Andrew Donaldson writes on xenophobia’s growing political clout ahead of the 2024 elections
A FAMOUS GROUSE
YOU know there’s a crucial election in the offing when they go after the so-called foreign nationals. Especially the desperate and defenceless.
In what can be regarded as a clear sign of xenophobia’s growing political clout, the minister of home affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, has proposed a radical overhaul of citizenship, immigration and refugee laws that will severely curtail the rights of asylum seekers and seekers, reduce their benefits and make it harder to get SA citizenship.
Motsoaledi’s proposed policy, outlined in a white paper published last week, aims to make the country “a less attractive destination to migrants due it its liberal immigration laws”, as one report put it. Cynics may wonder how much less attractive a destination the country could possibly be to such people when their modest businesses are regularly targeted by members of Operation Dudula who trash their premises and destroy their stock with the tacit approval of the police.
The vigilantes were at it last month in Diepsloot. Dressed in military fatigues, the thugs forced their way into spaza shops where they inspected food items for expiry dates. Produce that was found to be out of date was confiscated and destroyed.
According to The Star, these raids came amid mounting anger in townships following the deaths of four children in two separate incidents allegedly after eating products from foreign-owned spaza stores. The newspaper added that the rise of fake food manufacturing sites had also outraged local communities who accused the foreigners of exploiting the impoverished communities in which they traded.
Thus a witch-hunt fed by mass hysteria, a moral panic that appears to be of some use to the ruling party. ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula last month warned of the government action against foreign-owned spaza shops:
“We are going to join communities, not in the form of Operation Dudula and do it illegally. Obviously, the illegal immigrants who are here are here illegally and it is criminal. People must be arrested. That is the authority of the state and it can’t be that if communities are exposing that they are called xenophobic. The ANC must lend a hand and join the communities. We must join our people in those struggles. It has got nothing to do with xenophobia.
“We must close these spaza shops. If the ANC does not do that, the people are going to do that for themselves. We have legislation on this matter and I spoke to [small business development] minister Stella Ndabeni, because if we do not act, the people are going to take the law into their own hands.”
Motsoaledi’s helping hand to the communities, as it were, is to correct the “mistake” the country made in 1998 when it adopted UN refugee protocols without first ensuring certain “reservations” were put in place that curtailed socioeconomic rights extended to asylum seekers.
His principle argument is that the country can no longer afford refugees — and the strain on the fiscus is starting to have a telling effect on service delivery. This rings somewhat hollow given the decades of cadre deployment, corruption and maladministration the country has endured. Add to this crippling unemployment and a soaring crime rate, and it is all to easy to understand how and why foreigners are scapegoated while a ruling elite blunders on regardless.
Because they are the largest group of foreign nationals in SA, Zimbabweans usually shoulder most of the blame for the country’s problems. But there are others: Malawians, Mozambicans and, to a lesser extent, Somalis, Ethiopians and Bangladeshi.
They’re all going to be targeted, one way or another, in the coming months by a dozen or so political parties vying for office. Most are small crappy outfits run by grifters and other opportunists who will say anything to attract attention. But the larger parties will be joining the xenophobic fray as well.
One probable exception, of course, is the Democratic Alliance, which will instead focus on the ANC and its failings. Another, ironically, is the EFF, which has in recent months issued strong, albeit confused messages of support for African refugees. Such support, some analysts suggest, could cost the redshirts dearly in the elections. However, given Julius Malema’s flip-flopping record, an about-turn in this regard would not be out of character.
As an aside, did you see Juju’s dramatic reverse ferret regarding the Springboks? One moment, he was full of admiration for the team, especially skipper Siya Kolisi, the next he was back with the old bluster about racist symbols and what have you. That certainly did not please the masses, who have taken the Boks to their hearts. A failure to read the room, then, even with the big neon sign on the wall saying, “Don’t be effing silly!” But we digress.
It is true that, compared to their own countries, most Africans from the SADC region consider South Africa as some sort of economic and social haven, one of the most developed nations in the southern hemisphere. The desperate flight southwards in search of a better life is not that unusual. Neither should we be too surprised when Motsoaledi’s cold-hearted and mean-spirited plan fails to stem the tide.
