South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced plans to reduce his administration’s fiscal distress, with a decision to cut thousands of telecommunications jobs.
Indirectly employed by the government through one of its many state-owned enterprises (SOEs), cutting 3,000 jobs represents the beginning of promised steps to return South Africa to economic sustainability.
Two decades ago, Telkom, South Africa’s state-owned giant, was the largest by infrastructure development and most sophisticated on the continent.
Like power-producer Eskom and many others, Telkom is a shadow of its former self and struggling to make ends meet.
The cause has been a combination of prescribed “black economic empowerment” through the deliberate preference for formerly disadvantaged people and of the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) leftist policy of cadre deployment.
Often these two processes have overlapped but they have meant that highly skilled people have had to give way to replacements.
While a fair number of such appointments have worked out, many have not.
This has affected national, provincial and local governance — and is one of the reasons there has been mounting unhappiness in communities lacking basic services, leading to protests.
In the vital SOEs, which dominate the economy and which are effective monopolies, the governance failure and accompanying corruption have run rampant and caused collapses or near-collapses requiring state bailouts.
But there is no more money for such bailouts and South Africa cannot borrow any more without the entire sovereign debt of the country falling into ‘junk’ status.
In an address to the ANC rank and file last weekend, Ramaphosa made it plain that in providing service directly or indirectly through employment in SOEs, accountability would be the watch word.
According to international ratings like the World Bank and IMF, the government and its SOEs are around 10-15 per cent overstaffed.
However, Ramaphosa’s union allies hate the idea of retrenchment.
Combined with residual elements involved in former president Jacob Zuma’s “state capture” project of looting, the unions say they will not let Ramaphosa do what he must.
They are trying, through the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to halt any retrenchments. They also want Eskom removed from SOE minister Pravin Gordhan’s control.
However, the unions have the recent experience of South African Airways (SAA) to consider.
Strike action by ANC-aligned unions grounded planes for days — long enough to win the pay increase the unions were demanding, but also to throw the broke airline into a terminal crisis.
SAA is in business rescue at Ramaphosa’s insistence. With a deadline this weekend for it to find $139 million to remain operational, the airline may be liquidated.
If so, thousands of jobs will be lost, rather than perhaps hundreds if rescued.
The unions, having won the battle for an increase, pushed the airline to the edge and may have lost the war in terms of jobs.
SOUL OF ANC
At the core of ANC’s internal disputes about what to do to rescue the economy are divergent views.
The issue lies between the business-friendly lobby in ANC led by Ramaphosa, and those inclined to a hardline socialist agenda.
The result is a war over jobs which has become the proxy battlefield for the real struggle under way, being that for the heart and soul of the ANC — and therefore of the future of South Africa.
This week, Gwede Mantashe — once a leading unionist and currently ANC chairman and a minister — has been saying things directly contrary to Ramaphosa about getting South Africa out of the power-generation crisis.
The country is broke and faces costly ratings downgrades if it does not cut government jobs.
Consequently, Ramaphosa and his team are acting. Some 129 cases related to corruption have emerged from Eskom alone, and have gone for prosecution.
More than 1,000 internal disciplinary cases are in the process within the power producer.
The question is whether Ramaphosa can do enough against the backdrop of a weakening global economy to prevent a meltdown.
And then there is a crucial local government election a little more than a year out.
How the struggle for power and for control over ANC — and therefore over South Africa’s destiny — plays out will tell if the country becomes a failed state or emerges as a shining example of a modern developing nation, as Ramaphosa promised.
On the eve of the statement marking the 108th birthday of the governing African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s finance minister Tito Mboweni tweeted:
If you cannot effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over! Stay as you are and you are downgraded to Junk Status! The consequences are dire. Your choice…
Similar sentiments have been voiced by many well respected commentators concerned about the state of South Africa’s economy as well as its politics – and the ability of the ANC to provide effective leadership to address the major challenges it faces.
South Africa faces perhaps many more challenges than it did in the build up to the new constitution of 1994. These include a moribund economy and a governing party that is faction-ridden and ideologically disorientated. This is blamed for enabling much of the massive corruption and nepotism in the country best described as “state capture”.
What South Africa needs is a reformer who can redirect its politics to address issues related to economic growth and development, political stability, social cohesion, service delivery and several issues related to governance, management and administration.
It should all start with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC, which he leads. He had the opportunity to set the tone this weekend when he delivered the ANC national executive committee’s January 8 statement to mark the party’s birthday. Such statements are viewed as being important because they provide direction for cabinet discussions ahead of the new legislative sitting of parliament as well as the state of the nation address delivered in February every year by the President.
