President Jacob Zuma raised an interesting question on why foreign nationals are not in their countries. If it were an exam question, it would be addressed in so many ways.
The first approach is a general response. Foreigners are in South Africa because they are looking for better lives and opportunities. Human history is littered with stories of people migrating from one place to another in search of better living conditions.
The Bantus were known for hunting and gathering while African pastoralists migrated in search of greener pastures for their animals. Colonialists also moved to Africa to exploit resources. Why stay in lifeless deserts when there are blissful lands? There is no business nursing poverty when the world of plenty is a stone’s throw away.
The second approach is exposing the nuanced racial narrative in the question. We can only assume that by “our brother countries contribute to this (migration problem)”. Zuma is referring to African countries even though there are Asians such as Chinese, Indians, Bangladesh and Pakistanis who constitute a significant number of illegal migrants in South Africa today. We can assume that Zuma has accepted that the colonialists are no longer migrants. This opens a Pandora’s Box on who is South African in South Africa.
The third approach is a logical perspective. Is there logic in preaching to his people of how South Africans were hosted and assisted during the war for independence by neighbouring countries and then upon achieving independence turn around and ask why foreigners are not in their countries? For such a question to make sense, perhaps he should have started by telling the world why South African freedom fighters were not in their countries during apartheid. I guess the only answer is that they fled persecution by the apartheid regime, which in this view is not looked at the same way as the autocracy and economic mismanagement by his “brothers” which has spewed migrants into South Africa.
Once again, we are faced with what seems to be a relevant discussion which is nothing, but just a time wasting agenda, one that evades the real issues. President Zuma and his predecessors have perpetuated an apartheid policy that has historically sidelined the South Africa men from the wherewithal of production in favour of foreigners. Period. The South African Constitution cemented the racial imbalances by protecting property rights for those who historically and unfairly owned the means of production, while granting civil rights to the poor to freely toyi-toyi, but limited to the streets.
Firstly, apartheid by its very nature was a system of racial segregation against black South Africans and not Africans since 1948 to 1994, where the rights and dignity of black South Africans were curtailed. Emphasis here is placed on black South Africans because during the period when black South Africans were pushed out of productive areas into 10 tribally based homelands called bantustans, the same apartheid system invited and opened doors to millions of foreign workers from Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. A sizeable number of those who now claim to be South Africans are progenies of these workers. Again, who is South African in South Africa?
In the process, the apartheid system successfully managed construct a militant, lazy, delinquent, violent and unproductive identity of a South African man. These narratives have been used by some of President Zuma’s ministers. A shallow analysis would view this as an accurate representation of the current situation and yet masking the underlying issues.
There is need to understand how the South African man enacts and reacts to this apartheid-imposed identity before we start throwing blame all over. Every morning at every bus stop, there are more women going to work than men. I know several of my friends who do not know their fathers and male colleagues who do not care for their children. Men are just absent. Some men have become antagonistic to any formal institutions because they see them as representing the apartheid oppression. This includes the marriage institution, fatherhood, school and university and employment institutions.
The notion of entitlement has somewhat propped this mentality, but lack of appropriate policies to address what President Zuma described as “sick” contributes to this.
In addition, upon attaining independence, the African National Congress (ANC) perpetuated this apartheid position by their deliberate move not to prioritise education to “avoid a Zimbabwe” where they were, then, more skilled and educated people with less job opportunities.
As a consequence, South Africa finds itself facing a crisis of identity which is manifesting in different dimensions; being a developed economy in an underdeveloped nation. But for its developed economy to function nonstop, it needs skilled, educated, dedicated and productive labour, a scenario which replays the Wenera period.
Apartheid imposed a system which does not allow black South African men to grow and be part of the economy and the ANC is yet to address this. This is why today any successful black man is considered corrupt because the only way to navigate the system is to be corrupt. But again once the black men strike a deal; they are the first to recruit foreigners because there are good for business.
The answer to the current problems in South Africa does not lie in asking funny questions, but addressing the mental damage caused by apartheid.
The remnants of apartheid need to be flashed out of the ANC and government policies. Those gun-toting and panga-holding gangs need to be schooled on how to run business like Somalis and Nigerians and not to be destructive to human life and property.
As Zuma asks the question why migrants are not in their countries, he may need to remind those minority xenophobes that the economy is created and not given on a silver platter.