Soccer-loving cynics have long predicted problems now growing worse here in South Africa because of World Cup hosting duties:
- loss of large chunks of government’s sovereignty to the world soccer body Fifa;
- rapidly worsening income inequality;
- future economic calamities as debt payments come due;
- dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions (more than twice Germany’s in 2006); and
- humiliation and despondency as the country’s soccer team Bafana Bafana (ranked #90 going into the games) became the first host to expire before the competition’s second round.
Soon, it seems, we may also add to this list a problem that terrifies progressives here and everywhere: another dose of xenophobia from both state and society.
The crucial question in coming weeks is whether instead of offering some kind of resistance from below, as exemplified by the Durban Social Forum network’s 1000-strong rally against Fifa on June 16 at City Hall, will society’s sore losers adopt right-wing populist sentiments, and frame the foreigner?
This is not an idle concern, as the FaceBook pages of hip young Johannesburg gangstas exploded with xenophobic raves after Uruguay beat Bafana last week.
Wrote one young punk, Khavi Mavodze, “Foreigners leave our country, be warned, xenophobia is our first name.”
Even the ordinarily defensive African National Congress national executive committee and the Cabinet have both recently expressed concern about a potential repeat of the May 2008 violence that left 62 people dead and more than a hundred thousand displaced.
This at least is progress, for 30 months ago, the Africa Peer Review Mechanism panel of eminent persons issued a warning that went unheeded: “Xenophobia against other Africans is currently on the rise and must be nipped in the bud.”
The then notoriously out-of-touch president, Thabo Mbeki, replied that this was “simply not true”, and after the xenophobia calamity began six months later, Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad called it “a totally unexpected phenomenon” – notwithstanding dozens of prior incidents.
So when the current president, Jacob Zuma, told his party executive in May that “The branches of the ANC must start working now to deal with the issue of xenophobia”, it was depressing when another politician combined denialism and stereotyping.
Replying that “There is no tangible evidence,” Police General Bheki Cele added, a few days later: “We have observed a trend where foreigners commit crime – taking advantage of the fact that we have an unacceptable crime level – to tarnish our credibility and image.”
Generalizations against ‘foreigners’ as prolific perpetrators of crime are baseless, as no scientific ‘trend’ can be discerned because no reliable data exist to confirm whether immigrant ‘tsotsis’ (thugs) represent a greater ratio of their numbers than indigenous tsotsis. (We don’t even know roughly, to the 500 000th, how many immigrants there are in South Africa, because of the porous borders.)
Cele’s finger-pointing at immigrants for crime is just one of the scapegoat strategies. The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa this week called xenophobia a ‘credible threat’ in part because “some perpetrator appear to believe they have the tacit support of local political actors.”
In addition to increasing its moral suasion, prosecuting those guilty of xenophobic attacks, resolving local leadership turf battles that have xenophobic powerplays, and establishing emergency response mechanisms, the state has an obligation to address root causes for the social stress which is often expressed as xenophobia: mass unemployment, housing shortages, intense retail competition in townships and South Africa’s regional geopolitical interests which create more refugees than prosperity.
The state won’t tackle these root-cause problems, however, because making substantive progress would probably throw into question class relations and the mode of production itself.
To illustrate, if observers believed (as did I) that the replacement of Mbeki with Zuma in September 2008 might mean a change in Pretoria’s foreign policy so as to end the nurturing of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe repression, then that was naïve, as Zuma showed in London by lobbying hard for an end to smart sanctions against Mugabe’s Zanu(PF) ruling elites a few weeks ago.
South Africa’s post-apartheid leaders are simply unwilling to reverse a 120-year old structural relationship of exploitation, by which Johannesburg-based companies – such as those involved in eastern Zimbabwe’s bloody Marange diamond fields, controlled by Mugabe’s army – rip off the region’s resources. Marange is the world’s largest diamond find since Kimberley, South Africa in 1867.
How does this work? Consider the case of a victim of elite SA-Zimbabwe minerals-extraction collusion, the courageous civil society researcher Farai Maguwu (a former student of mine at Africa University). Maguwu was jailed on June 3 because, according to his (ordinarily very reliable) account, a South African named Abbey Chikane set him up for an arrest and maltreatment by Mugabe’s police.
Chikane is a leading officer of the Kimberley Process, a deal cut exactly a decade ago between industry, government and international civil society watchdogs, meant to halt trade in blood diamonds. The sign-on by the monopolist DeBeers was crucial, for the formerly-South African company (now London-based) needed to deal with the growing global diamond glut and to restore some Public Relations after a gloomy period.
In a hotel room in the eastern Zimbabwe city of Mutare on May 25, Maguwu provided Chikane information about hundreds of murders at Marange since 2006, at the hands of Mugabe’s army.
Instead of using the information to write a critique of Marange, Chikane turned out to be a narc, reporting Maguwu to the Zimbabwe police. When cops drove up at his modest house the next day, Maguwu went underground. During the search, the police beat and tortured family members, leading Maguwu to surrender. After a week in prison, he was hospitalized last Friday due to maltreatment, and then was denied bail on Wednesday by a pro-Mugabe judge.
There’s a great deal at stake in this story, emblematic of so many aspects of Africa’s ‘resource curse’ corruption and poverty.
