RIP Ernesto Nhamuave

As this morning’s Cape Times reports, Ernesto Nhamuave – the “burning man” whose image brought the horror of the xenophobic violence in Johannesburg sharply and sickeningly to the attention of the world – has been laid to rest in his village of Vuca in Mozambique.

Two weeks on from that violence and those images and the world has moved on to the next big news story. In one way, I suppose that we should be glad that things have settled down, but once again, it demonstrates just how fickle the world’s media are.

The UNHCR estimates that South Africa has 42,000 people in need of shelter (and a whole lot more besides) having been displaced by the xenophobic violence. People in Cape Town and other affected cities across South Africa have pulled together to provide shelter, clothing, food and service for the refugees displaced by the troubles of the last few weeks; in our case, this is despite the well-publicised, childish spat between the City Council and the Provincial Government that has reportedly delayed help getting to those who need it. Sometimes, politicians are utterly pathetic. This is an ugly and embarrassing display by both the City and the Province. But guess what? It’s always the other party’s fault.

Although we had a bright weekend, it came after a run of several days of cold, wet weather and there’s more on the way this week. And while there is still no shortage in the number of volunteers or those willing to give items to help, one has to wonder how long that will last once the refugees’ plight starts to slip from the news and therefore from the public eye. Just in time for winter.
Sadly, it’s only vivid images like that of Nhamuave and stories like that of Adam Degol, who has not seen or heard from his wife or 8-month old son since he was attacked in Lower Crossroads two weeks ago, which will keep this matter in the news for any length of time.

How you can help refugees in Cape Town.

Serves you right

Fresh from yesterday’s Cape Times and it’s sister paper, Pretoria News:

An agency that sold tickets for a Celine Dion concert in March and a cancelled Josh Groban concert in April has been placed under final liquidation.
An application for the liquidation of Ticket Connection (Pty) was yesterday brought before Judge P Burton-Fourie by the agency itself, which said it was unable to pay debts of R7 million.

Just as the Nuremberg Trials and the legal processes against Saddam Hussein and his henchmen brought to justice those who had inflicted pain, suffering and misery upon their nations, so Ticket Connection (Pty) must also atone for their crimes against humanity.

 

Gutted

Tuesday: Shower. Breakfast. Traffic. Work. Tea Break. Such is the life of a lab rat.

But with Tuesday tea break comes Ben Trovato’s column in the Cape Times. Today, I open the paper even more eagerly. How will someone with such obvious compassion for those around him and an incomparable understanding of South African cultures handle the recent xenophobic problems?

Surprisingly subtly, actually. But whatever, because then, halfway through the column – the bombshell:

And so, to matters more serious. It is with a heavy heart I inform you of circumstances necessitating that I relinquish this valuable piece of literary real estate with immediate effect.

I read it once. I read it again. And I was left numb. Seriously, Ben Trovato has kept me going through some difficult times since I moved over here. I have all his books and I agree with every sentiment therein – maybe even the bit when he called my car “gay”. I have lived vicariously through his words, possessing neither the bravery (foolishness?) to do the stuff he did nor the literary ability to describe the things I dared not do. And now he’s hanging up his pen.

At times like this, you can either mope, depressed in the knowledge that Tuesdays will never be the same again. Or you can celebrate the chance for a new columnist to fill his boots (something Ben Trovato has been doing for 5 years+).

Well sod your happy-clappy positivity. I’m in mourning.

RIP Ben Trovato. (Unless this is all a big hoax in which case I’m coming after you with a big stick.)
I know that you read me like I read you, so thanks. And all the best.
I hope I’m still going to be able to read you somewhere… sometime.
Otherwise, how will I know what to think?

In memory, I present to you his finest hour:

Why, in the name of God, won’t someone bring Jacob Zuma his machine gun? I can no longer stand by and watch the man suffer like this. Has he not been through enough?
There is an organisation called the Friends of Jacob Zuma, and yet not one of its members is willing to do as he asks. Some friends.

Jacob Zuma has anywhere between two and five wives. But what good is that if none will go the extra mile? Who brings him his pint of Ijuba after another exhausting live concert outside the Pietermartizburg High Court? As a proud Zulu man, he cannot be expected to fetch his own sorghum beer and automatic weapon.

Jacob Zuma is clearly someone who treasures his machine gun above all else. So what of it? He doesn’t ask for much. All he wants is his machine gun.

And maybe the presidency.

I don’t want to sound churlish, but it might help if he told us where he left the damn thing. It must be somewhere. He definitely started out with one, otherwise he would be singing, “bring me a machine gun”. By referring to his machine gun in the possessive, he is telling us that he already has one, but that he has either mislaid it or somebody has moved it from where he last saw it.

Perhaps his machine gun is at his mother-in-law’s house.
Maybe he can’t remember which mother-in-law.

EDIT: Incoming email from Ben Trovato himself suggests that I should look out for the Sunday Times on 8th June. Could it be that he is taking the place of thankfully-sacked columnist Bavid Dullard?
If so, sign me up, Mr Makhanya!!

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Exactly what are our politicians up to while the well-documented violence against foreign nationals spreads to each and every corner of the country?

