Xenophobia: Manifests festering inequality, poverty

Xenophobia: Manifests festering inequality, poverty


AS the smouldering ashes of the xenophobia upheavals in South Africa slowly ebb, unease and uncertainty continue to grip southern Africa.
Arrests this week of four individuals linked to recent attacks on a Mozambican national seem to be sending little assurance that the Rainbow Nation will return to any semblance of normalcy anytime soon, raising the frequently asked question: What is the reason behind these recurring xenophobia attacks in Africa’s second largest economy?
“South Africa’s liberation has done little to unite a nation divided by economics…With so much anger in the country, South Africa, according to some observers, is a pile of dry leaves and twigs waiting to ignite and start a conflagration that will usher in a revolution,” South African political economist, Moeletsi Mbeki, wrote recently in an article titled: SA: What drives black anger?
And, it appears, it is this anger that has simmered over the years, occasionally manifesting as xenophobic attacks as South Africans try to find weak outlets to vent their anger.
Immigrants who have faced discrimination and violence from the days of the institutionalised racism of apartheid have invariably become the soft spot for the millions of poor, unemployed and angry South Africans.
Many years ago, South African social rights activist, Desmond Tutu warned: “Watch it. You can kiss reconciliation and forgiveness goodbye, unless the gap between the rich and poor — the haves and have-nots is narrowed, and narrowed quickly and dramatically.”
These words were also used to introduce a book titled: Tearing Us Apart: Inequalities in southern Africa.
The book attempts to understand the cause, nature, level and impact of inequality on societies, on economies and on governance in much of southern Africa.
“What is discernible in southern Africa is that inequality in all its forms is so massively entrenched, tearing whole communities, people and all societies apart…This entrenched nature of socio-economic inequalities in southern Africa really represents a serious attack on human dignity, social development and a just society,” the book points out, further indicating how South Africa has become a telling example of the devastating effects of inequality.
“South Africa, the economic power house, has achieved phenomenal levels of economic development… Statistics show that South Africa’s industrial hub of Gauteng alone makes up 40 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) while the same province makes up 11 percent share of Africa’s GDP… Yet masking this phenomenal economic ‘success story’ is the reality of massive unequal access to wealth, resources and opportunity for ordinary South Africans for whom the dividends of the end of apartheid are still to translate into improved standards of living,” the book notes.
When one introduces to this boiling pot, some unverified eight million immigrants, who immediately take up positions in the economy that may appear to be living a better life than the locals, it is like throwing gunpowder kegs into a burning arsenal.
Two years ago the South African government indicated that it was spending at least R90 million (US$9 million) every year sending illegal immigrants back to their countries such as Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Somalia.
The majority of them have, however, been Zimbabweans, who, pressured by economic and political instability back home, have immediately trekked back soon after deportation — a situation that has exasperated the South Africans.
Available economic data strongly suggests that South Africa alone, as many have suggested, cannot control xenophobia in its midst.
For instance, with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) having a combined population of more than 250 million inhabitants and  a combined GDP of US$374,2 billion, according to 2006 figures; compared to a tiny European nation of Belgium with 10,2 million people, having generated a GDP US$467,3 billion during the same period, the task is phenomenal.
And because the bulk of that GDP is generated by South Africa it is important that the Rainbow Nation’s neighbours quickly develop their nations to levels that can sustainably sustain their nationals. As it is, some have observed, South Africa’s gigantic economic strides have turned its neighbouring economies into supermarkets for its products; and people have naturally trekked to South Africa where prospects for jobs are obviously brighter.
Because the majority of the countries on the continent dismally failed to progress on the 15-year old United Nations-set Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it means that southern Africa’s festering inequality and poverty will thus continue to dictate the region’s political economy.
“The overwhelming majority of people living on less than US$1,25 a day belong to two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” the UN  has realised and further pointed out that: “In 2013, global economic growth slowed to its lowest rate since 2009. The weak and uneven global economic recovery continued to take its toll on labour markets, particularly in the developing world,” which means that southern Africa’s case is now even direr.
Zimbabwe, for example, from where an estimated over three million people have fled political and economic upheaval has witnessed a massive increase in poverty levels because its vast resources have turned out to be a curse as only a few individuals benefit.
Two years ago the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Environmental Studies collected data from 16 of Zimbabwe’s 63 districts and compiled a 100-page book titled Understanding Poverty, Promoting Wellbeing and Sustainable Development, that indicated that 81 percent of sampled households lived in poverty, reaching 95 percent in rural areas; and that 44 percent of the sampled households lived in extreme poverty, reaching 68 percent in rural areas.
Formal employment is now hovering around 10 percent as companies and industries close shop under a crushing liquidity crunch and general economic meltdown.
“The levels of poverty are so deep that any small incremental adjustments to income will take a long time to have an impact. Therefore there is need to introduce continued and scaled-up innovative social protection, consisting of a package of cash transfers; cash (or food) for work; as well as educational and health assistance…Zimbabwe would have to spend 52,8 percent of the poverty line each month on each poor household to raise them above the poverty line,” says the report which highlighted the serious paradox between the high poverty levels and the country’s abundant natural resources such as gold, diamonds, platinum, wildlife, forests and the land that are among the world’s richest.
Other SADC countries are not fairing any better.
Over half of Namibia’s population is said to be unemployed in a country where the wealthiest 20 percent of the population controls 78,7 percent of all income and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle while the poorest 20 percent are making ends meet on 1,4 percent of the national income.
In Angola, where 68 percent of the people live in poverty, racial legacies of assimilation have dehumanised native Angolans and destroyed their traditional economic activities resulting in serious frictions between communities.
With over 80 percent of Malawians living in rural areas, half of them survive below the poverty line without food security, while the richest 10 percent have access to vast tracts of land, jobs and good education.
Such dire levels of inequality and poverty prevailing in southern Africa clearly presents a major challenge for the region’s big brother South Africa that has to balance its economy between its citizens and the army of skilled and unskilled migrants who have helped prop it thus far.

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