Xenophobia: A lesson for Africa
Published On April 30, 2015 » 472 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Features
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Africa has been horrified by the gruesome xenophobic attacks on foreigners from African countires who have suffered at the hands of South Africans.
It happened in 2008 and is happening again. But now, there seems to be no complete end to the violence despite measures the Jacob Zuma-led administration has put in place.
As citizens of countries like Zambia watch in disbelief the displacement, beating, hacking, torching of African victims and looting their property in the last few weeks, they remember how not too long ago South African relied on the rest of the continent to defeat the apartheid regime.
What has gone wrong in South Africa? What logic is behind the attacks and killings, in some cases, of Africans?
Recently, President Edgar Lungu told reporters that the xenophobic attacks are a problem for the whole of Africa and not just for South Africa.
In 2010, former South African minister Responsible for Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) Jay Naidoo published an autobiography in which he outlined some lessons that Africa could draw from the underlying factors that have been allowed to fester and explode into recurrent xenophobia.
‘Fighting for Justice’ is the title of the book written by Naidoo who later on served as minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting.
Mr Naidoo described problems that have dogged his country and which could happen in any part of Africa.
‘The isiZulu saying “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” reminds us that we are who we are through others,’ wrote Jay in the section of the book.
While South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela and his generation understood and appreciated what this meant, current events point to the fact that the South African society did not fully inculcate this belief into its people’s culture.
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After going through a turbulent and gruesome period of institutionalised racism under the infamous apartheid regime, South Africans eagerly welcomed the presidency of that country’s first elected black leader, Mandela.
Mandela’s inaugural speech harnessed that eagerness and revealed South Africa’s pressing needs at the time.
“For we must, together and without delay, begin to build a better life for all South Africans. This means creating jobs, building houses, providing education and bringing peace and security for all.
“Our road to that glorious future lies through collective hard work to accomplish the objective of creating a people-centred society through the implementation of the vision contained in our reconstruction and development plan,” Mandela said.
That is how Mandela launched the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) which was under Naidoo, the then minister Without Portfolio in the Government of National Unity that followed the fall
of apartheid.
The RDP was a broad strategic policy framework that set a number of specific objectives and clearly had to be driven from the highest level of government – the presidency.
Its role was to transform South Africa and bring about economic growth through an infrastructure strategy that aimed at addressing the massive backlogs in the provision of basic infrastructure to areas
where the black majority lived.
‘The president (Mandela) in the meantime had established rigorous targets. In the first hundred days we had to demonstrate that we were transforming the lives of our people,’ wrote Naidoo.
He described how the ministers slaved day and night to produce a set of programmes that would allow Mandela to signal that the new democratic government was committed to transforming and delivery of
the ‘better life’ the people had been promised.
Education and health for the poor were in a crisis and had to top the list. Schools and hospitals were dysfunctional.
They required major infrastructure upgrades as well as a focus on preparing teachers with appropriate skills and subject knowledge for the challenge of building a new democracy.
At that time, the townships were not lit. They only had spotlights that were erected along transport corridors to allow security forces rapid transit in cases of civil uprisings.
The townships were almost always covered in clouds of smoke from coal-fired cooking stoves. Students studied under candlelight.
‘These were deep structural problems that needed a unity of purpose and a powerful social contract between government and civil society, including the private sector, to deliver on our promises,’ wrote
Mandela’s leadership had inherited a government with a civil service that had an untransformed leadership, and there were no existing policies and laws to democratise society.
The government was aware of the people’s immense expectations and the vision of the RDP was to give people hope by achieving the essence of the development state even if it meant it would take a long time.
But there were difficulties. Firstly, having assumed political power, those in authority sold ordinary South Africans the idea that it was the government’s duty to solve every problem the people faced. They
did not impart it in the people’s minds that society had a part to play in helping the government provide jobs, houses, social security, schools and clinics.
‘People who had participated in the fight for change now became passive bystanders. At the same time, any criticism of the government was a criticism of the revolution,’ wrote Naidoo.
