South Africa Violence: Why is Brother Fighting Brother?

Published on 20th May 2008

Police attend to a victim of the ongoing anti-foreigner violence in South Africa
The recent outburst of criminal violence against Africans seeking employment has less to do with ‘xenophobia’ as touted by the reactionary press but more to do with chronic unresolved anger of the black South African masses. In other words, defenseless people are merely convenient scapegoats for something deeper and more sinister which, unless addressed immediately will drag South Africa and the region into a slippery abyss.

In the closing chapters of the apartheid catastrophe (when the ANC was abandoning its ‘humane’ guerrilla war and was at last prepared to take the lives of its oppressors) a wave of alarm swept through the intelligence echelons of  apartheid’s secret supporters [in London, Washington, Tel Aviv, Berlin and Paris] in the West. These nations had given tacit approval to Pretoria’s brutal suppression of black aspirations for freedom and skillfully used the canard of the ‘communist threat’ to justify their business ties to one of the most reprehensible regimes to ever besmirch the earth.

The Cuban-Angolan victory at Cuito Cuanavale sounded the death knell of the regime. If the region, perhaps the continent, were not to descend in a Gotterdammerung of racial war which the Boers would certaimly have lost, something had to be done fast. The townships were becoming no-go areas. A blood-lust had developed among the Africans, promising a horrific revenge if the regime fell to the people.

The CIA analyzed the regime’s internal weakness. Cool heads in the agency pushed for establishing contacts with the ANC [despite the ‘terrorist’ designation] to influence any outcome. Deals had to be made. Mandela had to freed, but under what circumstances?  There is no doubt that, seeing the writing on the wall, Western intelligence decided that the end of apartheid must have a soft landing.  We must remember that although apartheid officially became law in 1948 when the Boer nationalists won elections, racist oppression of the black majority was de rigeur since the first Dutch interlopers landed on the Cape 400 years ago.

Centuries of humiliation, denial of basic human rights and de facto slavery guaranteed that a black popular revolution would make the bloodletting of the French and Haitian Revolutions look like a picnic. In fact, in the township resistance councils, lists were already drawn up for those who would receive justice in peoples’ courts and how to deal with collaborators and spies. If Mandela had died in custody, nothing would quell the people’s rage. Mandela had to be freed, but with conditions. Under no circumstances would a revolutionary situation be allowed to develop. Thus deals were made. 

Mandela will probably carry the secrets to the grave but the fact remains, deals were made to abort the people’s just anger. Bishop Tutu called for forgiveness as did Mandela-forgiving his jailers. Mandela, the charismatic icon called for peace.

Many were perplexed. There would be no toppling of the symbols of repression- the grim statues of white oppressors who had brought so much pain for so long; no Nuremberg trials for the architects of the  egregious example of man’s inhumanity to man; no accounting for 400 years of humiliation, for as long as apartheid existed, no black person anywhere in the world was free. Although a stain on the honour of the African people, not a single perpetrator of apartheid answered for his crimes. Yet the rage remained. With no outlet since this was denied in  the name of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation,’ the rage had to be expressed elsewhere.

Since the ‘end’ of apartheid [and this is moot since whites still control the economy, the courts and the land] South Africa has experienced unparalleled levels of violence, much of it directed inwardly. The people’s rage like an unstoppable river had to find its way and it fell back on itself. The late African-Martinician revolutionary Franz Fanon warned that a people, denied outlets for their anger will turn this rage inward, teetering on a pre-revolutionary precipice.

The anger and horrific brutality expressed in South African violence and crime are not the acts of mad people, but the acts of people made mad by the denial of justice and closure against those who oppressed them for so long. These people have been placed out of reach by the insane generosity of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ offered without the consent of the people. The unfortunate ‘immigrants’ who have every right to be in South Africa, since without their unswerving support and solidarity apartheid could never have been toppled, are convenient scapegoats  subjected to ‘xenophobia’ –destined to be the new divisive buzzword- while the government stands aghast, caught off guard by a situation they should have seen coming. This is a very, very dangerous time not just for South Africa, but the entire Continent.

How can Pan–Africanism succeed if African nations maintain their unrealistic solitudes as ‘nations,’ seeking answers in the West rather than within themselves, nurturing dependencies on Western ‘aid,’ clinging to alien ideas and cultural mores rather than  rediscovering and redefining what it means to be African? How can Mozambicans, Malawians, Somalis and others of the region be called ‘foreigners’ by their fellow Africans while nationalities from Eastern Europe, Lebanon  and the descendants of apartheid’s founders claim that they are Africans with more privileges than the indigenous  people? Who are the real foreigners?  Who really takes the jobs? Who controls the economy? Who is the real threat?

Just the way historical injustices contributed immensely to Kenya's post election crisis, the ANC government needs to address this problem swiftly before it becomes a chronic sore. It is time that African nations  thought long term in all their deliberations and addressed issues exhaustively to avoid future skirmishes. Africa can ill-afford yet another divisive, brutal conflict which pits brother against brother while 'well wishers' wait on the sidelines to open new refugee camps.

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