Ramaphosa was expected to lay out the political direction for South Africa during 2020. Unfortunately, his speech failed to hit the mark. It didn’t offer any radical new ideas on the structural reforms hinted at by Mboweni. Ramaphosa showed a complete lack of party as well as political leadership. His inability to be bold and decisive about what needs to be done suggests that he is increasingly becoming a victim of his own party’s inability to deal with the difficult circumstances of the current negative state of affairs in the country.
What was missing
There was nothing new in the speech outside of the existing policy and strategy of the ANC. The core of his presentation were the usual talking points about rebuilding the state, reinforcing the state-owned enterprises, the battle against corruption and state capture, social cohesion, and economic growth and development.
Despite an emphasis on making state companies, specifically the power utility Eskom work, and making progress with land reform, no fresh proposals were made. More rhetoric, a lack of strategic vision and political survival at all costs seems to be the name of the game.
This is a far cry from what’s needed.
Even more difficult times lie ahead for Ramaphosa. His promise that this year will see decisive action against those implicated in widespread corruption – among them influential party leaders – will no doubt add to his precarious position in the party.
The ANC’s 108th birthday bash provided fresh evidence that Ramaphosa faces a very difficult political environment in the party. There were expectations that about 35 000 people would turn up. In the event only 11 500 arrived to hear him deliver his speech. Some party leaders bemoaned the poor attendance.
This shows that, beyond any doubt, 2020 is going to be dominated by the battle for control of the ANC. That battle will gain a lot of momentum towards the party’s national general conference which is due to be held in the middle of this year. The national general conference is held midway between party conferences, to debate the “strategic organisational and political issues facing the movement”.
There are already those who are already beginning to shows signs of mounting a challenge against him. These include those implicated in state capture, among them ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, as well as other disgruntled members of the ANC presenting themselves as a “coalition of the wounded”.
The outcome of this battle will have far reaching implications for the future for South Africa, and its ability to deal with its numerous challenges.
Decisive year ahead
The year ahead promises to be a very difficult but also a very decisive year for South Africa. Is Ramaphosa the man to take the country into a new dawn, or is he going to be the victim of a well-organised campaign to disrupt his intended initiatives?
This year will provide the perspective on the way forward. If strong forces within the ANC get their way, someone other than Ramaphosa will present the January 8 statement in 2021.
For ordinary South Africans, this presents a very difficult scenario, with the strong possibility that the economy will slide into recession.
This, plus amending article 25 of the constitution to enable the expropriation of land without compensation, will result in even lower investment levels, higher levels of political instability and bigger challenges in terms of food security.
This does does not augur well for the future of the country and the well-being of its citizens.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday said he has asked South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene in an ongoing dispute with Egypt and Sudan over Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam.
The filling of the dam has been a source of tension between the Nile countries. Egypt and Sudan argue that Ethiopia has not provided sufficient guarantees to their water supply, which is highly dependent on the Nile River.
All three countries were expected to have finished negotiations ahead of signing a deal later this week. But negotiators say significant issues remain.
"As (Ramaphosa) is a good friend for both Ethiopia and Egypt and also as incoming AU chair, he can make a discussion between both parties to solve the issue peacefully," Abiy said at a press conference in the South African capital Pretoria.
'A solution can be found'
For his part, Ramaphosa said he had accepted the task and that he had already reached out to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
"The Nile River is important to both countries and there must be a way in which both their interests can be addressed," said Ramaphosa. "There must be a way in which a solution can be found."
Concerns over the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, one of the main sources of the Nile River, have dogged relations between the African nations for years. At times, Egyptian officials have threatened military action against the dam, including airstrikes, saying its existence poses an existential risk to Egypt.
For Ethiopia though, the dam is a much-needed source of power to energize what has become one of Africa's fastest growing economies.
Ethiopia and South Africa also signed several trade agreements spanning health, tourism and telecommunications industries during Abiy's visit.
South African police said on Thursday they had arrested a number of people, including two former senior managers of Eskom, on suspicion of involvement in fraud and corruption worth 745 million rand ($51 million) at the troubled state-run power firm.
The managers, as well as two business directors and seven companies, are expected to appear in court on Thursday to face the police allegations, which also included money laundering, South Africa’s elite police unit the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority said in a joint statement.
The individuals, who were not named, were arrested earlier in the day following an investigation into the construction of large projects at two power stations, the statement said.
This revealed “gross manipulation” of contracts between contractors, Eskom employees and third parties at one of them, it continued.
“Eskom continues to work with law enforcement agencies … to root out corruption and malfeasance,” the power provider said in a statement, adding the names of the individuals could not be revealed until they appeared in court.
“We … will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that perpetrators … are brought to book,” it added.
The ailing utility, which provides 90% of South Africa’s power, has been struggling to keep the lights on amid serious financial problems in part stemming from years of mismanagement and alleged graft.
Last week, it had to implement some of the most far reaching planned blackouts in years and is regularly cited by ratings agencies as one of the main risks to South Africa’s economy.