Secondly, South Africa was in the throes of a crippling economic and social crisis. Gross fixed investment had dropped spectacularly and foreign investment died up. With a bankrupt state already committed to a spending programme that ignored the needs of the majority, there was little room to manoeuvre.
Naidoo described the predicament Mandela could sometimes find himself in: ‘Mandela also had an imperious streak in his make-up. He would be deeply upset by a media story of a community in dire need and think,
“I need to do something about this”, and twist the arm of some senior business executives to build a school or a clinic in some village without answering the questions of who would pay the teachers or
nurses or the recurrent expenses of the school or clinic.’
There were other problems. The government was overwhelmed by demands of trade unions which pushed for improved labour legislation, tariff reductions, workers’ rights to strike, workers’ health and safety agreements and so on.
Besides that, government departments were rolling over year-to-year funds set for capital projects, due to lack of management expertise.
There were problems of capacity with the RDP as well.
But these were nothing compared to the undercurrents that started affecting the style government.
‘Ironically, the greatest challenges were within our own ranks, inside the African National Congress (ANC). Criticism of government, even from progressive activists, began to be labelled as counter-productive. There was a “don’t rock the boat” ethoes in the air,’ wrote Naidoo.
He described how differences began to emerge.
There were people who felt that as exiles, their contributions to the freedom struggle had amounted to more than the efforts of people who remained and fought apartheid from within South Africa.
The exiles felt those who remained in South Africa were not brought up in the ANC tradition and therefore not schooled in the revolutionary theory of the country’s liberation struggle. Such people, it was felt, were not suitable for leadership.
That is how transparency began to wane. People became secretive and could not even freely consult colleagues on government programmes.
As a result of that, some influential people within the government, who had been sceptical about the RDP from its inception, contributed to its scrapping off after the programme was deemed to have failed to meet its objectives.
But some linked the RDP’s demise to the fact that it had been spearheaded by Naidoo, a former Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Secretary General who seemed to have fallen out
of favour with some of his colleagues in government.
The office of the RDP was eventually shut down and Naidoo was appointed minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting.
That did not halt the problems. In fact things were getting worse. ‘By now, we operated in silos – losing the heady space of frank and open discussions that had characterised the early Mandela period.
Now each minister was responsible for her or his portfolio; there was very little reference to others and the cabinet began to revolve around powerful personalities who were close to the heir.
‘We were falling back on the old construct of an all-knowing and powerful executive government in which people were passive and uniformity of opinion would be the norm,’ wrote Naidoo.
Being in government had also changed from serving people to becoming a ruthless battle between power blocks of the elites to drive the political direction of not only the government but also the mass movement. The government of national unity was no longer in a unique government.
At the AIDS conference in Durban in 2000, with the epidemic sweeping South Africa and over four million people infected, more than 10,000 delegates drawn from all over the world were shocked when the government questioned whether the HIV virus really caused AIDS.
By then, people were not only frustrated, but they also started labelling the government – arrogant.
Inequalities set in and soon, the ruling elite entitled themselves to opulence and extravagance that had formerly been the preserve of those who served in the fallen apartheid regime.
Those imbalances were stark in December 2007 at Polokwane when a single event changed the whole of South Africa.
‘The ANC congress, held every five years to report back to the membership and elect a new team for the party, proved on this occasion to be a turning point in the country’s political history.
The delegates were clearly divided in two camps, one noisier than the other – the ordinary delegates who arrived in buses and taxis and where served their food in tents and received a staple diet of rice or
pap with some meat or chicken; and those in power, by contrast, who typically arrived in 4X4s (the Porche Cayenne and rage Rover were favourites), and went to lunch in the air conditioned network lounge where they were offered fabulous wines.
The intra-party election that followed saw a sitting ANC president of South Africa voted out of office for the first time in history.
The upset was partly because some people, especially workers’ unions, felt the government had stopped giving audience to interests groups that represented the common man. One of those groups was COSATU, the largest organisation in the South Africa.
‘All too often, COSATU’s letters do not even get the courtesy of a response, and we are routinely told the government must govern; there is no dual power, there is no co-determination,’ COSATU’s quoted as
saying about government’s attitude.
