YONELA DIKO: Will ActionSA be around in the next elections?
ActionSA has done exceptionally well in Gauteng and other parts of KZN, on the back of their promise to deal decisively with the "Broken Window" syndrome in the Johannesburg inner city, the decay in Hilbrow and surrounds, and some parts of Durban inner city.
They have promised to confront the issue of illegal immigrants and flooding of foreigners into the inner city and foreigner strongholds and stop the rising criminality.
The truth of course is that ActionSA will not be able to solve such a complex and multilayered problem as immigration and neither will they be able to solve the "Broken Window" problem that affects many high-rise buildings in the Hillbrow area and its surroundings.
Leaders much more gifted and courageous than Mashaba and his minions have not been able to solve the immigration challenge. More developed countries, whether it's America or Italy, have come to accept that there is no force or wall or scaremongering that can stand in the way of the human will to seek a new and better beginning in a new country.
The first problem is that not only do citizens of other African countries believe that South Africa holds prospects of a better life for them, their leaders also believe that South Africa has better resources and capacity to carry a bigger weight of the continent's problems and it affects the leaders deeply when their citizens are chased away from South Africa or are subjected to victimisation and xenophobia.
One ambassador of an African country based here in South Africa once told some South African officials that he feels for our country because when all these African citizens who are in South Africa pass through other countries they are not stopped if they say they are headed for South Africa because there is a general belief among authorities in other African countries that South Africa has better resources to solve these people's problems.
In 2013, at a SADC meeting just after the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Robert Mugabe, then president of Zimbabwe, went to town at the meeting criticising Jacob Zuma, then president of South Africa for not doing enough to protect the millions of his citizens that now live in South Africa. If South Africa was hoping for sympathy from Zimbabwe and other African countries for carrying millions of their citizens and causing strain and contest of resources in certain parts of South Africa, none such support came, but an attack on our president.
Only the president of Botswana stood up and rebuked Mugabe for his attack on Zuma. Seretse Khama, then president of Botswana instead turned the table on the other African presidents. "South Africa is not an employment beurer of the continent," Khama said. "And if we solved our own problems in our own countries, South Africa would not be under strain from citizens from our own countries."
What this means is that most African leaders do not believe that South Africa has no capacity to carry the millions of their citizens and when some of their citizens are turned back from South Africa or when the unfortunate events of xenophobic attacks happen, there is an immediate desire to retaliate against South Africa. This is where Mashaba will learn the hard way that immigration of citizens does not happen in isolation and any reactionary attitude in handling it will trigger a chain reaction with other African countries, which may cause more devastation that can't be measured yet.
This is what happened when Nigerian leaders and their citizens decided to teach South Africa a lesson in Nigeria by attacking South African businesses and threatening to cut ties with the country if their people were dying out of hate in South Africa. Businesses like MTN and Shoprite were vandalised and destroyed in retaliation to treatment of Nigerians in South Africa.
Africa has come a long way in building renaissance and unity of purpose. Lack of diplomacy and respect in dealing with Africans has a potential to collapse other fragile areas of relations in a bigger vision of building one Africa.
DECAY OF HILLBROW NOT UNIQUE AMONG WORLD CITIES
In the early 90s, Hillbrow was a vibrant melting pot of diverse people, artists, entrepreneurs, club owners, writers and intellectuals of all races, cultures and creeds. It was a place where all young people wanted to be. The Afrikaner intellectual Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert owned a flat there, Thabo Mbeki lived there briefly, larger than life Director General of spies and spoils Vusi Mavimbela also lived there briefly.
Such places, as happened in ancient cities that were melting pots, are unassuming and non-judgmental, where people can come and remake themselves and be free without standing out to attract thousands of people, some with good intentions, others coming to hide from the infirmities. Soon the fraudsters, the jailbirds, the crooks, the charlatans find themselves able to exist in this place without feeling alienated and invisible.
Given that the 90s in South Africa was the time of change, with a third or the population moving from rural areas to urban centres in just over a decade, places like Hillbrow became the most obvious refuges for the incoming millions. It was a place of hipsters and students, where one did not need a lot of money to exist. It was also convenient, a stone's throw away from the Johannesburg central business district. If you had a dream, Hillbrow was where you wanted to be.
In such a heavy influx, the space gets squeezed and opportunities also diminish. Petty crimes start being regular and the free spiritedness of the melting pot gets replaced by caution, fear, and an implosion that pushes all the good people out and leaves those who have no means to move on and those whose hustle depends on the very Hillbrow environment that is decaying. These involve the mushrooming of charismatic churches at every corner, some even on top of nightclubs.
Even foreigners, whether they are legal or illegal, find places like Hillbrow, Yeoville, and Berea as perfect refuges for people with little means of subsistence, but want to be closer to opportunities. Such people flood these areas until it is only them who exist there, turning them into sin-cities of the hustling poor, alcohol dens, clubs, crime, drugs, and the few who think they can save others.
With such people left in Hillbrow and surrounds, a broken window is not fixed, then the door, then the entire building. Street kids move in, thugs highjack it and use it for their criminal enterprise, prostitution, human trafficking, drugs, and then the whole community is in a state of decay.
MANAGING INNER CITY DECAY AND IMMIGRATION
The truth about immigration is that most citizens are in neighbouring countries. There may be a lot of media coverage of immigrants crossing oceans to look for greener pastures in the west or into more developed countries like South Africa but statistics show that over two-thirds of immigrants move to countries next to theirs. This is true of course because most African immigrants do not have much resources and mostly are moving because of lack of opportunities in their own countries and can't really afford to move miles away to far away countries.
South Africa is therefore not special and the fact that it's mostly Zimbabweans in our country is because we are their immediate neighbours. Other countries in Africa house a lot of immigrants from their neighbours. There is therefore nothing that links immigration, legal or not, to decaying cities. Hillbrow and surrounds, after the Group Areas Act was abolished and there was no more flood control, was also a strategic area for locals who were migrating from rural areas to urban centres.
The first thing we need is public education of all the by-laws and wide participation so that all residents of these neighbourhoods take ownership of the enforcement of the laws and the management of their neighbourhoods. Most Hillbrow residents don't like the decay around them, but they most likely don't think the local government cares either way.
It will not be machismo and tough talk from Mashaba that will solve the problem. Mashaba has been mayor for a couple of years and except for harassing one or two street traders and getting his 15 seconds of fame, the problem is as bad as it was.
What will solve the problem is partnership with the people so that police are not seen as an answer to society's problems, but as partners managing the impact of ordinary people trying to survive in a harsh and unforgiving world.
ActionSA will not be around in the next elections, and their life will be as short-lived as Trump's because they are going in the wrong direction of history.
Most South Africans love seeing African foreign nationals succeeding in South Africa. It pleases us to see them starting businesses, buying houses and cars, and taking care of their families. It tells us that as long as South Africa stands as a beacon of hope for them to dream of a new life and reinvent themselves, the odds they must beat in their respective countries to survive is anchored much more by the hope of a better life in South Africa.
As South Africans, we are proud of being the star that shines upon Africa and hopefully as long as we continue to shine, no African will get lost.
Let no man in Africa lose hope as long as South Africa lives.