“This is a great milestone in the fight against corruption in our country,” South Africa’s Special Investigating Unit, which was also looking into the allegations, said.
Eskom’s problems are a headache for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has staked his reputation on fixing ailing state-owned firms and reviving South Africa’s flagging economy.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken the decision to put South African Airways, the cash-strapped national flag carrier, into voluntary business rescue. Caroline Southey from the Conversation Africa asked Professor Marius Pretorius to explain how the process works.
What is a business rescue?
It’s what is known in the European Union as a pre-insolvency procedure – that means a process that’s designed to save a company from being shut down. All countries have their own version of the procedures that need to be applied when a business is in distress. One of the best known ones is the US’s Chapter 11.
South Africa’s process is set out in Chapter 6 of the Companies Act, which came into effect in 2011. It indicates what needs to be applied when a business is in distress.
What’s the aim?
The aim is to address distress in a business, when it’s not performing. Distress is normally identified when a company is no longer profitable, when it’s not a going concern anymore, when it has major problems. Like a sick person. You have to see a doctor when you’re sick.
The aim is to institute a turnaround – to try to prevent the company from having to go into liquidation, or, in other words, shut down.
In South Africa, a company applies for business rescue under Chapter 6 of the Companies Act. It’s basically a last-ditch attempt to save a business. That’s why it’s called a pre-insolvency process.
It’s understandable that the government is trying to avoid liquidation: if SAA went the route of liquidation rather than rescue, the government would be forced to repay creditors. But in a rescue situation, a moratorium is put on relief payments. Creditors don’t have to be paid immediately. It gives a company a bit of a lifeline while the rescue practitioner works out a plan for the business.
SAA has accumulated unsustainable levels of debt.
When should business rescue be sought?
The act makes a provision for when a business is in financial distress. It’s then obliged to file for business rescue. This would arise, for example, if a company was unable to meet financial commitments due over the next six months. Under these circumstances, the company is obliged to file for voluntary business rescue. Research shows that company directors take the voluntary route 90% of the time. The reason for this is that if they don’t, they could face being delinquent directors, making them liable for the company’s debt.
How is a company placed in business rescue?
The directors file through a procedure under the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission, which then confirms the appointment of a rescue practitioner and licences him or her. There is a full process of accreditation and set of requirements set by various professional bodies for practitioners. They are usually lawyers, accountants or business people. And there are conditions specifying how much experience they must have had, depending on whether they are senior or junior.
The process of appointing the rescue practitioner can take up to five days. Once appointed, the person takes full charge of the company. That means they have the power to make all decisions, including running the company’s finances.
The main aim is for the rescue practitioner to investigate the affairs of the company and ultimately prepare a rescue plan. They have 25 days in which to do this. But normally the rescue practitioner would call a creditors meeting to inform them that he or she is applying for an extension to that time. The creditors must agree to this.
The rescue practitioner must also meet with the employees.
When the rescue practitioner has drawn up a plan for the business, it needs to be presented to the creditors for approval. They must vote on it. It can only go through if 75% are in favour of implementation. Alternatively, they can ask for revisions which the rescue practitioner is obliged to follow up.
If there’s no agreement, the business must go into liquidation, and be shut down.
But if the plan is agreed, the next task is implementation. There’s no particular timeline for this – it can take anything from, say, six months to four years.
Once the plan has been implemented, the company must apply to the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission to have its status reversed to being a going concern.
What happens to the directors during the process?
Most of the time it’s the directors that got the business into trouble in the first place by making bad decisions.
They are obliged to support the rescue practitioner in whatever he or she requires. Their co-operation is very important. For example, they must supply him or her with information. But they no longer have any powers to make decisions. They will still be paid – though, depending on the plan, this is where cuts are usually made immediately. But this will depend on the rescue practitioner and the plan.
And the employees?
Employees are unfortunately very vulnerable during the process. Quite often you’ll find that the good employees leave because they can find other jobs. Nevertheless, they are also protected. If the company does go into liquidation they get preference and are the first of the unsecured creditors to be paid from the available money.
The airline is a state-owned enterprise. Has one of these ever been put through this process before?
Not that I know of. I believe that this is why there was so much hesitancy to do it.
In late November the trade union Solidarity, which represents mainly white, Afrikaans-speaking employees, asked the Johannesburg High Court to place the airline under business rescue. The union argued that this was the only way to save the airline.
I think it’s doubtful that the airline can be saved. The question you have to ask is this: is there a business?
As soon as this process starts, the business takes a body blow. Nobody trusts it anymore. Nobody wants to take the risk and book tickets because there’s a high risk they will lose their money.
South African Airways (SAA) said on Friday it has applied to enter ‘business rescue’, a form of bankruptcy protection it hopes will save the cash-strapped state carrier from collapse.
