Business Day, 25 October 2000

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South African squatters wrongly blame Zimbabweans for their poverty, misery

A deep sense of hopelessness, caused by the miseries they have to endure, is driving South Africans to vent their anger on foreigners.

An analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies, Dumisane Hlope, says the current conflict between Zimbabwean nationals and South Africans in Zandspruit squatter camp, north of Johannesburg, has to be seen in this light.

More than 100 shacks belonging to Zimbabweans have been torched by the locals, who have blamed the foreigners for a spate of criminal activities in the area, including the murder of a woman.

The Zimbabweans have also been accused of taking jobs away from South Africans.

"I don't think the problem in Zandspruit has anything to do with xenophobia. Rather, I believe it is about people's socioeconomic status," Hlope said.

Poverty, homelessness and joblessness were at the heart of the conflict, said Hlope.

"When people are frustrated they are quick to find enemies to blame for their problems. And in this case, Zimbabweans are nearest to blame."

Hlope said the South Africans were barking up the wrong tree. "These people (locals) do not realise that if the Zimbabweans were to leave tomorrow their lives would not change at all. They will not see the jobs they say the Zimbabweans are taking away from them," he said.

Hlope called on government to speed up the delivery process, to address people's needs and avert a repeat of the Zandspruit scenes elsewhere.

Thami ka Plaatjie, Pan Africanist Congress general secretary, said: "People are frustrated but fail to direct their anger at the correct quarters. Instead of directing their anger at government they are now fighting with the Zimbabweans. That is sad."

Ka Plaatjie said it was disappointing that the conflict should take place a month after government spent millions of rands sponsoring a global conference against racism and other ills such as xenophobia.

"It is even more scandalous that President Thabo Mbeki has chosen to be silent on this matter when he is so vocal about the African renaissance," he said.

Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo said the conflict was a result of simmering tensions among residents and was not triggered by xenophobia. "The situation is worrying and cannot be allowed to continue," he said.

Masondo said he had dispatched a member of his mayoral committee to the area to in an effort to end the bitter conflict.

But Zimbabweans view the situation at Zandspruit as yet another harassment inspired by hatred from South Africans. They view the expulsion of illegal Zimbabweans from Northern Province farms as an example. Although the expulsion of 15000 Zimbabwean farm workers from SA was stopped at the last minute, it has not stopped about 8000 of them from returning to Zimbabwe.

"South African xenophobia against Zimbabweans is growing and the lawlessness displayed by so many (of them) when they express their hatred of outsiders is appalling," Zimbabwe's statecontrolled daily newspaper, The Herald, said in an editorial.

"Even as illegal residents, the Zimbabweans were entitled to protection of the law. The South Africans have been lecturing us for the past two years on the need to obey all laws. Perhaps this same bunch of do-gooders will put their words into practice and do something for the attacked Zimbabweans."

Diplomatic sources in Harare said the move by SA and Botswana to expel Zimbabweans was a "calculated threat" to bring home to President Robert Mugabe the likely consequences of spreading regional unemployment and investment flight.

Concerned that Zimbabwean events would hurt member economies, the Southern African Development Community urged Mugabe to solve the land reform crisis "amicably and peacefully".