Jun 2, 2008
In several South African townships – the former black ghettos from the time of apartheid – there have been waves of violence since May 12, mainly against immigrants from neighboring Zimbabwe. Dozens of people have been killed or wounded. More than ten thousand people have fled Johannesburg townships and poor neighborhoods to take refuge in public buildings, police stations, churches and the streets.
Misery weighs heavily on this country of 50 million: 43% of the population lives below the poverty level, the unemployment rate is 40%, and two-thirds of those under age 35 are jobless. The collapse of the workers’ standard of living and the catastrophic increase in food prices this year has made things worse. Unfortunately the poor population has directed its anger against “foreigners” and in particular the three million Zimbabweans who fled to South Africa. Their country is suffering a severe crisis, with inflation making the currency worthless and unemployment at 80%.
Zimbabweans are accused of causing crime, taking scarce housing, overcrowding the schools and medical clinics, and, above all, “stealing jobs,” as they try to survive doing casual labor. The Zimbabweans aren’t the only victims of this wave of blind anger. In Alexandria township, where the racial violence began, the Shangaan and Venda ethnic minorities, originally from the northern part of South Africa, have also been driven from their homes.
A further cause of these inter-ethnic clashes is the legacy of the apartheid regime. In the past, the white minority in power used the Zulu as allies, turning them against other ethnic groups. The end of apartheid didn’t put an end to these clashes. Since the elections of 1994, establishing a new “multiracial” government, those in power never stopped playing on ethnic differences in an attempt to divert mounting discontent. They went so far as to establish zones surrounded by barbed wire on the northern border to prevent Zimbabwean migrants from escaping into South Africa.
The anger of the South African population is being diverted against those as poor as they are. Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, the buildings that house insurance, banks and U.S. and Australian corporations display enormous wealth. This financial wealth comes from the profits of South Africa’s mines, with their 250,000 miners. These luxury buildings, sitting directly opposite the miserable shanty towns, symbolize the real enemy of all the poor in South Africa, wherever they come from.