Esther A. Armah

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Overnight and this morning, we woke up to violence on the streets of South Africa. Three deaths, torching, stealing, kidnapping, assaults and up to three hundred arrests. Crimes of human trafficking and drug-lords run amok.

News reports have featured South Africa’s police hitting the streets of a number of areas in Johannesburg as predominantly Nigerian-owned businesses closed shop, abandoned businesses or stood their ground to fight ongoing accusations by some black South Africans of job-stealing.  Social media is alight with stories and commentary under the hash tag #XenophobiaInSouthAfrica.

Amnesty International has reported incidences going back to 2008. The ongoing response from different presidents is as consistent as the violence. They condemn the violence, issue statements, hush the masses with rhetoric and retire quietly back to their world of politics. Until the next incident.

The commentary goes something like this. Nigerians are stealing South African jobs. Foreign nationals are setting up businesses illegally. Foreign nationals are threatening the economy of black South Africans.

Last night is the latest of an ongoing and escalating violence whose underlying issue goes unaddressed, and therefore unresolved. We are witnessing Africans attacking, hurting, stealing and criminalizing other Africans.

“How can a city in South Africa be 80% foreign nationals? That is dangerous…” was the pointed question posed in a news conference regarding Hillbrow and the surrounding areas in the wake of the violence. This question referred to the alleged dominant non-South African owned businesses, and the impact on the local economy and community.

From the same press conference: “we fought for this land from a white minority, we cannot surrender it to foreign nationals…”

And here is the major too often unaddressed issue.

The real tragedy of South Africa’s resource-scarcity is a myth. I do not mean poverty is a myth. It is absolutely real. What I mean is this contemporary anger towards what South Africa calls ‘foreign nationals’ – which so often translates as other Africans – may be more effectively served in dealing with the land distribution that puts 85% of the wealth of this huge African nation into the 8% white minority population. That economic reality is a huge factor in jobs, housing, space.

There has been a failure to more effectively confront the legacy of apartheid that created a white superiority mentality, and a protectionist approach to the white minority. Land redistribution has always been a thorny issue. It has passed through the hands of South Africa’s presidents, it has been advocated for, fought against in wave after wave of action and anger.

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It is the major issue that would transform the economy in multiple ways. The legacy of ubuntu and a racialized forgiveness saw millions celebrate Mandela’s call for South Africa to forgive the white minority. That call by a leader of such stature was more than a single act. It carried the legacy of an apartheid that already privileged the needs, feelings, health and wellbeing of the white minority. And that is what is dangerous.

The failure to reckon with a past that robbed the indigenous people of their land is what threatens contemporary South Africa. In this present, that theft must be rectified in order to ease the cheek by jowl communal living reality that exists across South Africa. What is equally dangerous is the failure to fully reckon with the deeply gendered violence.

The Daily Show’s host South African Trevor Noah put it this way:

Your anger and outrage is misplaced. African immigrants don’t own lands, don’t run companies, don’t own mining companies, don’t operate trophy hunting companies, do not ship out capital to European banks, There are about 2.3 million immigrants living in South Africa. A majority of these includes Africans, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indians, middle easterners, and Europeans who are not born in SA. Only 1.6 million are Africans. Yes, there are increases in black CEOs and managers, these are mere servants and just there as optical presentations. There are about 6,000 Europeans families who own over 85% of agricultural lands in South Africa. So, when I hear South Africans claiming that other Africans are competing with them on dwindling/scarce resources, I say that your anger and outrage is misplaced. If you feel undeserved in wealth distribution, please research again who controls that wealth and it has nothing to do with some Nigerian, Zimbabwean or Mozambican working in a restaurant or an Ethiopian running a small shop, or a Ghanaian mechanic working hard in the sun.”

And there you have it. This legacy of a failed policy at addressing land redistribution is at the root of job-scarcity. And underneath that is the failure to reckon with apartheid’s legacy.

Are we ready to deal with that truth, and in light of it ask – whose Africa is it?




Ghana’s Daily Diet

The PDS deal saga. The Takoradi Kidnapped Girls scandal. These two issues reveal our daily diet of the absurd, the corrupt, the incompetent and the confusing.

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The Power Distribution Service (PDS) saga is a particular masterclass in what-were-we-thinking?

The traditional politicizing of the Agreement suspension by our nation’s political parties is not a surprise.

The government’s suspension of the concession agreement came after documents presented by PDS as a guarantee for the takeover of the power retailing and distribution company were forged.

The revelations that the private company was acting to deceive the State received applause for what appeared to be swift and effective action by the Government, and the expected concern of Government meddling.

PDS unsurprisingly claimed it had done nothing wrong.

What followed was head-scratching.

In a joint press release by the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and PDS, the company would continue all activities relating to electricity retail sales on behalf of ECG.

Those services included meter reading, billing, distribution of bills, bill reconciliation , revenue collection, new service connections, disconnections and reconnections, faulty meter replacements, network faults and repairs, among others.

According to the release this was to ensure that there was no disruption of power supply and service delivery to consumers.

Absurd. And bizarre. Given the suspension agreement, doesn’t this call into question PDS’s company practices? And if it didn’t, why not?

How does a government speak about due diligence and Agreement suspension, and then take measures to keep the company in exactly the same position? Will PDS face action as a result of the allegations of fraud? Action does not mean the usual inquiry-statement release-inaction threesome that so often follows revelations that trigger headlines and corruption allegations.

In the PDS case, our morning waakye has been seasoned with what-were-they-thinking – not a spice that makes anything taste better.

The Taadi Kidnapped Girls scandal is heartbreaking. Confusing, contrasting statements, inaction and reaction – but ultimately no girls. Families continue to be bereft. Police statements that the girls are in Nigeria, but no efforts have been made to secure them and return them to their families triggered even more anger. Especially in the wake of the kidnapped Canadian girls whose swift return thanks to an efficient multi-agency police and security operation ignited anger among Ghanaians.

So much time has passed. The girls are still gone. And the confusion continues.

Who’s girls matter?

And can we return to delicious waakye, with no side dishes of corruption and incompetence?

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