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World Cup, ‘resource curse’ and xenophobia threats 0

Added to the raft of problems soccer-loving cynics have predicted will plague South Africa as a result of the World Cup is the threat of ‘another dose of xenophobia‘ from both state and society, writes Patrick Bond. Allowing immigrants to be blamed for crime and joblessness, says Bond, is a ‘scapegoat’ strategy for the government’s failure to address root causes of the social stress, from mass unemployment and housing shortages, to ‘South Africa’s regional geopolitical interests which create more refugees than prosperity.’

Soccer-loving cynics have long predicted problems now growing worse here in South Africa because of World Cup hosting duties:

– Loss of large chunks of government’s sovereignty to the world soccer body FIFA

– Rapidly worsening income inequality

– Future economic calamities as debt payments come due

– Dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions (more than twice Germany’s in 2006) and

– Humiliation and despondency as the country’s soccer team Bafana Bafana (ranked #90 going into the games) became the first host to expire before the competition’s second round.

Soon, it seems, we may also add to this list a problem that terrifies progressives here and everywhere: Another dose of xenophobia from both state and society.

The crucial question in coming weeks is whether instead of offering some kind of resistance from below, as exemplified by the Durban Social Forum network’s 1000-strong rally against Fifa on 16 June at City Hall, will society’s sore losers adopt right-wing populist sentiments, and frame the foreigner?

This is not an idle concern, as the FaceBook pages of hip young Johannesburg gangstas exploded with xenophobic raves after Uruguay beat Bafana last week.
Wrote one young punk, Khavi Mavodze, ‘Foreigners leave our country, be warned, xenophobia is our first name.’

Even the ordinarily defensive African National Congress national executive committee and the cabinet have both recently expressed concern about a potential repeat of the May 2008 violence that left 62 people dead and more than 100,000 displaced.

This at least is progress, for 30 months ago, the Africa Peer Review Mechanism panel of eminent persons issued a warning that went unheeded: ’Xenophobia against other Africans is currently on the rise and must be nipped in the bud.’

The then notoriously out-of-touch president, Thabo Mbeki, replied that this was ‘simply not true’, and after the xenophobia calamity began six months later, deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad called it ‘a totally unexpected phenomenon’ – notwithstanding dozens of prior incidents.

So when the current president, Jacob Zuma, told his party executive in May that ‘The branches of the ANC must start working now to deal with the issue of xenophobia’, it was depressing when another politician combined denialism and stereotyping.

Replying that ‘There is no tangible evidence,’ Police General Bheki Cele added, a few days later: ‘We have observed a trend where foreigners commit crime – taking advantage of the fact that we have an unacceptable crime level – to tarnish our credibility and image.’

Generalisations against ‘foreigners’ as prolific perpetrators of crime are baseless, as no scientific ‘trend’ can be discerned because no reliable data exist to confirm whether immigrant ‘tsotsis’ (thugs) represent a greater ratio of their numbers than indigenous tsotsis. (We don’t even know roughly, to the 500,000th, how many immigrants there are in South Africa, because of the porous borders.)

Cele’s finger-pointing at immigrants for crime is just one of the scapegoat strategies. The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa this week called xenophobia a ‘credible threat’ in part because ‘some perpetrator appear to believe they have the tacit support of local political actors.’

Continue reading on Pambazuka News

By Patrick Bond Pambazuka News

Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, which offers a daily World Cup Watch update on politico-socio-economic exploitation, World Cup, ‘resource curse’ and xenophobia threats.

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