The army leadership’s inflow of illicit diamond funding (via Dubai where the Kimberley Process is apparently ignored) represents the prime source for their own embourgeoisement, as well as for waging Zimbabwe’s next national election campaign. (Looting state resources is much harder for Mugabe’s men since January 2009, when Zimbabwe lost its currency and with it, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s money-printing, hyper-inflationary, crony-capitalist patronage.)
Chikane soon issued an official report finding that Marange complies with international diamond trading guidelines, leading this week’s Kimberley Process meeting in Tel Aviv to deadlock over whether to continue excluding Zimbabwe. Because of its cutting industry and the threat of boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigning, Israel has become a strong supporter of Zimbabwe’s, insisting that Marange stones not be labeled blood diamonds.
According to the respected newspaper The Zimbabwean, several SA mining houses will benefit if Chikane’s whitewash continues, including his cousin Kagiso Chikane’s African Renaissance Holdings and black tycoon Patrice Matsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals – with whom his brother Frank Chikane (formerly a leading anti-apartheid cleric) works – as well as two financiers supporting Johannesburg diamond miner Reclam: Capital Works and Old Mutual.
Abbey Chikane has, in the process, wrecked the Kimberley Process’s reputation for monitoring blood diamonds in the same way that Mbeki-Zuma soiled Pretoria’s when it comes to justice and democracy for wretched Zimbabwe. The last decade has witnessed a variety of similar betrayals of their people by the SA and Zimbabwe elites.
Given such relationships, it’s not surprising that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees last week reported that there are 158,200 Zimbabweans currently seeking formal asylum internationally, of whom 90 per cent are in South Africa. (That’s more than three times as many as the second-place country, Burma, which was followed by two Washington-backed regimes: Afghanistan and Colombia.)
There are at least a couple million Zimbabweans in South Africa, many illegal as low-waged but often highly-skilled workers, who regularly come under intense pressure from the unemployed locals. A genuine solution to workers’ plight across the region would include not only a reversal of Pretoria’s geopolitical approach, but also its macroeconomic policies.
(Statistics South Africa announced last week that another 79,000 jobs were lost in the most recent quarter-year, bringing to nearly a million those shed since the world crisis hit hard in 2008.)
Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma did make some concessions for Zimbabweans, allowing a somewhat longer stay in the country and work permits (so as to better collect taxes), but at the same time radically reduced the inflow from Lesotho to South Africa, even though a large share of Lesotho’s GDP comes from migrant workers.
If SA police chief Cele were actually serious about foreign criminals he might concentrate a bit more of his force’s effort on a really dangerous crew: Fifa. With the possible exception of Wall Street and the City of London, no more larcenous gangs of white-collar thugs are to be found than in Zurich, both in the banks which financed apartheid when no one else would, and at the soccer body’s temporary hideout south of Johannesburg.
The latter mafia is so self-confident in dealing with General Cele’s mentally-corrupted South African Police Service that last Friday, Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke openly bragged how they will spirit away $3.2 billion in pure profit (50% more than the $1.8 billion taken from Germany four years ago).
Fifa pays no taxes, ignores exchange controls, and is quite likely preparing South Africa for a currency crash in the process.
To ensure the heist is complete, Cele’s police are obviously on the take, observers confidently conclude – but not because there’s evidence of Fifa’s fabled fraud squad at work. No, just as debilitating is the above-board commercial, contractual corruption in evidence these past few days:
- in the service of the main company providing security at the World Cup games, Stallion – a firm which should have been banned last year, as promised by Labour Minister Shepherd Mdladlana, and which in 2001 was responsible for a soccer stampeded in Johannesburg that left more than 40 fans dead – the police enforced Stallion’s exploitative low-wage regime, heaving stun grenades and tear gas at hundreds of unpaid workers after a night game in Durban, and even shooting a Cape Town bystander multiple times with rubber bullets in similar confrontations;
- no wonder, because Linda Mti – the former prisons commissioner linked financially to the notorious, privatized Lindela transit camp for arrested immigrants (as well as a triple arrestee on drunk driving charges) – is head of security for Fifa’s Local Organising Committee;
- defending that pissy US beer Budweiser, the police were again at Fifa’s service when they arrested two Dutchwomen during the Holland-Denmark game, because their subtle ‘ambush marketing’ amounted merely to wearing orange dresses with a tiny Bavarian beer logo;
- at a Fan Fest at Durban’s South Beach, police arrested local environmentalist Alice Thomson last Monday for passing out anti-Fifa fliers regarding the June 16 march to City Hall; and
- a man caught with 30 game tickets ‘and no explanation’ got a three-year jail sentence, while hardened criminals roam the streets freely.
Thieving and trademarking the local culture, as well, Fifa and corporate partner CocaCola also tried to steal Africa’s soul by paying Somali singer K’naan to raise spirits with his easy ‘Wavin’ Flag’ lyrics. But that won’t work, for much more challenging tunes for Fifa to digest have been produced – and are free to download on the internet – by hip-hop artists Nomadic Wax and DJ Magee (‘World Cup’), Chomsky AllStars (‘The Beautiful Gain’) and, best of all, Durban’s own Ewok (‘Shame on the Beautiful Game’).
On July 3, another City Hall rally – this time against xenophobia – will let Durban reproduce a genuine African ubuntu spirit that can withstand Bafana’s defeat, Fifa’s profiteering and all the other losses we are suffering.
(Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, which offers a daily World Cup Watch update on politico-socio-economic exploitation: http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs)