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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Is the Rainbow Nation trying to erase a few colors? South Africa adds Xenophobia to it's list of post-apartheid demons.

Links: A. South Africa health of the Economy, 2015.
           B. South Africa and Xenophobia.

My last post focused on Nigeria, and today I am writing on South Africa.  This is the first time that I have dedicated back-to-back posts to individual African nations, but some of my comments in the previous post required a certain amount of follow-up.  I will be returning to regular commentary on the struggle against terrorism and other international issues with my next post.  In the past I have received emails that accuse me of being too negative on the state of affairs in South Africa.  Its not easy to realize that something I write would be considered intentionally damaging to the reputation and overage image of South Africa.  Outside of the United States, I have spent more years in South Africa than any other country.  I speak Afrikaans and a bit of Zulu, and I absolutely love South Africa and all South Africans.  But when I decided to embark on this blog experiment, I made a personal agreement to always blog honestly.  Regardless of whether you live in Christchurch or Vereeniging, South Africa is a mess.  A sizeable number of South Africans have started expressing their frustrations by verbally and physically attacking foreigners, most of whom appear to be in South Africa illegally.  A young friend recently asked me why none of the South Africans involved in the attacks seemed to be white.  "Aren't white South Africans suffering from economic hardships just like black South Africans?"  Simply put, no.

I found the first link provided above after searching for an easy-to-understand, short explanation of South Africa's economic problems, circa 2015.  I succeeded beyond my expectations, which excuses me from the unpleasant job of explaining the situation myself.  I am obliged to mention a few of the more important points, though.  When Thabo Mbeki was President, the South African government was still making a modest (but still not disciplined enough) effort to keep spending under control.  This positive effort on behalf of the government was echoed in homes across the country, as South Africans continued to "save for a rainy day".  But 2015 presents a starkly different scenario.  The current government spends like a child in a candy store, and South Africans, probably due to necessity more than anything else, are no longer growing savings nest-eggs in the bank.  The banking sector is another issue altogether, with a few banks taking advantage of the previous economic surplus to push a sizes of loans.  At the time, the government (which has since rectified the problem, to their credit), didn't have much oversight in this area, and a number of banks were left carrying millions of Rand in unpaid and abandoned loans.  This development effectively tightened the loan market, making it much more difficult for legitimate applicants wanting a mortgage for a new home, to get approval.  And of course, regardless of the year or the state of the economy, South Africa will be facing a crisis in the labor market.  South Africa does not seem to be able to create enough jobs to keep all able-bodied persons employed.  The pressure placed on the already taxed social welfare net increased dramatically, and today we are left with high unemployment, high underemployment, low consumer confidence, limited growth, inability to buy homes, and a disturbing number of hungry mouths to feed in the Republic.  Everyday the media provides salacious details of the latest scandal involving theft or related corruption by a management-level government employee. I made an effort to compile a list of which and how many South African government agencies had been looted by a former manager or three, but I shouldn't have wasted my time.  The answer was obvious all along:  ALL OF THEM.

So South Africans (mostly young and black), with no hope of finding a job, and no reason to plan for the future, sees foreigners in surprisingly large numbers moving into his or her community.  These people are strangers who speak a different language, and come from places like Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Somalia, to name a few.  The young person reasonably assumes that the cause of a shortage in jobs is the appearances of all these foreigners.  Why should they come to South Africa and take what little jobs we have available?  Most people don't stop to realize that the foreigners are just as unemployed as the South Africans.  The rumor that permeates throughout Africa, that South Africa is the land of great jobs and opportunity, is false.  South Africans know this, but Eritreans paying their last few nafka to a smuggler in order to get to South Africa, have no idea.  Hence the genesis of today's latest South African tragedy: the murders of innocent foreigners who are in Diepsloot, or Edendale, or Mamelodi, or Khyelitsha, in an attempt to find a job to feed their families, the same goal as everyone else.  How did things go so bad after the unity, faith and hope of 1994?  Unfortunately, where you have people, you will eventually find thieves, liars, and sociopaths.  No one is exempt, although it seems that uneducated, poorer communities unfairly get more than their share.

