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The social ills that fuel South Africa’s xenophobia4 minutes read

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A witch’s brew of unemployment, inequality and poverty, mixed with South Africa’s violent past, are to blame for attacks on foreigners that so tarnished the country’s image last month, experts say.

The deadly assaults rocked South Africa’s relations with its neighbours but especially with Nigeria, whose president, Muhammadu Buhari, begins a state visit here on Thursday.

At least 10 South Africans and two foreigners were killed after mobs descended on foreign-owned stores in poor districts in and around Johannesburg.

Analysts told reporters that the violence — the latest in a rash of such attacks over the past decade — is mainly rooted in a sickly economy and faltering politics, stirring rivalry for jobs, especially in manual labour.

South Africa is a magnet for poor migrants from neighbouring Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, but even further afield, including Nigeria and even South Asia.

“South Africa has a terrible combination of extremely high unemployment… and the highest inequality rate in the world,” said Nicolas Pons-Vignon, economic researcher at Johannesburg’s Wits University.

Competition for jobs, social services and housing “create a fertile terrain for mobilisation along identity lines,” he said.

Reliable figures are sketchy, but the last census in 2011 counted just over 2.1 million “international migrants”, around four per cent of South Africa’s population at the time. Joblessness hit a record 29 per cent this year, reaching above 50 per cent for youth.

Political rhetoric 

Loren Landau, a researcher for the African Centre for Migration & Society, said the country’s politicians were also indirectly to blame for stoking the mood.

“It’s anti-immigrant but it’s not an immigrant issue,” Landau told reporters.

Read Also: South Africa struggles with surge of gender-based violence

Rhetoric tinged with xenophobia ran high in the run up to elections this year. Both the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and rival Democratic Alliance (DA) pledged to crack down on irregular migrants.

Politicians are failing to create jobs, and “when you don’t have things to offer, you turn to blaming others,” Landau said.

Human rights lawyer Sharon Ekambaram pointed out that most tensions played out in densely populated, poorly serviced townships.

“We cannot understand the xenophobia of today without locating it in deep, deep poverty” and the government’s failure to “transform society” after apartheid, she told reporters.

Violent history 

Another factor is South Africa’s own troubled past, whose trauma is felt today, said Verne Harris, head of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

“In 1994 we inherited a deeply wounded society,”  Harris said.

“Old patterns of power, property and wealth haven’t been fundamentally transformed. That translates into deep-seated anger and high levels of violence.”

That brutality is also a legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle.

“Townships were deeply politicised and organised by groups that used violence as part of their anti-apartheid campaign,” said Landau.

Those people remained and “didn’t give up their violent ways.”

But researcher Savo Heleta also noted the irony of xenophobia in a country that was helped by other African states during the struggle.

Many gave the ANC arms, money and political support, allowing it to topple the regime and win every election since.

The liberation movement was an illustration of “African unity”, said Seleta, who works for the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth.

“There is a failure to speak about this solidarity.”

Read Also: 189 Nigerians repatriated from South Africa after xenophobic attack

Failure of the state

Successive governments have since failed to fill the gaps in social provision created by white supremacy.

“In many of our communities, failures of the state have led people to rely on informal systems of power,” said Harris.

With rampant crime levels and a thin police force, those who cannot afford to live in privately secured areas are confronted with thugs and mob justice.

Gang leaders use the hardship of townships to stoke anti-foreigner sentiment and “reinforce their authority at the local level,” said Landau.

“And they get away with it,” he added.

Amnesty International has condemned the government’s failure to prosecute suspected perpetrators of xenophobic crimes.

The attacks are “a direct consequence of years of impunity and failures in the criminal justice system,” it said in a statement earlier this month.

Former president Jacob Zuma has been charged with 16 counts of corruption during his time in office. The accusations prompted his resignation last year, although prosecution has been sluggish.  

“South Africa is a very bad example of people doing terrible things and getting a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Heleta.           

“When no one gets arrested, that’s when people start to realise that they can do terrible things.”

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UN condemns use of IEDs against civilians in Libya

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians…,” the UN said.

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A man inspects the wreckage of a car outside the Khadra General Hospital which is dedicated to treating people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 8, 2020, after it was targeted by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the use of improvised explosive devices against civilians in the southern part of Tripoli, as the armed conflict between the east-based army and the UN-backed government continues.

UNSMIL “is extremely concerned about reports that residents of the Ain Zara and Salahuddin areas of Tripoli have been killed or wounded by improvised explosive devices placed in or near their homes,” UNSMIL said in a statement Monday.

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians who must be protected under international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

UNSMIL called on all individuals to “seek information and heed security advice to stay away from areas that have not been declared safe to enter by a competent authority or items of unknown origin which may be explosive devices”.

UNSMIL also commended the search and clearance work by Libyan Police and Military Engineers, reaffirming its continued support to Libyan partners, communities, and stakeholders “who are working tirelessly to rid Libya of the threat of explosive remnant of war (ERW)”.

The UN-backed government’s forces accused the rival east-based army of planting mines before withdrawing from conflict areas in southern Tripoli.

Since April 2019, the east-based army has been leading a military campaign attempting to take over Tripoli and topple the UN-backed government.

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Strike looms as public sector wage dispute enters arbitration in South Africa

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The ongoing face-off between workers in the public sector and the South African government continues. According to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), disagreement between the trade unions and government has moved the talks to arbitration for further hearing.

PSCBC General Secretary, Frikkie De Bruin explains that the arbitration hearings will begin by mid-June. An arbitrator will issue an award after the hearings are complete, with the matter potentially heading to court or resulting in a strike if the unions aren’t happy.

Ordinarily, public sector workers make up a third of South Africa’s expenditure. But with the coronavirus lockdown and income reduction, Pretoria seems unwilling to incur more debt.

If not handled carefully to appease the workers, the ruling African National Congress, (ANC) could lose its political dominance in the next local elections.

If no resolution is reached and the workers decide to resolve it an industrial action, it could erode all effort made by the government in the fight against the coronavirus.

The dispute started in February when the government affirmed that it could not fulfil its 2018 agreement on a three-year wage agreement.

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Ethiopia to divest 40% of Ethio Telecom

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The Ethiopian government is finalizing plans to sell a 40 percent stake in Ethio Telecom- the country’s sole telecommunication provider . The plan was announced by Ethiopia’s State Minister of Finance, Eyob Tekalign Tolina.

Ethiopia’s telecommunication industry is considered one of the last closed markets. It has been one of the government’s plans to liberalize the country’s economy launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethio Telecom has a large market serving a population of around 110 million.

The government will retain ownership of the remaining 60 percent.

Foreign firms in the telecom sector will be invited to bid and a percentage of the minority stake will be sold to Ethiopian citizens. South Africa’s MTN and Kenya’s Safaricom have shown interest in expanding into Ethiopia in the past.

Ethiopia’s communications regulator says the country would proceed with the privatisation of the telecommunications sector despite the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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