I thought I should send out a quick note in light of the international exposure of the violence in South Africa right now.First of all, I am completely out of harm's way - it has mainly been taking place in the poorest townships around Johannesburg, which is very far away from me. It is comparable to saying that I am in Burley, Idaho and riots are happening in Los Angeles.
That said, it is a scary situation for the country. Not because I feel that any harm is going to happen to me or anyone I know, but because it represents the anger and frustration that is brewing in South Africa. As I have mentioned before, the economic and social inequality here is overwhelming. Unemployment rates are terrible and growing worse. Huge portions of the population do not have proper housing. And the terrible thing is, we are not nearly the worse off. South Africa is considered a safe haven in Africa - it is the place to which immigrants from all over Africa flee. Much like many see America, South Africa is seen as a land of opportunity. For this reason, thousands and thousands of Zimbawean refugees have fled here from the situation brewing in their own nation. Many South Africans fear that the Zimbabweans (and other African immigrants) are taking the jobs that they themselves need so desperately, and that the Zimbaweans are resposible for the staggering crime rate. They worry that their schools are being overloaded with Zimbawean children. It is these fears, compounded by dozens of other issues that I am not informed enough about to talk about, that has led to the violence.
In short, the situation is fragile here. However, the violence is being condemned widely. Protests are being held throughout the nation as people speak out against what is happening. Yesterday it was announced that President Mbeki would be sending the army in to quell the violence, and today the reports of violence were down. This is not dooms day for South Africa. I hear many people saying that we are the next Zimbabwe. I do not believe that is true. If this country is nothing else, it is resilient. When the world predicted mass chaos after the end of apartheid, South Africa held peaceful, free and fair elections that brought Nelson Mandela to the presidency. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to deal with perpetuators of the oppressive regime has been held up all over the world as a model of restorative justice. The country's commitment to human rights has set precident in global human rights networks.
The xenophobic attacks happening in Johannesburg are frightening and frustrating. My heart breaks for those who are losing loved ones, and the thousands who have been forced from their homes. But I will not believe that this represents the future of South Africa. This week we celebrate Africa Day. Please join me either in thoughts or in prayers for the future of this country, the resolution of this violence, the quelling of the anger and hatred that has brought them about, and most importantly, for the conversations surrounding these atrocities to bring out a discourse of ways that the country's situation can be improved - in short, for something positive to result from this.
Here is a link the the Mail and Guardian, one of the South African newspapers that I read daily. It has numerous stories about what is going on and will have updates on the situation: http://www.mg.co.za/
Much love. Thanks so much to those of you who have written notes of concern. Haley