That attitude haunted even Mandela when he tried to rally government response to the threat of HIV/AIDS which was decimating lives his country.
“I have phoned my president several times and left messages. I have been told by the cabinet secretary and staff that the president would return my calls.
They never came. I am able to speak to presidents across the world but I am unable to speak to my president,” Mandela is quoted as saying in Fighting for Justice.
The South African icon had previously met an HIV activist Zackie Achmat who was seriously ill after refusing to take antiretroviral drugs in order to push for the demand that government provides
treatment to all South Africans living with AIDS.
Mandela tried to appeal for a common front to combat HIV/AIDS. When he slowly assumed his seat, ‘…a cacophony of dissident vices tore into the former president,’ wrote Naidoo who expressed shock that even Mandela could be heckled for taking a stance that seemed to be out of sync with government.
The government’s stance of alienating itself from people’s problems was in some way fulfilment of prophetic words spoken by Mandela when he voluntarily stepped down from the presidency at the 50th ANC conference at Mafikeng in 1997.
“Let me assure you that even as an ordinary foot soldier of the party (ANC), I reserve the right to criticise you when I observe you making mistakes. (He told his successor that) Do not surround yourself with
‘yes men’, for they will do you and the nation incalculable harm,” he said.
He advised the new president to listen to critics, saying only by doing so the in-coming president would become aware of the dissatisfaction that ailed ordinary South Africans.
Events of December, 2007 in Polokwane which saw Jacob Zuma assume the ANC presidency were far reaching.
‘Polokwane was a battleground between an overconfident elite and a discontented mass base. The media headlines painted a picture of anxiety, fear and lawlessness,’ wrote Naidoo.
Naidoo took time to reflect on the successes South Africa’s transition from white minority rule to black majority government had scored: the access to water, electricity, houses, sports fields, telephones,
sanitation and roads which millions of people were now able to access. But he warned that the government was still struggling to provide better schools, decent health care, safety and security for
communities largely due to poor performance of the public institutions of the State.
He warned that there was need for an accountable and transparent political system were people, no matter how senior, should be removed from office if they failed to meet the performance they individually commit to.
He said past failings of the government had already given rise to discontent that manifested itself in serious problems that beset the South African society.
‘Violence and corruption are today cited as major disincentives to domestic and foreign investment and a big driver of emigration that deprives us of the much-needed skills for growth.
Naidoo called on South Africa to emulate Germany which after the horror of the holocaust invested heavily in developing a common set of human values and civic pride in schools, churches, communities and families.
‘We have emerged from a brutal period of social exclusion and yet we have not addressed the psychological damage we have all suffered.
‘The rapaciousness of an elite, the madness of vicious xenophobic attacks, the crudeness of racism that arises out of a criminal incident, and the brutality of homicides bring to the fore the deep underlying tensions and schisms in our society that we have papered over,” he wrote.
The problems he outlined were not peculiar to any country in Africa. They cut across the continent and need African leaders to resolve them just as President Edgar Lungu said.
The dissatisfaction and disorientation of the masses, especially the youth, gave rise to democratic uprisings that spread across the Arab world in 2011. Dubbed the Arab Spring, the protests originated in
Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly took hold in Egypt and Libya in Africa and spread to Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.
Three African presidents succumbed to the uprisings, among them long-serving Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and late Libya’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi who seemed indispensible, having governed Libya as its
primary leader for 42 years, from 1969 to 2011.
Zambia’s founding father Kenneth Kaunda worked with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and others to foster freedom, good governance and brotherhood across Africa.
Today, Africa needs a generation like them who can use political power to change the continent for the better.
That is within the power of the current readers who belong to a generation that has the capacity,
resources and technology to eliminate growing hunger, poverty and inequality.
‘What we need today is a new global movement that can deliver on the dreams of our people, where hunger, poverty and discrimination on the basis of race, gender and religion is a feature of the past. Political trust has been broken and the world’s institutions are undermined because of the failure of our leaders,’ wrote Naidoo.
The voice of ordinary people must be heard again. That is Africa’s new struggle. The continent needs to confront power with truth.

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