President Thabo Mbeki has been widely criticised for his lack of prompt action when the attacks started in Alexandra last week (or earlier, according to some sources). And rightly so, I would argue. Whether or not you believe that deploying troops sooner would have stopped the violence from spreading (I don’t), not deploying them merely allowed the attacks to continue almost completely unabated as the police, outnumbered and outmanoeuvered by the mobs in the townships, were obviously unable to cope.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a woman generally well-respected since her intervention in the country’s HIV policy-making decisions had been quiet – until yesterday. At which point, I wished she’d stayed quiet. Visiting Nigeria, Mlambo-Ngcuka issued South Africa’s first public apology for the violence. Like this:

We are very much concerned and apologise for all the inconvenience that the incidents have caused

The “inconvenience”? That’s what I expect from the local supermarket manager when they don’t have stock of seedless raspberry jam. It’s what I want to hear on the loudspeaker on Platform 6a when my train is 10 minutes late. Personally, I don’t think “inconvenience” is quite enough to cover over 40+ dead and 20,000 “displaced” (read “fleeing for their lives”). Another government own goal?
Even charismatic Jacob Zuma, our President-in-waiting, who spoke out early on against the violence, has since fallen silent as the wave of attacks continues to escalate. I find this very strange – Zuma has previously been quick to capitalise on any sign of Mbeki’s weakness. It’s almost a trademark stategy of his. So could it be that even JZ doesn’t have an answer to these problems?

So while the ANC provaricates and struggles to provide answers, solutions, reasons or even a half-decent apology for the violence, what has the oppostition been up to? Well, finally, Helen Zille, leader of the DA, has come out with a statement. Not surprisingly, she blames government policy for the troubles and not surprisingly, she suggests that her party would do better if they were given a chance to run the country. Keep dreaming, Helen.   
What’s missing from that statement is any short-term solution. And while most people are well aware that the reasons for these problems need to be addressed, people are being killed every day. So yes, we need “proactive steps to address the root cause of the xenophobic violence”, but first we need to actually control what is happening in the informal settlements across South Africa right now.

I mentioned yesterday that Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils had noted the involvement of opportunistic elements in the violence. And in an interesting opportunistic move, the Zimbabwe Government – the reason that most Zim immigrants are here in the first place – have offered to help repatriate those displaced by the attacks. Presumably, those repatriated individuals will then vote ZANU-PF in the upcoming Presidential run-off.

Other developments:
Tourists cancel trips to SA – an over-reaction
Army kills man – not an over-reaction
Miners may leave – completely normal reaction

Now violence hits the Cape

Not every comment makes it through the 6000 miles… vetting process. Nor does every email I receive get a reply. Some don’t deserve the time or effort and the delete button only takes one click.
Despite the fact that this is my blog and I am fortunate enough to live in a country which allows me freedom of speech, there have been a number of people who have told me to remove my opinions from this site, seemingly simply because they disagree with them in some part or other. One even called me “valueless”. Ouch! As a public service announcement, may I ask you not to waste my time and yours by sending offensive or vulgar emails and comments. You won’t get them published or replied to.

As widely predicted, the xenophobic violence has spread across the country from Gauteng. Last night, there were attacks in Du Noon, Cape Town. It sounds pretty awful. That said, the report I’ve linked to is by Caryn “worst nightmare” Dolley who was the reporter on the “truly terrible” Cableway breakdown story I mentioned last week, so maybe things aren’t actually a bad as they sound. But I’m willing to give Caryn the benefit of the doubt on this one. The TV pictures which have been shown across South Africa and the world make it clear just how horrendous the violence is.

And now the question “is this really xenophobic violence?” has been raised. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils suggests that there may be more to these attacks than just plain hatred of foreigners, suggesting that they were the result of opportunistic elements exploiting and manipulating genuine local grievances for their own sinister ends:

We must better educate our people in tolerance, resolutely dispelling any erroneous perceptions about foreign nationals, which are fuelled in circumstances of relative socio-economic disadvantage.
It is these variables that ultimately create the poisonous context for opportunistic elements to exploit and manipulate genuine local grievances for their own sinister ends, with tragic consequences.

And certainly, this same opportunism can clearly be seen in SA blogs, with many right-wing writers using the situation to pour fuel onto their racist fires – urging the white minority to rise again while the country is in disarray. I find it ironic that they suggest that this would never have happened under the Apartheid regime. Remembering back to the 1980’s when I lived in the UK, my only images of South Africa were the news pictures of township violence. I have chosen not to link to their sites, but Google will surely help you if that’s the kind of thing you like to read.

But of course those elements I mention above, be they xenophobic blacks or racist whites, don’t represent the views of the vast majority of South Africans. Back to the late 80’s again, when I was English and a football fan. So to the rest of the world, I was a football hooligan.
I tore up seats and threw them onto the pitch. I fought with rival fans just because they didn’t support United.
No, of course not. For a start, I was only 14 and it was only a tiny number of people who were involved in that scene. But that didn’t stop me being tarred with their dirty great brush.
Nic Haralambous sums it up nicely at SA Rocks, noting that the voices uniting against the violence are the ones transcending colour, creed, race or nationality. I’m not sure I would go so far as to agree with his comment that this is an “uplifting” experience for the country, though.

The BBC quoted my arbitary line: “It seems likely that this situation will certainly get worse before it gets better”.
It was a weak bit of writing, to be honest. But sadly, the point still stands.