Luister Engelsman…

… as jy dit nie hier laaik nie, hoekom gaan jy nie maar terug Engeland toe nie?*

Why do people always ask me that?

So asked a commenter on one of my bosparra.com posts (scroll down to comments – his is the very first).  Normally, I wouldn’t make a big deal out of something said over there. I select posts which I think might be of interest to the bosparra audience and I thought that one fitted the bill. The selection process is more about choosing something topical and South African than choosing something sycophantic. If people don’t agree, well – that prompts (occasionally heated) discussion and that’s fine by me. People must say what they want to. It’s the only way things get sorted. Well, that and rubber bullets.
Also, I must admit that my Afrikaans isn’t all that it might be, which leaves me a little behind when posting on a predominantly Afrikaans site, (although a GCSE in German stands one in surprisingly good stead when it comes to the basic vocabulary).

However, two things changed that plan of (lack of) action in this case. One was the same commenter popping up over here and the other was the point at which I got my basic Afrikaans together and realised exactly what he was moaning about. Either of which would have made him fair game, to be honest… but both together – well…

Yes, My Name is Botha (as in Earl) – let’s call him “MNIB” for short – is upset about… (and here I pause for dramatic effect)… the title of my blog. He whines:

HY impliseer dat ONS nie beskaafd is nie!
(HE is implying that WE aren’t cultured!)

No, I’m not. Unless you’re Australian. Are you Australian?

MNIB has failed to see the heavy sarcasm dripping from every letter of the title. However, rather than lecture me on the good (or civilised) bits of South Africa, he instead goes on the attack – telling me about how my native country is assisting with the destruction of Islam and is at war with the Irish (really?!?).  

So: Luister MNIB – I think I’m more in love with SA than you are. While you can only be negative about the UK (so far as to make up fake wars!), I’ve long been waxing lyrical over how great this country is. About the milk stout, the optimism, the people, the mountains, the spirit, the beaches etc etc.
The title of the site is very much tongue in cheek – when one has seen Oxford’s Blackbird Leys on a Friday night, one could never truly accept the UK as a bastion of civilised behaviour.  

As I said in my reply to your comment – I won’t be changing the name of the site, even if you pay for the rebranding. I honestly can’t see that your suggestion: 9,600 kms from s**t would really attract as many visitors as the now (in)famous 6000 miles… brand does. Also, as I have absolutely no bearing upon the decisions of the British government, which is nearly (but not quite) as barmy as their SA counterparts, I will be unable to prevent them participating in conflicts overseas.

Maybe you’ll actually choose to read a few of the posts on here and you’ll see what I mean. But more likely, I guess you’ll just mutter doos and start whining when I post at bosparra again.

Your choice. But asb… think before you moan.

* “Listen Englishman, since you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to England?” 

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.

BBC, baby!

As Thabo Mbeki finally pays heed to everyone’s pleas to bring in the army in order to try and quell the xenophobic violence which has flared up across South Africa, the BBC News website quotes 6000 miles… amongst others in its 21st May article, SA Bloggers want end to violence.

Fame at last.

I am also available for bar mitzvahs, opening of local fêtes and judging this year’s Idols competition.
My rates are very competitive.

These xenophobic acts are undoubtedly a political issue. Our politicians obviously need better advice from better educated people. You could make a difference to South Africa’s future by visiting jonnyharvard.com and sending one of those political advisors to Harvard. Do it. Please.

Return of the Daxk

Daxk is back with a belter of a comment that sums up many SA expat’s feelings perfectly. Perhaps.

Aaah yes,6K,I really dont understand what the fuss is about,its been going on for about a week and they’ve only killed about 25,going back to the famous Crime Blog post,and the normal 50 murdered per day on average,its hardly going to make a blip on the figures,is’nt it?
Besides, the police services have been saying for years that its the illegal Mocambican and Zimbabwean immigrants who are responsible for the Hi-Jackings and armed home invasions, not to mention the daily cash in transit robberies.
will be interesting to see wether there has been a decrease over this period.
Hate to say it,but its only been noticed because its all on Camera.
Ho Hum! Another day in Paradise.

When responding to something like this, I often find it difficult to know where to start. Then I remember Maria’s advice – “Start at the very beginning – a very good place to start”.
So maybe we should start with the fact that Daxk is right in the thick of the action, in Ireland. And no – that’s not the name of a township just outside Jo’burg, it’s the place 11,000kms away where they make Guinness and film the pisspoor Ballykissangel.

Moving on from that shock revelation, I’m assuming that the “famous Crime Blog post” Daxk refers to is the BSACP, which was voted as the second best post written on any South African blog in the whole of 2007. (Just behind one about buying condoms, but that’s not important right now.) Daxk doesn’t agree with the sentiment of that post, despite the fact that it quite clearly states:

South Africa has a big problem with crime… The stats show that South Africa remains one of the most violent societies on earth – the figures are shocking.

I don’t know. Maybe I should have made it a bit more melodramatic.

Daxk goes on to say that because the murder rate in South Africa is so high, we shouldn’t really be bothered about this minor problem – “they’ve only killed about 25”. Perhaps Daxk would call that attitude “desensitization”. Most others would choose “cold”, “unfeeling” or “callous”. 

And then, the pièce de résistance – the affirmation that illegal immigrants (those from Mozambique and Zimbabwe, anyway) are responsible for armed home invasions, hijackings and cash-in-transit robberies – and a suggestion that because of the xenophobic violence against foreign nationals, the numbers of these crimes may have decreased over the last week. This would be laughable, if it wasn’t quite so inaccurate, irrelevant and downright sick.
The mobs roaming informal settlements in Gauteng at the moment are targeting anyone suspected of being foreign – legal, illegal, men, women, children. Several deaths have been South African nationals who were mistaken for foreign nationals. The excellent Special Assignment on SABC3 devoted their whole show to the issue yesterday evening – including interviews with the families of the victims of the gangs’ “mistakes”, something you may have seen if you weren’t in Ireland. Instead you rely on iol, news24 and Tannie Brenda for your third hand information.

The figures suggest that there are somewhere between 3-5 million immigrants in SA. (Incidentally, I think that the breadth of those numbers quite clearly indicates the huge problem with border control in SA.) And yes, crime is high in South Africa, but the suggestion that around 1,000 of those immigrants being displaced, many of them women and children (60+ injured, 23 dead as of last night) would make a difference to the number of armed robberies is a bit of a stretch. A desperate one.

And yes. It’s all on camera. And, in some ways, thank goodness it is. This is not something that should be or can be brushed under the carpet. Just because the victims are immigrants, because some foreigners may be involved in crime, because “they’ve only killed 25” doesn’t make this situation any less of a crisis. 

Please note: anyone – Daxk included – is welcome to share their views by commenting on 6000 miles… provided they abide by the rules available here.