware of the way the so-called criminals operate. But each time, they do nothing to stop the perpetrators. You don’t even find them anywhere around.
Who then is behind these attacks? Who organizes them? How is it that members of communities are influenced to act against the same people they have cohabited with for the longest time?
By saying the issue is a matter of crime, the government fails to see the opportunity to deal with the actual issues. Their response fails to call out and deal with the people involved. It is obvious that leaving this matter to the police has yielded very few results, so why depend on them still?
A response like this fails to critically look at the conflicting interests. It also fails to highlight who benefits from the conflict between foreigners and South African citizens.
The answers to these questions may not be obvious, but they are out there. Media reports and research make it clear that this violence is more than just a matter of crime. It is also a matter of politics, as well as a matter of governance.
The government has been silent for too long. The issue requires a diplomatic effort of coming up with policies and making provision for foreign nationals to go back to their countries.
A lot of other countries, in times past, have done the same. When it became obvious that their economy could not survive under the weight of their increasing population, they employed peaceful means. Deportation is by far, more diplomatic than mass killing.