Exactly what are our politicians up to while the well-documented violence against foreign nationals spreads to each and every corner of the country?
President Thabo Mbeki has been widely criticised for his lack of prompt action when the attacks started in Alexandra last week (or earlier, according to some sources). And rightly so, I would argue. Whether or not you believe that deploying troops sooner would have stopped the violence from spreading (I don’t), not deploying them merely allowed the attacks to continue almost completely unabated as the police, outnumbered and outmanoeuvered by the mobs in the townships, were obviously unable to cope.
Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a woman generally well-respected since her intervention in the country’s HIV policy-making decisions had been quiet – until yesterday. At which point, I wished she’d stayed quiet. Visiting Nigeria, Mlambo-Ngcuka issued South Africa’s first public apology for the violence. Like this:
We are very much concerned and apologise for all the inconvenience that the incidents have caused
The “inconvenience”? That’s what I expect from the local supermarket manager when they don’t have stock of seedless raspberry jam. It’s what I want to hear on the loudspeaker on Platform 6a when my train is 10 minutes late. Personally, I don’t think “inconvenience” is quite enough to cover over 40+ dead and 20,000 “displaced” (read “fleeing for their lives”). Another government own goal?
Even charismatic Jacob Zuma, our President-in-waiting, who spoke out early on against the violence, has since fallen silent as the wave of attacks continues to escalate. I find this very strange – Zuma has previously been quick to capitalise on any sign of Mbeki’s weakness. It’s almost a trademark stategy of his. So could it be that even JZ doesn’t have an answer to these problems?
So while the ANC provaricates and struggles to provide answers, solutions, reasons or even a half-decent apology for the violence, what has the oppostition been up to? Well, finally, Helen Zille, leader of the DA, has come out with a statement. Not surprisingly, she blames government policy for the troubles and not surprisingly, she suggests that her party would do better if they were given a chance to run the country. Keep dreaming, Helen.
What’s missing from that statement is any short-term solution. And while most people are well aware that the reasons for these problems need to be addressed, people are being killed every day. So yes, we need “proactive steps to address the root cause of the xenophobic violence”, but first we need to actually control what is happening in the informal settlements across South Africa right now.
I mentioned yesterday that Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils had noted the involvement of opportunistic elements in the violence. And in an interesting opportunistic move, the Zimbabwe Government – the reason that most Zim immigrants are here in the first place – have offered to help repatriate those displaced by the attacks. Presumably, those repatriated individuals will then vote ZANU-PF in the upcoming Presidential run-off.