Black on Black in South Africa

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Black on Black in South Africa

Tensions erupting in Johannesburg reveal a much larger fault line running through Africa’s future.

One of the memories from a number of visits I made to South Africa during the time of the Mandela government is of two angry black men in a knife fight in broad daylight at the crossroads of a suburban street in Port Elizabeth. So much condemnation has been written about South Africa’s apartheid administrations in relation to the white attitudes to blacks that the endemic violence of black against black in that country seems to garner little attention by comparison.

Black-on-black violence in South Africa has long been a serious problem. The plain, historic, documented, undeniable, yet seldom-publicized facts on South African violence indicate that violence, bloodshed and political murder within that country has largely been perpetrated by black against black! In the four years that followed the un-banning of the anc, over 13,000 politically motivated murders were perpetrated in South Africa largely by black against black. (You can read more about this history in our booklet South Africa in Prophecy.)

The Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho peoples, who make up almost half of South Africa’s population, have never had a comfortable relationship with each other. And a huge influx of immigrants is adding to the already-endemic violence within South Africa’s ethnic black community.

Extra tension in South Africa’s black communities came when thousands of Mozambiquens were encouraged to enter and settle in South Africa prior to the government elections so as to stack the deck in favor of an anc/National Communist Party win as apartheid ended. Since then, over 2 million have fled poverty, deprivation and violence amid Robert Mugabe’s collapsing Zimbabwe in hopes of a better life in Africa’s richest country.

However, South Africa has become quite an admixture of demonstrably incompatible ethnic groups. The South African Department of Human Affairs estimates that more than 4 million people reside in South Africa illegally, but many believe the figure is far higher. As a result, the country has become a cocktail of black peoples awaiting boilover. And boil over it did in Johannesburg just over a week ago.

Last Thursday, the South African government sent troops into the streets of Johannesburg to quell violence that had been ongoing in the city since May 11. It’s not surprising that they had to resort to this action. By the time that President Mbeki was stirred to act, 42 lay dead, some having been “necklaced.” Employed by black-on-black in apartheid times, “necklacing” involves filling a car tire with petrol, then putting it around the neck of the victim and setting it ablaze.

The disturbances in Johannesburg stemmed from a series of attacks by native South Africans on black migrants from other African countries who had immigrated to the country, primarily from the ailing economies of neighboring Zimbabwe and Mozambique, desperate to seek work and food. cnnreports:

Some 28,000 people have been displaced by the violence, Hangwani Malaudzi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Safety and Security said. And more than 400 have been arrested for crimes ranging from murder, to causing a public disturbance …. The victims are mainly immigrants and refugees from other parts of Africa, including Zimbabwe, where a devastated economy has sent at least 2 million people across the border in search of a better life. … Inadequate housing, a lack of running water and electricity, the rising prices of food, and escalating crime—nearly 20,000 people were slain in South Africa last year—add to the resentment.

Coincident with the rioting in Johannesburg, outbreaks of violence also occurred in the KwaZulu Natal province in Durban last week, where locals threatened Nigerian immigrants. By week’s end, the violence had even spread to Cape Town.

The country’s immigrants are largely illegal, and they place increased pressure on the already-stiff competition for jobs. They also impact the nation’s ailing infrastructure, combining to create a huge headache for the South African government, which has already proven its incompetence at maintaining basic utilities to a pre-apartheid level.

For instance, major power cuts have become a way of life in the country. The state electricity supplier, Eskom, has unsuccessfully lobbied the South African government to lift a government ban on building extra power stations to keep up with demand. The Mbeki government’s failure to lift the ban now leaves South Africa without sufficient power supply to meet existing—let alone future—needs, given that the lead time to build a major new power plant is eight years.

South Africa is fast becoming a mere shadow of what it was before the handover of government to the anc. As R.W. Johnson commented in the Guardian newspaper, “[A]ll other services work only spasmodically. Even now one faces, on a daily basis, non-working traffic lights, escalators, lifts, atms, shops and garage tills, let alone lights, hot water and cooked meals” (February 7).

Having noticed South Africa’s anc-controlled government quickly slip into an all-too-familiar mode, we wrote in 1997: “Astute Africa-watchers experience a sense of déjà vu as they watch South Africa merge rapidly into the pattern set by many a post-independence government in the decolonized continent of Africa. They have memories of all of this having happened before in an often repeated but now familiar and well-documented process, as former colonial powers handed control of whole nations over to former terrorists and self-serving socialist rabble-rousers” (South Africa in Prophecy).

Too many of Africa’s nations have descended into states of inter-tribal war, outright civil warfare, and even ethnic cleansing. Will the black-on-black violence that has recently erupted in South Africa sink into such a state?

This latest violence involving black against black comes hard on the heels of a double whammy just a few months ago related to government incompetence. “South Africa’s public morale has been shattered in the last month, first by Thabo Mbeki’s comprehensive defeat by Jacob Zuma’s coalition at the anc’s Polokwane conference, and then by the power cuts that brought the country’s entire mining sector to a halt. … On the one hand there is outrage and contempt for ‘the incompetence of black government’ and on the other, more sadly, a collapse in self-confidence about black government among many Africans …. Until now the anc has dismissed as mere white racism and ‘Afro-pessimism’ any view that the anc might behave no better than African nationalists elsewhere. But there’s really no arguing that something has gone very seriously wrong …” (Guardian, op. cit.).

Seriously wrong indeed!

Faced with the twin problems of failing infrastructure and social divide, South Africa’s government is at risk of losing control of the country. The latest violence in South Africa’s cities indicates that the country is at risk of becoming a seething cauldron of ethnic division, threatening to boil over into epidemic violence that could spread nationwide.

At the handover of the nation from minority white to majority black rule, some predicted heightened bloodshed would result along black-white lines. Though that has happened to some degree, it is division within South Africa’s black communities that has resulted in the shedding of most blood. The events in Johannesburg and other South African cities over the past week are only too reminiscent of the condition into which so many African nations have descended since gaining their independence.

There is a solution to the seemingly insoluble problems faced not only by South Africa, but by the mass of humankind. That solution is revealed in our free book The Incredible Human Potential. You need your own copy of that book. You need to read it, study it, and gain an understanding of the only true hope for the future of all races of mankind.