Wednesday, May 28, 2008

David Bullard writes Commentary for IOLS-Research Xenophobia Focus Edition

Focus on Xenophobia
Crisis? What crisis?
by David Bullard

Before I got axed from the Sunday Times I wrote a couple of columns commenting on President Mbeki's rather dismissive attitude towards Zimbabwean immigrants. He once made a remark along the lines of ''they are here so get used to it''. I argued that we owed Zimbabweans fleeing from a despotic regime rather more than that. Unless they were absorbed into society, given identity documents and their talents utilized, we were in for big trouble.

Governments don't like to be told what to do by journalists and that's partly why I am no longer writing for the Sunday Times I suspect, and why I am unable to find employment with any other newspaper.

I take no delight in being proven right over these past two weeks. The mayhem in the informal settlements is reminiscent of the 1980s with the difference that in the 1980's, people were fighting for their freedom. That still didn't excuse the necklacings and the kangaroo courts set up to decide if somebody was guilty of being a ''traitor''. Today's situation is altogether more frightening and irrational.

Or is it?

If you still have absolutely nothing after fourteen years of democracy and a lot of time on your hands, the chances are that you will look for some way to fill that time. Adolf Hitler managed to convince a dispirited Germany that the Jews were to blame for all their economic woes and the rest, as they say, is history.

If I imagine myself in the position of a township dweller, maybe I can understand what all his anger is about. Incidentally, I got sacked for using the word ''imagine'' and asking readers to envisage what a South Africa without white colonialism might have looked like. So if you are of a nervous disposition or are liable to take every word I write literally, I suggest you stop reading at this point because I am assuming a certain level of intelligence and psychological maturity from here on.

Unemployment is high in South Africa and the government is expected to provide jobs for the unemployed. This is the frequently chanted mantra from the unions and it's hardly surprising that unsophisticated and gullible people living in shacks believe that the cause of their misery is no job. No job means no money to feed the family and no money for the occasional luxuries of life. No job means no prospects, and man's natural desire is to better himself and lead a more comfortable life.

Unfortunately governments don't provide jobs other than those in the civil service. Government's job is to provide an economic environment conducive to job creation. The private sector provides the jobs which pay the taxes that the government uses to run a country's infrastructure. The private sector only creates jobs if it sees that such an action will add to its bottom line. Whether you are a fan of capitalism or not, that is the reality. Companies are in business to make money and if they don't make profits they close down and people lose their jobs.

Most companies also demand a minimum level of education and skill when they employ someone and they want to get the labour as cheaply as possible to maximize profits. Before you get your blood pressure up on that last comment and accuse me of supporting slave labour, let me assure you that exactly the same happens in most companies including newspapers, where the freelance writing rate has remained the same for twenty years.

So unskilled and unschooled people don't stand much of a hope in a labour market that is spoilt for choice. There's no shortage of people prepared to do menial jobs in order to survive and if immigrants from Zimbabwe have better skills and are prepared to work harder and for less then guess what?..they get the jobs. That then lends credence to the view that the ''foreigners'' are coming here to steal our jobs. After that it's not difficult to work up enough anger to accuse them of stealing our women, jumping the queue for RDP houses and being the root cause of crime.

All irrational arguments as it happens. But a mob is never rational.

Let's be brutally honest here. I doubt whether many of the panga carrying hoodlums running around baying for blood are reading the often smug analysis of the xenophobia problem in the pages of our newspapers.

They are living in a different world entirely, as I pointed out to a fellow guest at a party in Sandton the other night. As we sipped our expensive malt whiskies in luxurious surroundings, I commented that less than ten kilometers as the Hadeda flies people were living in fear of another night's xenophobic mayhem.

And that, in essence, is our problem.

Two completely different societies living cheek by jowl.

If the violence were to threaten the comfortable suburbs where most of our politicians now choose to live, I have no doubt the government would react swiftly. But while it's contained in the squalid and inhuman conditions of an informal settlement then there's no problem. Crisis? What crisis? Now if it were to threaten the 2010 World Cup then that would be different.

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1 comment:

Noorjehaan said...

thabo's presence is as superfluous as osama's.

communism? capitalism? humanism?