In the first Democratic, all-inclusive general elections of 1994, there was absolutely no doubt that the ANC would be victorious.  At the time, Inkatha was still a force to be reckoned with, and there was some question regarding the white vote and whether it would coalesce under the DA liberal banner, the former NP government, or move into laager mode behind the Freedom Front (which may have still been running under the title of "Conservative Party").  Two things occurred which were a surprise to me: the ANC ended up just short of a majority, and the National Party completely disintegrated (the NP had been bleeding voters to the Conservative Party for years before the first all-inclusive election, but in this instance it appeared that the white vote was choosing to unite behind a liberal party line).  Not surprisingly, in the run-up to the election, the ANC campaign repeatedly promised the new South African electorate that "100,000 homes would be built in the first year", and that "rate cards would be torn up and electricity would be free".  For a variety of reasons, not because of lack of effort, the number of homes built during the entire first ANC term as a national government was a far cry from the hoped-for 100,000.  But this did not stop the ANC from bringing out the same promise in the next election, and the next.  At any time during these elections, an honest economist would have been able to see that the ANC's promises were just impossible to deliver.  No doubt South Africa has always had some unique demographic characteristics, but in truth race has very little to do with the basic economic situation. South Africa continues to grow in population, both through its natural birth rate and through illegal immigration. The number of persons needing to be feed, and the number of job seekers continues to rise.  Even though over the past fifteen years, South Africa has experienced a number of substantial years of economic growth, it has never been anywhere near enough to compensate for the growth in population.  It really is that simple, folks.

 So why do I complain so much about corruption, if the real problem is uncontrolled population growth?  Because it offends me to my core, and because it DIDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.  The ANC government took the reigns of power, with Madiba at the helm and the support of the majority of all South Africans, white and black.  The Truth and Reconciliation process was a true wonder to behold, as South Africans reminded the world about the power of forgiveness.  Sadly, the problem didn't take long in manifesting itself, because the ANC felt the necessity to reward persons who sacrificed for the struggle, with well-paying jobs that they were totally unqualified to do.  In the beginning their was hope that this would be the only issue that needed to be addressed, but when Madiba started to fade a bit, and a younger, more self-obsessed generation of politicians moved in, then the odd case of corruption would be discovered.  Soon, people were whispering about how it was unfair that so-and-so was paid a higher salary, so I will rectify the situation on my own.  Bribery became a real problem in the police force, until thank goodness the inclusion of dashboard cameras in police cruisers.  Once Thabo Mbeki departed stage left, then the real hijinks began.  Suddenly it was OK to hire your wife or your children to work in your department (no matter that they never showed up and just collected a one wants to rock the boat).  Also, seeding your department with family and friends made it very difficult for investigators to find whistle-blowers.  The potent South African media was on this problem like stink on shit, with front page photos of obese, drunk managers climbing out of their wrecked, brand new Mercedes, as the mistress lay in the passenger seat, dying from her injuries.  Soon the dailies didn't have to fight for stories; their were plenty to go around.  The Union bosses were on the take, the drug squads were bad, bribes and bribes for delivering government contracts became the normal way of doing business.  If you think I'm laying it on a little thick, ask a South African.

So its no surprise that frustration has really taken root in this community.  The whites of South Africa continue to be an amazing group.  The live in their fortresses in Brooklyn, Waterkloof, Sandhurst, Bryanston, Bishopscourt, Constantia, Hilton, and Umhlanga, and continue the tradition of hard work that has been passed down for generations.  White South Africans are needed to keep certain parts of this country functioning, and the truth is, they are still a dedicated, dependable bunch.  At the same time, they continue to live as they always have, with garden boys, maids, cooks, and servants quarters (separate from the house, of course).  I always take visitors on a drive through Bryanston and then north to Brooklyn and Waterkloof, and I always hear the same comment: "I thought all of this was supposed to end?"  Forgive me for sounding a bit cynical, but the thieves of today realize that they need this trained and dependable group to stay happy, so they don't emigrate to Australia, before the current government has had its opportunity to rob the country of some of its resources.

Cynical? Absolutely.  And also frustrated and disappointed.  I believe that the resources of South Africa should be dedicated 100 percent to improving the living conditions of the most needy in the community.  I lived in South Africa in 1989, and it seems to me that the same families have continued to accumulate wealth, with the ones who left having been replaced by the new ANC elite.  I make no bones about the fact that I support the Democratic Alliance.  The DA is just the panacea that South Africa craves.  Multi-racial, multi-EVERYTHING, the DA has a surplus of brilliant economists and academics who are straining at the bit to put this house in order.  Its not too late, because South Africa is resilient, and full of resources.  The education model that has proven so successful in the western Cape should be the national model.  In fact, so many programs instituted by the DA in the municipalities that they control, would bring needed relief to all corners of the Republic.  I have always considered the ANC to be omnipotent, and South Africa to be another in a long-line of one-party African states.  But maybe, just maybe, the tide has shifted with the most recent scandals, Nkandla being most offensive.  What an amazing thing it would be for South Africa to have the chance to spread its wings and finally BREATHE.

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