SAA, which has been making losses since 2011, is deeply in debt and has received more than 20 billion rand ($1.36 billion) in government bailouts over the past three years — all of which has achieved little more than keeping it barely afloat.
A government memo on Wednesday said President Cyril Ramaphosa had ordered SAA to seek the business rescue — in which a specialist takes control of a company with the aim of rehabilitating it, or at least securing a better return for creditors than liquidation would bring.
After years of government dithering, the distressed state entity’s crisis was increasingly seen as a test of Ramaphosa’s resolve to carry out badly-needed economic reforms.
Years of corruption and mismanagement have put several state owned enterprises in dire straits, including power utility Eskom, whose financial problems have left it struggling to keep the lights on.
South Africa’s credit rating is teetering on the brink of junk largely because of these problems. All agencies but Moody’s have cut its rating to below investment grade, risking billions of dollars of investment outflows if Moody’s does follow suit.
How Ramaphosa handles SAA’s restructuring, in the face of fierce opposition from unions, could be taken as a signal his resoluteness in a much bigger, immanent battle with Eskom.
A strike last month left the airline without enough money to pay salaries, then two major travel insurers stopped covering its tickets against the risk of insolvency. It has been granted a 4 billion rand ($272 million) lifeline from the government and banks to launch the rescue plan.
On Thursday Les Matuson from Matuson Associates was appointed to restructure the company. He is already reviewing payments to creditors and is scheduled to come up with a plan for how to handle them within 25 days.
His appointment spurred an outcry from two of the largest trade unions at SAA, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), who argued that he should have been independently chosen.
“We don’t trust a process where a shareholder and the board get to hand pick a business rescue practitioner,” SACCA President Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi told Reuters on Friday.
“We can’t leave it to the same people that we’ve been complaining about for many years,” she said.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA)’s shadow minister for public enterprises, Ghaleb Cachalia, approved the plan, saying: “we hope that ANC government will take a stand ... in the best interest of South Africa and the economy.”
SAA flights appeared to be operating normally according to the existing schedule, ahead of the publication of a new provisional flight schedule soon.
In 2018, 1.4 billion people crossed an international border to take a holiday, and this number is set to rise with an estimated 5 billion people travelling internationally by 2050. SA tourism must work to capitalise on the social megatrends that are influencing how and why people travel, and what they look for when they do.
In his State of the Nation Address in June this year, President Ramaphosa outlined a bold aim to increase South Africa’s economic growth through tourism, stating “we will make good on our ambition to more than double international tourist arrivals to 21 million by 2030.”
Globally, tourism is on the rise and peak tourism demand has not yet been reached, driven by a growing global middle class. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, 1.4 billion people travelled internationally for a holiday in 2018. This number is expected to increase to an estimated 1.8 billion travellers in 2030 and a staggering 5 billion by 2050.
But despite these appealing numbers, achieving Ramaphosa’s lofty ambitions for tourism in the country will not be easy. South Africa will need to compete with other major tourist destinations around the world to carve out its share of this growing market. And to make sure it is well positioned to do so, it is crucial that those working in the sector understand the social megatrends – the global, long term, macroeconomic forces that are shaping business, society and culture and shifting how we engage with the world.
Three key social megatrends are shaping how and why today’s tourists – and those of the future – travel, and what they look for when choosing an international destination.
Globally, there is an increasing shift from spending money on possessions to spending it on having experiences. McKinsey reports that in the US alone, spending on experience-related services – such as attending spectator events, visiting amusement parks, eating at restaurants, and traveling – between 2014 and 2016 grew 1.5 times faster than overall personal consumption and nearly four times faster than spending on goods.
Total global annual expenditure on experiences is currently higher than that on material goods and is expected to continue to rise at an increasing pace. Oxford Economics forecasts that total global expenditure on experiences will reach approximately €1.7 trillion by 2025.
The rise of the experience economy has massive implications for tourism, as travellers are prioritising ‘bucket list’ experiences. They seek out these experiences – they want to have them, tick them off their list and share them on social media to document the collection of the experience. There is also a perceived status and social capital attached to being able to show the experiences they have collected. The World Tourism Organisation recently labelled this consumer travel trend as ‘travel to show’, which is built on a desire for instagrammable moments, experiences and destinations.
South African visitor attractions need to help tourists to stop, look, engage with the experience and provide them with tools to document and share it. Successful examples of this are the two yellow frames in Cape Town that provide a perfect selfie backdrop of Table Mountain and the Map of Africa installation at Cape Agulhas.
2.People are seeking meaning and purpose through travel
The rise of the experience economy is augmented by the rise of the transformation economy. Many tourists now see travel as an important component of building their identity and as a medium for self-transformation. Consumers are not only seeking experiences, they are seeking travel that transformsthrough life-changing experiences such as meaningful connection and personal enrichment. These experiences are deemed transformative when they result in a personal improvement in physical, psychological or emotional well-being.
