Rampaging mobs of youths in South Africa turning downtown Joburg into a wasteland killing foreigners — refugees from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi who have sought new lives in South Africa — are truly appalling. The country even saw its first post-apartheid politically inspired “necklace” killing on Sunday. Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma both condemned the xenophobic violence; President Mbeki announced that he would create a panel to investigate.
Of course the violence is symptomatic of the fact that so many in South Africa have so little, but that does not excuse — or even really explain it. I turned to my old friend Ray Hartley, political editor at the Sunday Times, for some sense and decency. Here’s what he wrote on his blog:
What is taking place in South Africa is nothing short of a major security crisis.
It’s roots lie in the reality that there are many South Africans who, 14 years into democracy, are yet to improve their lives.
All around them they see others getting ahead. Foreigners, unprotected by South Africa’s grandiose labour laws, take illegal work at exploitative salaries.
Then they establish a life on the margins, perhaps renting a house, perhaps buying an old car, perhaps sending their kids to a local school.
Because South Africa, with the notable exception of the very progressive 1994 granting of citizenship to aliens from the SADC ahead of the election, has failed to formalise the presence of foreigners, they have continued this existence on the vulnerable margins.
What is needed now is a massive security response to protect the lives and property of the innocent.
And we need to move fast to legalise and integrate our brothers and sisters from this region into our society.
They should be given a proper place in the South African sun and we should be welcoming their skills and their desire to get ahead.