By Alejandro A. Tagliavini *
Gemma Parellada wrote, in an article entitled “Xenophobic violence confronts the giants of Africa,” published in El País of Madrid, that the streets of downtown Johannesburg – the most populous city in South Africa – woke up days ago with looted and burned shops and two other fatalities. The xenophobic attacks have caused in a week at least twelve dead eight of which, ironically, were South Africans and only two foreigners and two others of unknown nationality.
According to the Police, 800 people of foreign origin have been welcomed into community centers, not only because they lost their homes or merchandise, but because of the recent history: the waves in 2008 spread throughout the country leaving 62 dead. Groups of South Africans organize to assault businesses of foreign owners, mostly Africans, Nigerians, Somalis, Congolese and other nationalities in this country considered “the golden” of the continent because of the job opportunities.
The wick has spread to the regional level, with reactions in other countries such as Nigeria, the first economic power of the African continent, which president has recommended the voluntary evacuation of its citizens in South Africa and, for this, the Nigerian company Air Peace has offered free flights for compatriots who want to leave the country.
Simultaneously, Nigerian protesters attacked several South African businesses in Nigeria and the South African Minister of International Relations ordered the closure of the embassy in the Nigerian capital while in other countries such as Congo or Zambia citizens have also reacted with protests.
Can South Africa channel the growing frustration that arises from the most impoverished classes? In my opinion, unfortunately, will not be able to if continues along this path. The most used reason by the xenophobes is that foreign workers “steal our jobs”. It happens that unemployment is serious since it reaches 29% of the active population, while the index reaches 38.5% if included those who are no longer looking for work.
To top it off, inequality is extreme since 10% of the population accumulates 90% of South African wealth. With that level of unemployment, poverty and marginality, that is, with so many unsatisfied people to the point of seeing their family go hungry and with nothing to occupy their lives, it is not surprising that there are very high crime rates.
It happens that states today are defined as “the monopoly of violence” within a given territory and thus, with their police power, impose laws that, like all violence, only destroy, disrupt. For instance, unemployment is not natural but created by labor “laws” forced by governments. If these laws did not exist, the occupation would be full and peace too.
For example, the “minimum wage law” literally prohibits working – “legally” – those who would earn less since employers cannot raise salaries without compromising their business. It is very true that wages are so low, but the only way to raise them much and soon is to increase the capitalization of the economy so that the demand for labor rises, and for this it is very important, precisely, that governments leave of disrupting the labor market and that they lower taxes so that citizens can have money to invest.
* Member of the Advisory Board of the Center on Global Prosperity, of Oakland, California