Transformational travel is valued for having a positive personal impact on the traveller that continues once they return home from the experience. It is seen as something which changes perspectives and behaviour for the better and an aid for personal growth. This trend, labelled by the World Tourism Organisation as ‘travel to change’, includes a desire for transformation, for authenticity and to ‘live like a local’.
Two tourism trends speak to this – ‘voluntourism’ and holidays that incorporate learning. Travellers can volunteer to clean up beaches, be part of the shark conservancy project or help plant trees as part of an environmental internship with Greenpop. South Africa has a wealth of learning experiences to offer, for example completing an introductory ranger training course, which has become a popular immersive tourism experience.
3. People value authenticity
The desire for authentic experiences can be a deciding factor in choosing one destination, attraction or experience over another. Authenticity may be judged in a number of ways and is based largely on perception rather than truth. Travellers perceive an experience as authentic when it is not trying to imitate something else, it is original or the first of its kind. It could also be an experience that is not altered from its natural state, or unnecessarily improved upon. And authenticity is also judged by the uniqueness of an experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
For example, hyperlocal experiences are those that are rooted in their context and are unique to a certain place or culture. Hyperlocal travel is seen to celebrate diversity and inclusion and meets the need for transformation though authentic experience. Few travellers want to be identified as tourists, and they have a desire for immersive local experiences – a chance to meet the locals and to ‘do what the locals do’.
The tiny restaurant, Wolfgat, in Paternoster was recently voted the Restaurant of the Year in the 2019 World Restaurant Awards. Wolfgat describes itself a ‘Strandveldt eatery’ show-casing local produce sourced from the West Coast. South Africa can leverage off this trend with local padstals and restaurants sharing hyperlocal delicacies such as rooibos tea, fynbos-infused gin and West Coast bokkoms.
In an increasingly globalised world, with more access to travel than ever before, the future of tourism will be shaped by what travellers are looking for – and the reasons why they are looking for it – when they leave home. South Africa, with its rich offering of social, cultural and nature-related experiences, is well placed to capitalise on these three trends if the industry responds appropriately.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ostensibly came to South Africa to boost business ties between the two countries. But he missed a golden opportunity to drum up business by skipping a forum with business leaders because he was worried about security.
President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the forum for several hours, addressing the business people and taking questions. Some of the business people who had been expecting Buhari were disappointed by his no-show, sources said.
He was billed to appear with Ramaphosa but his security people checked out the venue of the forum – the sprawling convention centre of Gallagher Estate in Midrand – and decided on the morning of the event that it was not secure enough for him to attend, according to diplomatic sources.
One said there were no hard feelings from the SA government side – who found Buhari warm and friendly – just a feeling that he had missed a good opportunity to boost commercial ties between the two countries.
These took a knock during the recent eruption of xenophobic violence in South Africa, some of it directed against Nigerians and their businesses. Nigerian mobs retaliated in Nigeria by attacking the premises of South African companies such as Shoprite and MTN.
Agreeing on measures to prevent a recurrence of this violence and building up the commercial relations between the two countries were the major focal points of Buhari’s state visit and the Binational Commission between the two countries which he and Ramaphosa co-chaired on Thursday.
Buhari’s anxiety about security appears to be related more to tensions within the Nigerian diaspora rather than any fear of attack by South Africans.
While he was meeting Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings on Thursday, Tshwane Metro Police reportedly used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a handful of Nigerians – calling themselves Biafran nationals – who were demonstrating in front of the building. Some carried placards calling Buhari an imposter and demanding that Ramaphosa send him home.
They claim the “real Buhari” died in 2017, when Buhari was very ill and spent most of the year receiving treatment in London.
Self-styled Biafrans are calling for a separate state in southern Nigeria, trying to revive the movement which lead to the secession of several states to form the Republic of Biafra in 1967 in a region mostly inhabited by Igbo people.
That prompted a long civil war in which between 500,000 and two million Biafran civilians died before Biafra surrendered to Nigeria.
Another grievance of some expatriate Nigerians is the arrest in August this year of Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian journalist and human rights activist. He ran against Buhari in the February presidential elections and was arrested after rejecting the election as rigged and calling for a protest tagged RevolutionNow.
When Buhari addressed the Nigerian community at a Pretoria hotel on Friday, some of his compatriots refused entry to the meeting were calling for Sowore’s release.
Rather ironically, even some members of Buhari’s own ruling APC party could not gain entry, because they were considered too radical, they told journalists.
A few Nigerians who were allowed into the meeting said Buhari spoke to them for about 10 minutes.
“Let me also call on Nigerians to be law-abiding and respect constituted authorities while you live here,” Buhari said, according to remarks tweeted by his office.
“May I also enjoin the few that sometimes give us a bad name, to desist from such misdemeanours and be our good ambassadors.”
