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'The poor are becoming impatient'
Carol Hills | Johannesburg, South Africa
29 May 2008 07:24
The border between South Africa and Zimbabwe should be "comprehensively" abolished, Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn told academics at the University of the Witwatersrand on Wednesday.
"In exactly the same way we pulled down the fences in 1994 and found that instead of restricting, it enabled. Instead of closing the economy, it opened up much wider trust in the economy," Verryn told a colloquium on violence and xenophobia.
He said foundation for what had gone wrong lay in the labelling of vulnerable people as "illegal aliens" and their criminalisation.
He pointed out that the xenophobic attacks were not on the rich Zimbabweans, but the poor Zimbabweans, "the ones in the shacks, the ones in the streets ...".
The attacks were a warning to the community about what it did with its resources, said Verryn.
"Resources in this country belong to the entire nation and need to be shared in a way that ensures that every human being knows that they are of value and they have human dignity that cannot be alienated from them.
"And so you have this phenomenon [xenophobia] having wind in our community because the poor are becoming recklessly impatient."
While the first xenophobic attack he experienced was in Braamfontein three years ago, the government had known of the problem for at least four years.
Each and every South African had to "scrutinise profoundly" the attitude that "breeds such vicious violence", said Verryn.
The system of values at play was inconsistent with the country's Constitution, many of whose words, he believed, were "written from personal experience of alienation in your motherland, of humiliation by people over and over again".
Other academics speaking at the meeting said inequality was at the heart of the xenophobia sweeping the country.
The government claimed to have done more to address poverty since 1994 than any other developing country and indeed had, said economics Professor Stephen Gelb
"Poverty and inequality are not the same thing and cannot be treated by politicians as if they are," he said.
The problem of poverty was extremely deep and intractable.
"The problem of inequality is equally deep and intractable."
While it was clear that the government had addressed poverty, it was "equally clear inequality has not been addressed at all".
Inequality was "extreme" and had actually worsened since 1994, Gelb pointed out.
Inequality could only be addressed by the transfer and building of assets such as education, skills, land and houses.
Only asset ownership would persuade people they had prospects and hope for the future.
"The government hasn't succeeded at all in asset building and transfer."