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Q&A: "There Has Been Xenophobia for a Long Time in This Country"

Interview with three youth in South Africa

DURBAN, Jun 19 2008 (IPS) - Young adults in South Africa increasingly feel government has let them down. They lament lack of access to employment opportunities, poverty and many have pretty much lost hope that their situation will improve within the next decade.

Like Sthabiso Khumalo (20), many South African youth say the government does not deliver on tis promises. Credit: Rogan Ward/IPS

Like Sthabiso Khumalo (20), many South African youth say the government does not deliver on tis promises. Credit: Rogan Ward/IPS

Kristin Palitza spoke to two unemployed South African youths and a young refugee from Rwanda about job creation, service delivery and the recent wave of xenophobic attacks in the country.

Sthabiso Khumalo (20) has been unemployed since he passed his Matric in 2004. He lives with his granny, aunt, sister and two cousins in an RDP house in Chesterville, a township on the outskirts of Durban. Since his older brother passed away last year, his aunt, who sells airtime for a living, has become the main income earner of the family.

IPS: Do you believe the South African government has performed in terms of service delivery – creating jobs, providing housing and health services?

Sthabiso: Little is happening. What government promises, they don't deliver. Especially during election time they make empty promises. But the biggest problem is the civil servants here [on local level]. They only give to their relatives and neighbours.

Thokalele: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There are no opportunities. The government doesn't deliver at all. You can't [afford to] think about the future, only live day to day. That's why we have [xenophobic] violence, because of the job shortage.

Regine: The South African government hasn't performed at all. They ignore things until they boil up. There has been xenophobia for a long time in this country but nobody has ever done anything about it. Refugees also don't have access to government housing. We have to live in dilapidated buildings without running water and bad hygiene where no South Africans want to live.

IPS: How do you feel about the huge influx of refugees and foreign nationals to South Africa?

T: The refugees are not the problem but the way they get secretly into the country. Government needs to have stricter policies. We are not that rich to support all of them.

S: People complain that foreigners don't pay tax, make shelters on the street and take the women away [from South African men]. The more people we are in this country, the more [resources] we have to share with lots of people. The population growth is a problem for the economy. Money is short. It's even hard now to afford to bury your own brother.

R: You can't tell people to stay and die in their countries if there is war. As another country you can't allow all those atrocities to happen without doing anything. If war broke out in South Africa, where will South Africans go? We have a shared responsibility, shared obligation. In order to make an impact we all have to sacrifice. And what's it to sacrifice in order to safe a life?

IPS: Where do you think is the underlying hatred of foreign nationals coming from?

T: There are more and more people in South Africa, but less and less jobs and the prices for everything get higher. Food prices have gone up because of the refugees. Foreigners are willing to work for little money and make the salary situation bad for us South Africans.

S: The refugees have brought a lot of crime to the country, and the government brought on the situation because they don't control it [the influx of refugees]. Now, the violence has created a negative impression of South Africa all over the world. To stop that, the government needs to create areas for the refugees to live. Fighting them is not a solution.

S: The violence is wrong. Government must stop more and more foreigners from coming here and help South Africans instead.

R: The hatred is coming from lack of information and lack of tolerance. People don't properly understand the situation. South Africans say foreigners take away their jobs, but the reality is that [the South African] government fails to create jobs, doesn't deliver services. Most refugees are unemployed, too, or have to do jobs that no South African wants to do anyway. South Africans take out their frustration on the wrong people.

IPS: Why do you think people resort to violence to solve conflict?

S: People resort to violence because government doesn't meet their needs. Foreigners bribe and many are involved in crime. That creates problems with South Africans.

T: The police is not effective. They don't combat crime. They are useless, so people have to resolve issues themselves.

R: Violence is the only way they [South Africans] know how to act. They don't know how to negotiate. I don't think the anger we see is towards foreigners per se. I think South Africans never really addressed the anger they had since 1994 and the government is not listening [to its people]. I think the attacks are a way of South Africans to seek the government's attention. They want to prove a point for the 2009 elections.

IPS: Have there been tensions between South Africans and foreign nationals in the areas you live in?

S: No, it has been quiet. We have foreigners running shops and businesses in Chesterville and they are still supported by the locals.

T: Everyone is talking about the attacks, but nothing bad has happened in Clermont.

R: The tensions have always been there, for years. It's only now that they got public attention. There is tension mainly in the areas where a lot of foreigners live in concentration. At night we have people marching the streets, shouting "hit them, hit them". I know lots of people that are in hospital [after having been attacked]. I feel threatened at taxi ranks. I don't speak so that I'm not identified as a foreigner.

IPS: Imagine a South Africa ten years from now. Will we be better or worse off?

S: The standard of living will be even lower. There will be more inflation. We'll be living in hell if it continues like now. We'll have to rely on each other. We'll need to be supportive of each other.

T: We'll be worse off. There will be more crime. If government fails to create jobs our problems won't be solved. People have shown they don't care for each other. They don't want to share with their neighbours anymore. There is no more sense of community.

R: The future doesn't look bright. It will depend how the South African government now deals with the xenophobia. How you deal with other people always reflects on how you will be able to cope with your own situation. And it doesn't look good.

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