According to the people whose business it is to know these things, about a third of the world’s food for human consumption is wasted each year. That’s roughly 1.3 billion tons of graze. Food is lost due to crop pests and diseases, poor harvesting methods, transportation and storage, and it is wasted through the deliberate discarding of produce in shops, supermarkets, and households.
And then there is the stuff that regularly disappears on Inkwazi, the luxury presidential jet. According to media reports, every time this ageing Boeing 737-BBJ takes to the skies with Cyril Ramaphosa, his cabinet ministers and other dignitaries on board, truckloads of posh food and drink regularly vanish into some sort of comestible Bermuda Triangle.
Such is the ravening maw into which the fare is tossed, seemingly without touching sides, that costs have naturally escalated. City Press reports that Squirrel and his fellow passengers tucked into lavish meals and drinks on their return from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at a cost of about R24 000 per head.
It’s claimed that ongoing “manipulation” of catering costs saw the food and drinks bill rise to almost R570 000 for Inkwezi’s return flight from London last year. The aircraft, which is managed by the SA Air Force, carries 18 passengers and six crew members. With the crew eating their own cheaper meals, the cost per head for the VIPs could be even higher.
Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) there is some suggestion, flippant and perhaps unhelpful, that this airborne feeding frenzy was somehow due to an oversight by the Palace. Having assembled the largest-ever gathering of royalty, world leaders and other dignitaries in history, funeral organisers had failed to feed them. Pomp and ceremony is one thing but, dear God, not a single platter of nibbles covered in cling wrap in sight.
It would however seem that this is not the case. But there are dark murmurs of pilfering. Questions linger (as they do, especially where engorgement at the expense of taxpayers is concerned) about the disappearance of non-perishable items from Squirrel’s jet, such as bottles of expensive booze and luxury food and snacks.
The standard arrangement that such items be retained for subsequent flights is wholly ignored. According to a former pilot, the abuse of resources on VIP flights is not new. In one case, a passenger’s luggage was found to contain a large bag of biltong and other liberated foods, including a whole chocolate cake. It’s unclear whether this passenger was a VIP or a crew member.
City Press reports that, according to their sources, “previous ‘investigations’ [by the SAAF] apparently found that, despite CCTV cameras keeping a watchful eye on Inkwazi 24/7, there was insufficient evidence that air force employees were carrying cardboard boxes of supplies from the aircraft to their cars”.
Another case of “exorbitant catering” occurred in June this year, when Squirrel requested, on a sudden whim, a flight to Turkey to attend the inauguration of president Recep Erdogan. Food worth some R91 000 was loaded on board Inkwezi, which then flew from Waterkloof base to Cape Town to pick up Squirrel. Alas, a number of flight clearances could bot be obtained at such short notice, and by the time the jet landed in Cape Town, the trip to Turkey was called off. The next day, the aircraft returned to Waterkloof — but without the food. It had simply disappeared.
This clearly is a massive problem. The Air Force is on its last legs (wings?), crippled by financial constraints, among other things. There’s a simple solution, though. Sell Inkwezi for scrap, and let Squirrel use a commercial airline whenever he wants to hang out with the grown-ups. It’ll be so much cheaper, even if he insists on flying first class.
Did we just mention grown-ups? Not in Downing Street, apparently. In his cabinet reshuffle on Monday, prime minister Rishi Sunak has appointed the UK’s first ever “minister of woke”. That is not Esther McVey’s official title, but it is one that this former work and pensions secretary and, more recently, presenter on GB News, is now saddled with, especially as Sunak has described her as his “common sense tsar”, in charge of campaigning on culture war issues.
The appointment has astounded political commentators here, many of whom are asking, “Minister of woke? What on earth does that even mean?” (Hint: “woke” is what happens when people don’t burn enough books.)
McVey’s appointment is seen as an attempt to appease the Tory hard right, who are furious that the divisive Suella Braverman has been sacked as home secretary and that failed former prime minister David Cameron has returned to the cabinet as foreign secretary. Even the party’s resident Victorian toff Jacob Rees-Mogg, the so-called minister of the 19th century, has described McVey’s new job as “ridiculous”.
He told Times Radio: “I think having a minister for woke is silly and I think it’s deeply regrettable that a minister of the calibre and quality of Jeremy Quinn, who was in the Cabinet Office, has been lost to the government and they brought in somebody with a silly title.”
One question, though. Will Labour now appoint a shadow minister of woke?