by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – COINCIDING with unemployment reaching its highest levels yet and led by some youths bent on defying the under-fire government, the violence against foreign nationals in South Africa is a ticking time bomb.
The skirmishes that have in recent weeks been confined to the economic hub of Guateng has like veldfire, spread to the KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape provinces where despite the government warning that the so-called Operation Dudula is illegal, leaders of the operation are undeterred.
This has evoked memories of the worst round of xenophobic violence that battered South Africa in 2008.
Then, at least 62 people, among them 21 South Africans, were killed while more than 300, 000 others displaced.
With the anti-foreigner sentiment blamed on rising joblessness amid an economic malaise exacerbated by the worst outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the continent, statistics released by government that the unemployment rate had reached an all-time could not have come at a worse time for the increasingly volatile country.
According to figures released by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday, the unemployment rate has shot up to 35,3 percent. The figure is for the fourth quarter of 2021.
Compared to the same period the previous year, this is an increase of 2,8 percent.
The number of unemployed persons thus increased by 278 000 to 7,9 million compared to the third quarter of 2021.
“If we get rid of the ANC (African National Congress) and illegal foreigners, our people will have jobs,” claimed an activist.
Daniel Silke, the political economy analyst, argued job creation had been moving towards crisis proportions for years, even before COVID-19.
“It’s time to admit the failure of existing economic policies and remove obstructionist gatekeepers,” he said.
The announcement of the high unemployment rate summed up a dramatic and tragic few days in the tense nation.
A court in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, released leader of the anti-foreigner Operation Dudula, Nhlanhla Mohlauli, on R1 500 bail on the charges of housebreaking and theft, malicious damage to property he faces as part of the ongoing operation.
This emanates from his leading members of Dudula in crackdown that saw the Soweto home of Victor Ramerafe, an opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporter, on allegations it was a drug den.
The arrest, during an ongoing blitz against foreign nationals, has triggered a war of words between Mohlauli and EFF leader, Julius Malema.
An enmity is brewing.
Both have emerged as the most verbal voices on issues affecting the youth and on migration.
On migration, the two men are poles apart.
A trained pilot who trades his epaulet for military gear when leading his fearsome movement, Mohlauli (aged 35) is unyielding in his stance against the presence of “illegal” immigrants in South Africa.
Malema (41) has advocated for a borderless Africa and has declared he would stand by that position even if it costs his firebrand party votes.
In a claim that could harden Dudula followers’ stance, upon his release on bail, Mohlauli said there had been threats against his life but he was “ willing to die for my beliefs.”
On Sunday, the xenophobic tensions spread in the Western Cape province to the town of Bredasdorp. It came a fortnight after hundreds of Zimbabweans were displaced in the same province following clashes with Lesotho nationals over seasonal jobs.
The bone of contention began as a march of dissatisfaction with service delivery.
A group hijacked the march before degenerating into anti-foreigner skirmishes. Some locals expressed disquiet over the employment of foreigners by local businesses and that some owned properties.
Militant locals broke into homes, demolishing shacks and looting goods.
Also at the weekend, police stopped the launch of the Operation Dudula in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province but fears remain among foreign nationals running informal businesses or trading in the major coastal city of Durban.
KZN was the epicentre of the massive looting and violence that left 300 people dead and property worth millions of dollars looted, destroyed and burnt in July last year.
Criminals made the most of the arrest of the former president, Jacob Zuma.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) this week confirmed President Cyril Ramaphosa would appear at its National Investigative Hearing into the July 2021 unrest.
There are concerns over the security forces’ capacity to deal with a new wave of anarchy after the lapses that fuelled the violence last year.
KZN is synonymous with violence and political killings in the country, hence the planned launch of the Dudula in the province sparked apprehension.
“From what I have observed on TV on Dudula in other provinces, I cannot risk. I’m no longer trading until I get assurance that Dudula ceases its operation,” said Zambian Tennyson Jere, who operates a mobile phone repair business in Durban.
In Gauteng, the epicentre of Dudula, activists behind the operation have been evicting foreign nationals from their trading stalls, which they want as a preserve for locals.
The group has attempted to evict foreigners that have allegedly hijacked building.
Johannesburg central business district and surrounding areas such as Hillbrow have the highest concentration of foreign nationals in South Africa.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) believes that if the Dudula “project” is allowed to continue unabated, it would lead to exactly the kind of violence and unrest seen in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July last year.
“The DA understands the frustration facing marginalized communities. But we do not believe that the appropriate course of action is xenophobia and violence,” said Angel Khanyile, DA Shadow Minister of Home Affairs.
DA noted some political parties had been sucked into the sentiment against foreign nationals from the continent, Afro-phobia as it is called.
Action SA and the Patriotic Alliance have come out in support of ridding South Africa of illegal foreign nationals and endorsed Dudula.
“Politicians, individuals and organizations that fan xenophobic flames must face the consequences of their deplorable actions. They will see the country in chaos again if only to score cheap political points,” Khanyile said.
South Africa’s next general poll is scheduled for 2024 and it appears some parties are eager to make the most of locals’ disgruntlement with the ruling party and foreign nationals to win votes.
This week, speaking to media at the Dubai Expo, Ramaphosa reiterated so-called operations under the aegis of Dudula were illegal.
Ramaphosa’s factionalised ANC is under fire for allegedly prioritising efforts to unite factions at the expense of national economic and social stability.
In power since the end of apartheid, ANC is scheduled to hold its elective congress later this year. National polls are set for 2024.
That would be 30 years since Africa’s oldest liberation movement, formed in 1912, came into power.
Dudula began in the historic Soweto as a movement to root out illegal immigrants living and operating businesses in townships.
Dudula means “push” in the local Zulu language, which is the most spoken in the Southern African nation.
A Pew Research poll conducted in 2018 showed that 62 percent of South Africans viewed immigrants as a burden on society by “taking jobs and social benefits.”
The poll indicated over 60 percent of South Africans thought immigrants were more responsible for crime than other group.
This week, Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, welcomed the voluntary repatriation of 49 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) back to their native country.
This is the first group of approximately 400 refugees who have expressed a desire to return home after fleeing conflict.
Motsoaledi, a former minister of health, has come under criticism for his sweeping changes on immigration since assuming office in 2019.
The highlight of his tenure was the cancellation of permits the government has over the past decade provided thousands of Zimbabweans legally in neighbouring South Africa.
This has incurred the wrath of activists.
He has stuck to his guns, a development that leaves the future of some 200 000 Zimbabweans in doubt.
Motsoaledi commented on the repatriation of the Congolese from South Africa.
“The voluntary repatriation process is also an example of how personal circumstances of vulnerable people can change to an extent that they can return to their home countries when the conditions allow,” he said.
Entrepreneur and activist, Thadishe Mashego, summed up the prevailing state of affairs in Africa’s most advanced economy.
“We have rising unemployment and rising inflation, rising poverty levels and rising inequalities,” he said.
“We have rising political unrest and rising crime. We have a president and the ANC that blue ticks all these issues. A recipe for disaster and war,” Mashego warned.
– CAJ News