WHAT lesson has Namibia learnt from the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, if any? This and other related questions need to be answered because they are central if Namibians are to avoid becoming victims of xenophobia in other countries or perpetuating the practice themselves. Remember, once bitten, twice shy.
While apportioning a degree of blame to South Africans for the attacks on foreigners, we and other nations bordering South Africa, should not lose sight of the fact that mass migrations of our nationals into that country in search of jobs and food have contributed to the dire economic situation there.
We, as South Africa’s neighbours, have a lot to answer for the influx of our nationals into that country who go there as economic migrants and refugees and therefore the cause of the xenophobic attacks to an extent.
Granted – there will always be cross-border movement of people in the region. And that is in keeping with the legal instruments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as traditional migration patterns of populations in the region. However, the burden of mass economic migrants on South Africa is unhealthy.
South Africa’s neighbours have to take a hard look at themselves and ensure their nationals do not become part of this multitude of migrants heading south in search of a better life.
One of the causes of mass migrations to South Africa is the failure to evenly distribute resources. It is the greed of a few rich and powerful, whose pre-occupation is to line their own pockets at the exclusion of the poor majority.
Namibia has ample examples of this greediness.
The mainstream economy is still the domain of a few who do not want to open up participation in the national economy to the rest of the population. It was so before independence. It is still so today.
Then, we have the new super-rich. They too care less and are equally greedy, having graduated from the poverty of yesteryear. They not only have access to all the levers of state power but also national resources by virtue of their positions and influence.
This new group of super-rich wallows in wealth while closing the cap on others. They are so well connected that they have access to all the tenders, diamond licences, fish quotas and other empowerment programmes.
They would do anything in their power to frustrate others and ultimately flush out the weak and the poor.
The situation along the Kavango-Ohangwena border is a living example of how ruthless and greedy members of this group can be.
Communal land duly allocated to the poor has been forcefully and through sheer dollar-power taken away, fenced off and turned into individual farms. What is even worse and criminal is that in some instances, communal boreholes drilled by the Government to benefit the ordinary and poor have been fenced off.
The poor are being denied access to these communal facilities. They have no access not to only grazing but more importantly, water.
Others are amassing large farms – more than one farm per person. Still others are in this and that venture, this board and that board, have lucrative tenders one after another. Everywhere you go, it is the same names and same faces.
Empowerment of the previously disadvantaged should not become a grandiose political gimmick that is meant for populism. It has to be real and practical. It has to be even and fair. It has to cover all Namibians, all regions and all strata of society.
It would be a monumental mistake if empowerment were to become a tool for political populism. Patronage should have nothing to do with empowerment.
Empowerment that only benefits cronies or a few people has the potential to create resentment against those empowered and ultimately xenophobia or tribal tendencies.
Skewed empowerment that only benefits some and not others will cause those left out to rebel against the political and social order.
Failure to share resources and opportunities equally will produce economic refugees who will migrate to countries such as South Africa. Internally, such refugees will migrate to other regions where competing for scarce resources and opportunities could produce friction and xenophobia.
This situation is already noticeable in some of the regions in the country where there is resentment against those perceived to be favoured for empowerment. This does not bode well for the future. Only fairness and even-handedness can guarantee peace and harmony.
A strong and empowered middle class is the ideal vehicle through which wealth can be distributed and that is what we have to strive to build and not a super-rich elite.
Politics instead of being a calling where the elected are accountable to the electorate has become just like any other job where the elected jostle for tenders and indulgence.
Though largely a basket case, Africa is not resource-poor but has a deeply rooted tradition where the elite is getting rich at the expense of multitudes that wallow in abject poverty. Africa has a long list of misplaced priorities.
Once again, one such priority is the empowerment of the middle class. Let us see targeted empowerment programmes for the middle class for it is this class that is a conveyer belt through which wealth can be shared with the poor.