Parts of South Africa are on fire because of unaddressed smouldering issues left unattended by those elected to run the country. We condemn the violence in the streets of our neighbouring country and worry for Namibians living and working there.
Yet, we must also look deeper at the explosions of violent xenophobia and connect those issues to what could begin simmering here. People are looking to blame the easiest target for their anger and frustration; that happens here as well.
People loathe looking at themselves as the cause of their misery. It is easy to look at the low hanging fruit of foreigners or a single political leader as the sole cause of any problem. This delusional thinking is more prevalent in Namibia than people think.
Attacking easy and accessible targets allows the real problem to remain unaddressed. Political, social and economic inequalities are the source of discontent. Laws (or the lack thereof) cause frustration; lack of service provision is usually the main culprit in civil unrest. In Namibia, we must guard well our tendencies to blame others as we face the tough economic situation that is besieging the Land of the Brave.
How often have we blamed Chinese or Zimbabweans in the country for what is going wrong? There are poorly made Chinese goods flooding our markets. Chinese nationals have been arrested on Rhino horn smuggling charges. Chinese companies win bids for state-funded construction jobs over local bidders. Namibians make accusations that Chinese companies dodge our labour laws and disdain black people. Such things have caused an ugly Namibian backlash against the Chinese.
Zimbabweans have been involved in the SME Bank rip-off. Medical practitioners assumed to be raking in millions in dodgy insurance practices and those who work in Namibia without permits, stoke discontent. Those with higher-paying jobs in universities and other companies (as if there are no Namibians qualified for that work) and various niggling complaints have negative overtones. These perceptions poison the well of good feeling about Zimbabweans.
How often has the finger been pointed at Hage Geingob alone as the single source of all evils in Namibia? “Hage caused the economic meltdown”, “Hage has divided the ruling party”, “Hage doesn’t support genocide reparations”, “Hage is the reason for all corruption in Namibia,” and so on. This creates the myth the president is the cause of all ills. Of course, this is not so.
When things get difficult, people need a scapegoat, lest they have to look at themselves and see something they don’t like. It is easier to point a finger at vulnerable or visible focal points than to look at long-standing root causes. It is harder to change what you are doing to make your life miserable than it is to blame someone else. Working to get serviced low-cost housing is extremely difficult, attacking your foreign-born neighbour whose house is better than yours is easy.
When resources become scarce, the competition for what is available becomes keener. Students protested about the lack of NSFAF loans for all who qualified for university. And yet, little was done to organize a name-and-shame campaign against those who have taken the loans, have jobs, but have not made arrangements to repay what they owe. Instead, the focal point of the protests was only on the government for not “giving” them money. Blame for the problem was misplaced.
Quite correctly, there is an outcry whenever Geingob takes state-funded trips during an economic depression. And yet, presidential trips are not the sole reason that the state coffers are empty. The problem is much deeper than that. If the president stays chained to his desk at State House, we doubt that it will have any impact on the current economic crisis.
In South Africa, reports claim that the xenophobic powder keg seems to have been sparked when a Nigerian drug dealer killed a taxi driver. The real reason for the resulting violence is not about Nigerians or foreigners but is a response to unchecked illegal drugs that are sold their communities. The issue is not that foreigners are earning money while local people are not. Rather, why is the government not regularly investing in job creation and local SME development?
If all Nigerians left South Africa today, drugs would still be a crime crisis in their townships. The root causes of xenophobic violence must be put to rest or it will keep erupting.
Seeds of xenophobia have tenuous roots in Namibia as well, let’s not fool ourselves about it. The former NEEEF clause requiring a 25 per cent Namibian ownership of businesses was born because of anti-foreigner sentiments. Screams about foreign land ownership and vetoes of hiring decisions at SOEs when the most suitable candidate is a foreigner are a part of it. There are continual jealous outbursts against successful foreign entrepreneurs. They feel the foreigners are ‘getting something’ that should be theirs.
Regardless of Geingob, Zimbabwean street vendors or Chinese construction companies, the high numbers of those failing the grade 10 and 12 examinations remain. Just like in South Africa, our core problems are home-grown and not imported.
Namibia must look at our neighbour next door each time these xenophobic outbreaks occur and get moving. Decision-makers need to work harder to address the needs of local people in all regions. The time to tangibly improve service delivery to those living in poverty is now. The discontent that is on simmer must not be allowed to boil over.