This echoed his reply at a joint press conference with Ramaphosa after their meeting on Thursday to a South African journalist who asked him if he did not think the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa against Nigerians, among other foreign Africans, was partly prompted by the perception that they were involved in so much crime.
He said Nigerians understood the maxim that, “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and therefore obeyed the laws of their host country.
At the Pretoria hotel meeting, Buhari also assured his compatriots that he and the South African government had agreed on measures to tackle the xenophobic violence to ensure it did not recur.
Ramaphosa had told a press conference after meeting Buhari that these measures included establishing an early warning mechanism to pick up any signals of imminent xenophobic violence so steps could be taken to pre-empt it. He and Buhari also said that police and intelligence agencies in both countries would cooperate with each other, share information and raise levels of alertness to forestall such violence.
According to official sources, the Nigerian government is also concerned that Nigerian citizens in South African jails are not prevented from using their cellphones. Many of them continue to mastermind criminal activities in Nigeria from their South African cells, the Nigerians complained.
The South African government promised to look into this. It is not clear if the Nigerian government was referring, among others, to Nigerian oil militant Henry Okah who is serving a 24-year jail sentence in a South African prison after the High Court convicted him in 2013 on 13 terrorism-related charges over twin car bombings in Nigeria during the country’s Independence Day celebrations in 2010.
Ironically, given Buhari’s no-show at the business forum, he and Ramaphosa “welcomed the important role of the Business Forum which took place on the margins of the State Visit,” in a joint communiqué after their Union Building meeting.
They also welcomed the decision of the two governments to establish a Joint Ministerial Advisory Council on Industry, Trade and Investment which is expected to be critical in boosting private sector participation in the economies of both countries.
Ramaphosa said business and investment relations between the two countries were already strong and Nigeria accounted for 64% of SA’s trade with West Africa. The two governments had agreed to further strengthen economic ties by deepening their reforms to ensure their economies were more open to business and encouraging more Nigerian investment in SA.
He and Buhari noted the “significant footprint” of SA companies in Nigeria in sectors such as telecommunications, mining, aviation, banking and finance, retail, property, entertainment and fast foods.
By contrast, they also welcomed Nigerian business in SA but noted that it was mostly “small, micro or medium sized – with the exception of the big investment of Dangote Sephaku Cement.
At the press conference after their meeting, Ramaphosa said he would like to see a better balance in the investment relationship and would seek to achieve this by improving the environment for big Nigerian companies to invest here.
“We want to welcome more and more Nigerian businesses to operate in our space,” Ramaphosa said.
He added growing relations between the two countries were evidenced by the 32 cooperation agreements signed between them, covering a wide field including trade and industry, science and technology, defence, agriculture, energy, transport, arts and culture and tourism.
The two governments identified key sectors to boost investment for economic growth and development, including roads, railways, mining, manufacturing and agro-processing.
Credit: Daily Maverick
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was heckled during the recent funeral service of Zimbabwe’s erstwhile leader Robert Mugabe. It was easy to guess why. When he stood to speak, Ramaphosa apologised for weeks of violence in his country targeted at non-national Africans.
Immediately after this apology, heckling turned into cheers. His apology, a stroke of ingenuity, defused the tension. But it didn’t answer the key question that philosopher and political theorist Achille Mbembe once asked in relation to xenophobic violence in South Africa:
When we say ‘South Africa’, is ‘Africa’ an idea or simply a geographical accident?
To many, the answer appears pretty obvious: recent events that have seen people baying for the blood of “foreigners” makes the meaning of Africa in South Africa meaningless.
Importantly though, xenophobia is not a uniquely South African phenomenon. Nor is it simply a question of violence against non-national Africans. It is the consequences of the historical burden that colonialism has bequeathed the continent. This refers to colonially determined borders.
These borders separated African people into different nationalities. They were maintained after Africa’s independence. This spawned nationalisms. Xenophobia is the function of the contests of these nationalisms. As the British social scientist Michael Billig explains in his book, Banal Nationalism,
the triumph of a particular nationalism is seldom achieved without the defeat of alternative nationalisms and other ways of imagining peoplehood.
Xenophobia negates the spirit of pan-Africanism, especially its laudable ideal that Africans share a mutual bond regardless of their geographical location.
That xenophobic incidents are increasing in post-apartheid South Africa is unexpected. In its formative years as a democracy since 1994, the country had assumed the leadership of the African Renaissance cause. It was championed by former South African President of Thabo Mbeki who advocated pan-African “cohesion of economics, culture, growth and development”.
Mbeki eloquently stated that, for African countries to assert their influence in global affairs, their governments should
(forego their) “atomistic nation-state, zero sum sovereignty, and recognise their interdependence”.
