VX — Virulent Xenophobia

Andrew Donaldson on the return of this deadly agent to South Africa


IT’S a bit of a mouthful, S-2 Diisoprophylaminoethyl methylphosphonothiolate. But then you won’t be needing anything near as much as that to get the job done.

More conveniently known as VX, this is the formal name of the nerve agent that Malaysian police claim was used to despatch Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, at Kuala Lumpur airport last week.

According to reports, even the tiniest amount of VX — less than a few grains of salt — is fatal. Administered through the skin, symptoms occur within minutes. First, there’d be confusion, possible drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, runny nose and watery eyes; then, prior to death a few hours later, convulsions, seizures, loss of consciousness and paralysis.

Lethal as this banned chemical weapon may be, it is perhaps nowhere near as dangerous as our own version of VX — virulent xenophobia.

Given the violence in Gauteng earlier this week, including the razing of houses in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, and the destruction and looting of foreign-owned shops in parts of Pretoria, the decision by the Tshwane metro police to allow the Mamelodi Concerned Residents’ anti-immigrant march to go ahead yesterday did suggest a special kind of dumb.

However, mayoral spokesperson Samkelo Mgobozi told reporters that there was “nothing strange” about the march, and that it came with strict conditions. “We are a democratic country,” he said. “People are allowed to voice their concerns, as long as they do it within the confines of the law.”

This offered pause for thought, here at the Mahogany Ridge. Peaceful xenophobia? This, certainly, was an idea whose time had come.

But not yesterday. And so chaos and violence spread across the the capital, as the demonstrators went on the rampage, chanting, “Foreigners must go. Today is today. We will kill them. They are destroying South Africa.”

They clearly had not paid the slightest attention to Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. On Thursday, he told journalists at Parliament that he’d met with protest organisers and “appealed to them to express themselves responsibly”.

That meeting came about, as City Press put it, “after concerns were raised that the group’s march was xenephobic in nature. However, the group said that it was protesting against drug-related crimes and that it just happened to be foreigners who were involved in these crimes.”

He then revealed a plan of sorts to deal with these attacks on alleged criminals who just happened to be foreign: government was going to call for visible and effective policing.

In case you were wondering how he managed to soft-sell that sop, it’s worth noting that, among the many gifts he received last year, Gigaba listed petroleum jelly and lip balm in the 2016 register of MPs’ interests. Without adequate protection, it must be said, that sort of kissing can result in blisters.

No mention was made, however, of government’s plan to deal with the real causes of conflict here, and that was rampant unemployment and the perception that foreigners were stealing jobs.

But he did have this warning for all those restaurants who employed illegal immigrants: “We are coming for you. We will charge [you], there’s no doubt. The manager will be charged.”

Oh dear, but at least Gauteng Premier David Makhura had some idea of what was going down. During his state of the province address yesterday, he condemned the violence in Tshwane, and called on provincial leaders to take a stand against the xenophobic attacks.

“Let’s be seen to be taking action,” he said. “We can’t allow the violence or the killing of foreign nationals.”

Admittedly Makhura did have more pressing matters to attend to. And the bulk of his speech dealt with the tragedy of the Life Esidimeni patients who died after being moved to unlicensed non-governmental organisations.

But he still managed a less-than veiled swipe at the DA Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, who recklessly and foolishly stated he would like to deport foreign citizens involved in criminal activity.

“We must always try not to stigmatise or criminalise all migrants and foreign nationals because this will have devastating consequences and thus will lead to the deaths of innocent people,” Makhura said.

Mashaba’s comments did prompt a few jokes about maybe building a wall around Johannesburg and getting foreign nations to pay for it.

Nigeria was considered, we understand. It had inherited a fortune following the death of an uncle who was a member of some or other royal family and owned several oil fields. But these billions couldn’t be freed up until we gave them our banking details.

So it’s Zimbabwe. This seems doubly unfair. They’ve already given us our finest waiters.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.