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Xenophobia is not over

12 July 2008

It’s all very well for Thabo Mbeki to say that xenophobia isn’t cool and that it’s not what the founders of our freedom had in mind and that it’s all over now and everyone can go back to their communities, and anyway it was all stirred up by criminal elements.

But what has been stirred up hasn’t been stirred down; xenophobia, having been stirred up, is alive and flourishing in some places, and many people have found to their cost that they can’t go back to their “communities”.

Government leaders paid tribute to civil society and religious groups who stepped in to help those who had been displaced by xenophobic attacks, and were thankful that they could act so much more quickly than the government, and hundreds of people found refuge in places like church halls and premises where volunteers acted quickly to give them emergency clothing and shelter.

But “emergency” action is just that. Many of those who acted quickly to help, sometimes taking time off work to do so, find it difficult to continue doing so. They need to get on with their lives too. And that is where government officials need to get off their backsides and do something, as the following account shows:

I’m about out of ideas. So are the rest of the people involved in Durban Action Against Xenophobia. Even the indomitable Marijke, who has been working tirelessly for the past couple of weeks, sounds exhausted. Our site monitoring team have run out of energy and time. Other members of the group do their best, but we are all volunteers who have homes and children and jobs and studies. Nobody is getting paid to do this. Many of us are repeatedly asked ‘Why are you doing this for foreigners? Would you do it for South Africans?’. My answer to that is ‘Yes. If anyone vulnerable and without any recourse was dumped in a city park by the council, left without protection, shelter or food, abused by the police and by city security gaurds, yes, I would help them as much as I could.’ Right now, these are the people who need our help. These are the people who left their own countries because of war and rape and pain and terror, who came to South Africa because it is a free and democratic country, and who only want a roof over their heads and a little food on the table. But the government, national and local, says ‘the xenophobia is over’ – as if it were that simple – and tells people to just go back to their communities. Some tried that, and were beaten and threatened and chased away all over again. When they turned to the City for help, they were attacked by security gaurds, manhandled into police vans and dumped in Albert Park – a park with no facilities for them, in the open, in the rain, in a very dangerous area.

If the initial attacks were stirred up by criminal gangs (which I can quite well believe), why is the work of these criminal gangs now being aided and abetted and continued by police and security guards?

The movers and shakers may talk nobly about ubuntu, but at the grassroots, among the people on the ground, ubuntu is dead and xenophobia rules at the end of the day. But tomorrow is another day; and another day, another cliche from the people in power. We really do need moral regeneration at all levels.

And as if that weren’t enough, we have this:

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has slammed our country for deporting thousands of Zimbabwean refugees.The UN says around 17 000 Zimbabweans have been deported from South Africa in the last 40 days alone, and some of their lives could now be in danger as a result.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that in situations like these doctrinaire libertarians (usually in the USA) object to taxpayers money being spent on trying to find solutions. From what I’ve seen them say, it should be entirely up to the volunteers to help, because any help from the government would be “statist”, and when the volunteers are exhausted and can no longer help, and law and order breaks down, then the police and security guards can step in and break a few heads, because that’s what they are there for. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the iimpression that libertarians think it is only “statist” to help people. It’s OK to be “statist” where protecting property is concerned. So I’d be very interested to hear what libertarians think should be done in a situation like this.

Sorry for the rant, but I’ve noticed that as the US general election approaches, libertarian bloggers seem to be becoming increasingly shrill and doctrinaire, almost as bad as the Trots.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 July 2008 10:55 am

    to me, it seems like a both/and situation. we need to care for people’s immediate needs – housing, food, etc. AND work on the long-term issues that create this type of situation. You are right that a crises brings out help, which fades soon enough.

    perhaps people grasped the human rights issues, but failed to engage on the level of justice.

  2. 14 July 2008 10:52 pm

    Well, speaking as one who leans left-libertarian, having the police smash people’s heads is considerably more statist than providing temporary aid to refugees. And forcibly deporting people back to oppression and violence simply because they don’t have the appropriate pieces of paper is about as statist as it gets. Supplying, say, poor working mothers with food stamps is vastly less threatening of my or anyone else’s freedom than creating a police state to keep all those nasty illegals out, one would think.

    Quite a few libertarians here in the States- reflecting the Right in general in these parts- do exhibit a troubling discrepancy in what State actions they dislike and which ones some seem almost willing to cheer on. The current Libertarian Party candidate, for instance, seems quite happy to trot out all the nationalist nonsense about “law and order,” “secure our borders,” “no amnesty,” and the rest of the anti-immigration code-words that fill our public discourse these days.

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