Why then do impulses of aggressive patriotism exist in the post-apartheid South Africa? Shouldn’t this pan-African disposition have foregrounded the term “Africa” in “South Africa” as an idea. Shouldn’t it even have shaped the country’s nation-building and state formation project?
South Africanness and Afrophobia
Xenophobia and pan-Africanism are antinomies. They have opposite implications on state formation and nation-building.
Xenophobia is a function of insularity – lack of interest in others’ culture, outside one’s own experience. South Africa’s insularity was facilitated by the fact that it was a pariah state for many years. The apartheid system’s strong border control played a role, too. The country internalised the intolerance of difference. This explains its social disorientation, suspicious of foreigners as “unknown others”.
In many instances, non-national Africans are the primary target of this suspicion. They are, therefore, more likely to be on the receiving end of xenophobic violence.
An appropriate term for this is afrophobia. This is the dehumanising of people of African descent, and in the diaspora, because of their physiques, colour of their skins and behaviours.
The post-apartheid project of nation-building is the by-product of the contradiction of insularity agitating for “South Africanness”, and the African Renaissance as an all-embracing crystallisation of the consciousness of the whole of Africa’s people.
A system of organising society in which individual rights and freedoms are protected, and the markets are left to their own devices, spawned insular nationhood. This trumps the pursuit of a common African identity. It is because of this that, as the socio-economic grievances of the nationals increase, largely because of the economy’s poor performance, nationalism morphs into jingoism. The non-nationals become scapegoats.
Often, the consequences of this, as laid bare in the streets of Gauteng province, are pernicious.
Unfortunately, because of this, South Africa’s moral authority, which it earned after it became a democracy by playing a prominent role in Africa, is at stake. Hence its government is at pains to accept that xenophobia exists, and that it has been on the rise in the post-apartheid South Africa.
Of course, in some instances this phenomenon is opportunistically used to obscure the criminal activities of some non-national Africans in the country. But the suggestion by some in government that attacks on foreign nationals are sheer criminality rather than xenophobia is not cutting ice.
Coupled with calls that South Africa should be shunned, all these beget a cycle of internecine hostilities. These fracture economic, political and social relations.
Unfortunately, dissociation is not a solution. It’s a cop-out. If South Africa were to become a pariah state – again – whose interest would be served, and to what end? Wouldn’t it be those who, in the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, negotiated the rules about the scramble for Africa?
Their borders that balkanised Africa continue to stoke interstate acrimony. The xenophobic flare-ups in South Africa should be understood as the cumulative effect of this historical burden.
What needs to happen
Ramaphosa sent special envoys to the countries whose citizens were mostly affected by xenophobic violence – Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia – to mend relations. This is a good diplomatic gesture.
However, this shouldn’t simply be a charm offensive, but instead a deliberate pursuit to give meaning to the term “Africa” in “South Africa”, which has waned after Mbeki’s presidency. South Africa should reclaim its leading role in Africa’s renaissance.
Re-imagining the future of Africa requires true commitment to pan-Africanism, anchored in the African philosophy of ubuntu (humanism), which decrees that
I am because we are.
The pan-Africanism spirit shouldn’t be fostered only in the African leadership and diplomatic circles, and used for political expediency. It should be part of the psyche of society and become a lived daily experience.
Xenophobia is a function of attitude. It thus requires the intervention of social institutions, such as universities, to mainstream pan-Africanism as a philosophy in their curricula and teaching.
It is important to shape the characters of students, who are future leaders, to understand that human co-existence is not a function of nationality, but of humanity. This should be part of the decoloniality agenda in Africa.
It started with a scary WhatsApp message. “Somalis are kidnapping children in schools,” the message said.
Worried parents rushed to schools to save their children from what was thought to be ongoing retaliatory attacks by foreigners, The Star, a South African newspaper, reported.
But this was not true. There were no retaliatory attacks and there were no Somalis kidnapping children.
At the end of it all, four students in a primary school in Thokoza, Ekurhuleni, in Gauteng, South Africa, were nursing injuries after a stampede at their school.
This was the most recent episode of anxiety and anti-foreigner sentiments in South Africa, in the same week that seven people were confirmed dead in xenophobic attacks that are now slowly mutating into wanton looting of shops, including a car dealership outlet owned by a Nigerian that was burnt with 50 cars inside, according to media reports.
More than 189 people have been arrested, after which most of Johannesburg remains calm.
However, shops in affected areas are still closed for fear of repeat attacks.
Between 1994 and 2018, there were 529 xenophobic attacks in South Africa, resulting in 309 deaths, according to Xenowatch, a xenophobia monitoring tool developed by the University of Witwatersrand.
“These recent attacks seem to be well-organised, and not sporadic. The ones we are facing now are different from the ones in the townships, which we could attribute to high crime and high unemployment rates.
