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The social ills that fuel South Africa’s xenophobia

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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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Sudanese protesters call for dissolution of Bashir’s National Congress Party

The demonstrators carried banners saying “Dissolve the National Congress Party”

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Sudanese call for dissolution of Bashir's National Congress Party
(File photo)

Thousands of Sudanese rallied in several cities including the capital Khartoum on Monday, urging the country’s new authorities to dissolve the former ruling party of ousted Islamist leader Omar al-Bashir.

Crowds of men and women rallied in Khartoum, its twin city of Omdurman, Madani, Al-Obeid, Port Sudan and in the town of Zalinge in war-torn Darfur, expressing their support for the new authorities who are tasked with the country’s transition to a civilian rule.

Monday’s gatherings also marked the October 21, 1964 uprising that had ousted the then military leader Ibrahim Abboud.

The demonstrators carried banners saying “Dissolve the National Congress Party”, a correspondent reported.

The rallies, organised by the umbrella protest movement Forces of Freedom and Change, was also meant to demand “justice for the martyrs” killed during the months-long uprising that led to Bashir being ousted in April.

Some Islamist groups had also called for similar gatherings on Monday in Khartoum but no major rally was reported, witnesses said.

Bashir and his Islamist National Congress Party ruled Sudan for three decades since 1989 when he came to power in an Islamist-backed coup.

Protests had erupted against his government in December 2018, and quickly turned into a nationwide movement against him that finally led to his removal.

The protest movement says more than 250 people were killed in the uprising. Officials have given a lower death toll.

Bashir is being held in a prison in Khartoum and on trial on charges of corruption. 

Several other officials of his government and senior party members are also in jail.

Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council that is tasked with overseeing the country’s transition to a civilian rule, the key demand of the protest movement.

A civilian-led cabinet led by reputed economist Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister is charged with the day to day running of the country.

Hamdok is due to deliver an address to the nation later on Monday.

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Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels

“Peace is a very strategic goal for us. The transformation of Sudan is anchored on peace,” said Hedi Idriss Yahia

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Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels
(File photo)

Sudan’s government agreed Monday to allow humanitarian relief to war-torn parts of the country and renewed a ceasefire pact with major rebel groups at peace talks in South Sudan.

Officials from all sides said the new administration in Khartoum and the two umbrella groups of rebels had signed a declaration to keep the doors open to dialogue.

“The political declaration will pave the way for political negotiations and is a step towards a just, comprehensive and final peace in Sudan,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a key figure in Sudan’s transitional government.

READ: Sudan announces “permanent ceasefire” as peace talks hit deadlock

Talks have been underway in Juba since last week between the new government in Khartoum and rebels who fought now-ousted President Omar al-Bashir’s forces in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The new transitional authorities, tasked with leading the way to civilian rule after the ouster of Bashir, have vowed to bring peace to these conflict zones.

The peace talks have been held in the capital of South Sudan after its President, Salva Kiir, volunteered to mediate. Sudan’s neighbour and former foe is struggling to end its own war.

One of the rebel movements involved in the talks, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), said the agreement reached in Juba was a good step.

“Peace is a very strategic goal for us. The transformation of Sudan is anchored on peace,” said Hedi Idriss Yahia, who signed the agreement in Juba on Monday on behalf of the SRF.

READ: South Sudan to hold peace talks between Sudan and rebels

Khartoum agreed to let aid into marginalised, conflict-wracked areas of Sudan long cut off from humanitarian groups during Bashir’s rule. They include Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.

The talks were almost derailed last week after one rebel group threatened to pull out unless the government withdrew from an area in the Nuba Mountains where it said government attacks were ongoing.

Hours later, Khartoum announced a “permanent ceasefire” in the three conflict zones. 

An unofficial ceasefire had been in place since Bashir was ousted by the army in April, a palace coup that followed nationwide protests against his decades-old rule.

Bashir is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption after being overthrown following months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule.

READ: Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok arrives in South Sudan on first official trip

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