Last week at rally in Cape Town, the Democratic Alliance called for the army to be deployed in the Western Cape. It is an astoundingly illiberal demand for a party hell-bent on sporting itself as a bastion of liberal values.
Insisting that the South African National Defence Force, ill-trained and ill-suited to the purposes of policing, should be called in was not even the worst part of that spectacle. On the sidelines of this madness, the party revealed a new slogan, “All South Africans first”.
Second, it is assumed, are immigrants.
But not the well-heeled European immigrants working in corporate South Africa. Rather it is the poor immigrants, most often from elsewhere in Africa, who are being scapegoated. They are implicitly being blamed for the failures of the economy, even though research has shown that foreigners do more to contribute to it.
But we’ll leave aside the vacuity of the DA’s positions for a moment. Instead, we will point out that these are the same people who join poor South Africans on the periphery of formal society, eking out a life from very, very little. These are the same people who have been the victims of violence.
That slogan, which was emblazoned on posters and T-shirts, is dangerous. It is pandering to a sentiment among South Africans that others poor immigrants. And we assume that it’s an attempt to co-opt the nationalism so in vogue in much of the rest of the world right now. The slogan could be read very much like Trump’s “Make America great again”. It is an attempt to prey on prejudice. And it will only breed more prejudice.
But the DA is not the only political actor in the country that is using foreigners as a convenient scapegoat for our significant economic problems.
King Goodwill Zwelithini, whose attitude towards foreigners is well-known, recently hosted an imbizo, where the African Basic Movement, a political party calling for South Africa to be a kingdom state led by Zwelithini and for foreigners to be ejected, also spoke.
This week, the Right2Know nonprofit organisation released a statement calling on the government and other leaders to do “whatever is possible to quell the outpouring of xenophobia and threats of attacks on non-Zulu and Indian people by this shadowy and dangerous ‘movement’ ”.
Ten years ago, violence against foreigners reared its ugly head. It has not gone away. And it would if parties and politicians who fashion themselves as pan-Africanist, like the Economic Freedom Fighters (happy fifth birthday to the Fighters, by the way), used their platforms in Parliament and outside to check this rhetoric.
But, we’re now less than a year to a general election and they know that South Africans, including their supporters, are resentful of immigrants. So they stay silent or they further fuel the anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Ours really is an abhorrent politics.