"These ones are well-organised, moving in minibuses, saying they are following the calls of some leaders that we (foreigners) are not law-abiding citizens,” Amir Sheikh of the African Diaspora Forum told journalists at Jeppestown.
South African police minister Bheki Cele visited Jeppestown following the looting of foreign-owned shops and killing of five foreigners. Speaking in isiZulu, the minister called for peace, promising another meeting with the locals today.
But for the angry Jeppestown residents, that promise just wasn’t good enough. In fact, it fuelled even more violence just after the minister left, with media reports saying sporadic looting went on into the night.
The statement – about the lack of jobs and its connection to foreigners – has been the common thread in the latest attacks that also rocked Rosettenville, Germiston, Tembisa, Turffontein, Boksburg, Malvern, Marabastad and Alexandria in Johannesburg.
South Africa, the Rainbow nation that became a democracy in 1994 after the fall of an oppressive apartheid regime, is ranked as the most unequal nation on earth, according to data from the World Bank.
More than half or in absolute numbers, 30.3 million, people live in poverty, earning less than $67.28 USD, in the current exchange rate, while a quarter of the population (13.8 million people) are experiencing food poverty.
In terms of races, the situation is even worse. While a white person in South Africa earns an average $828.40 per month, a black person goes home with three times less, an average of $229.30.
An Asian or Indian, according to the National Income Dynamics Study from 2008 to 2015, earns an average $807.10 and $327.86respectively.
The richest 10 per cent of the South African population held around 71 per cent of net wealth in 2015, while the bottom 60 per cent held just seven per cent.
With a youth unemployment rate of 54.7 per cent, and a general unemployment rate of 27 per cent, analysts say the situation for the continent’s second biggest economy, now growing at just 0.8 per cent, can only get worse.
“Xenophobia is a manifestation of South Africa’s real and enduring problems: inequality, insecurity, and institutional incapacity. Perhaps more importantly, it reveals a political class willing to adopt or endorse the language of street-level gangsters.
"It shows that our two main parties, ANC and DA, are out of ideas and seeking to deflect blame rather than deliver,” Prof Loren Landau of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand told the Daily Maverick.
The Africa National Congress (ANC) is the ruling party, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) is the main opposition party, with 230 and 84 MPs, respectively.
Xenophobia in South Africa, since the first wave in 2008, has turned to be a layered, multifaceted phenomenon, with no clear trigger; but with politicians making increasingly nationalistic statements and the rising inequality coupled with the unemployment being said to be the biggest contributing factors.
The number of foreigners in South Africa has been on a steady increase from 958,188 in 1996, 1.03 million in 2001 to 2.2 million in 2011, according to the censuses taken during those periods.
According to the Stats SA, there are four million foreigners living in South Africa now.
Between 2011 and 2016, South Africa has deported 400,000 foreigners, with nationals from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho making up 88 per cent of the deportations.
“With blood, we will defend our business. We will defend our property. We will defend our dignity and integrity. We are not here courtesy of South Africans. When South Africa needed assistance of Africa (during apartheid), they were all assisted,” Mr Sheikh, a Kenyan, told foreigners in Jeppestown after the attacks on Tuesday.
While not all foreigners are documented and hence not part of the statistics, politicians and public officials in South Africa have been accused of tinkering with this number for their selfish gains, making a bad situation even worse.
Last year, for example, national police commissioner Khehla Sitole said that there were 11 million immigrants in the country, a claim that was disputed heavily by fact-checkers and statisticians.
And it is not just the number of foreigners that has been the victim of exaggeration.
In 2017, in a clip that has resurfaced this week online, former police deputy minister Bongani Mkongi made the oft-quoted false statement that Hillbrow, in downtown Johannesburg, had 80 per cent of its population as foreigners.
Even President Cyril Ramaphosa has also been accused of making nationalistic statements.
“Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and sets up business without licences and permits. We are going to bring this to an end. And those who are operating illegally, wherever they come from, must now know,” President Ramaphosa said during the May 2019 election campaigns.
In the same campaigns, Democratic Alliance made immigration a main agenda, promising to “keep illegal immigrants out of the country”; including deploying the military to the borders.
“Governance in South Africa, particularly at the local and community level, facilitates the occurrence of xenophobic violence by providing instigators with an opportunity structure to act. This facilitation happens by direct involvement of local leaders, or by lowering the perpetrators’ costs for their violent actions,” Dr Jean Pierre Misago of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand wrote in the Daily Maverick.
According to Prof Landau, while South Africa has a plan to address prejudices, including xenophobia, it does not get to the crux of the matter, including references to discrimination against foreigners in terms of access to education, housing and medical services.
“The action plan (against prejudices in South Africa) similarly fails to condemn the local, provincial, and national politicians who regularly blame foreigners for their own failures to deliver services as well as economic and physical security,” Prof Landau said.
Credit: Daily Nation Kenya