Cry, South Africa

Israelis are keenly interested in what goes on in South Africa because it is hard to imagine the continent thriving without Pretoria leading the way.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
English-speaking Israelis cannot easily ignore the media images of brutality and plunder in South Africa. For those born there, they are graphic manifestations of the culture of violence that has lately engulfed the post-apartheid society. For Israelis of South African heritage especially, the scenes of mobs rampaging through the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town, beating, killing and wreaking general havoc, cannot but evoke great pain. The local Jewish community (about 100,000) is doing all it can to aid the victims. In Johannesburg, for instance, it is sending them blankets, provisions and food while attempting to keep them secure in the churches where they have sought sanctuary. The overriding majority of South African Jews abhorred apartheid, and many played an active role in opposing it. They welcomed the new pluralistic democracy and trusted in the promise of an African renaissance. Yet for many, the higher the hopes, the greater the ensuing disillusionment. Evidence that South Africa is becoming a dysfunctional state is now undeniable. Crime rates are spiraling and seemingly out of control. Many citizens have lost their sense of personal security. Law enforcement is mistrusted. The AIDS epidemic has gone virtually unchecked. Triggered by all these, the country is suffering a marked brain drain. And yet despite this dismal picture, South Africa remains one of the more prosperous states on the African continent, a regional power and a magnet for economic migrants from countries like Nigeria as well as for refugees from failed states such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe. AS ISRAEL - located at the crossroads between Africa and Asia - has discovered in recent years, the impetus to leave the sub-Sahara's failed states is powerful; though, of course, the increasing infiltrations of illegal migrants arriving at Israel's border with Egypt cannot compare in scope with what has happened in South Africa. There, asylum-seekers, especially from Zimbabwe, have tended to be better educated and more skilled than many of South Africa's own citizens, notably those who subsist in squatter camps outside urban centers. The local poor accuse the newcomers of taking away their jobs, housing, even their women. The result has been a spontaneous outburst of xenophobia that has so far taken over 56 lives and seen 650 injured and perhaps 80,000 people displaced. No one knows how many have been traumatized. AFTER MORE than two weeks of rioting, on Sunday President Thabo Mbeki belatedly remembered to condemn the onslaught against foreigners as "an absolute disgrace." And indeed, the shame, especially for a country that gloried in overthrowing oppression, cannot be exaggerated. The recent violence only adds to South Africa's other travails, including its ineffectual public services, a 30% unemployment rate, erratic supply of electricity and an unnecessarily high infant mortality rate. Mbeki became notorious worldwide for his assertion that HIV and AIDS were unconnected. Now, by propping up Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe, he has inadvertently helped bring South Africa's streets to a boiling point . Mugabe's wanton destruction of Zimbabwe's economy and his reign of terror sent perhaps 3,000,000 of his frightened subjects fleeing into neighboring South Africa. And, by helping facilitate despotism in Harare, by tolerating injustice and appeasing political terror, the leadership in Pretoria imported Zimbabwe's troubles into its cities. The vast majority of asylum-seekers aren't there by choice. Some, suspected by Mugabe of supporting his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, were "cleansed." South Africa, out of a misguided sense of "anti-colonial" solidarity, was loath to stop Mugabe, much less denounce him - even after Tsvangirai's seeming victory in the March election and Mugabe's refusal to allow publication of the official results. If any good can come out of this tragedy, it would be for the South African leadership to engage in some serious soul-searching. First, Pretoria might want to publicly acknowledge its dishonorable record vis-a-vis Zimbabwe, and then put its political weight behind ensuring a truly clean electoral run-off there. Israelis are keenly interested in what goes on in South Africa because it is hard to imagine the continent thriving without Pretoria leading the way. We pray for the latest wounds to be healed, and for a country with such immense potential to finally fulfill it.