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South African President Criticized Over Xenophobic Violence


A top official of the South African Institute of Race Relations blames much of the recent violence in the country on what he calls failed policies of the Mbeki government. The violence has left more than 50 foreigners dead. The criticism comes as President Mbeki finishes his final year in office with less political clout, a slowing economy and a weakened currency.

Frans Cronje is deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations. From Johannesburg, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that the Mbeki government’s problems began nine years ago, when it came to power.

“Education. It’s arguable whether the education system under a democratic South African government is any better than that under the apartheid regime. In crime and security, South Africa has a reputation for being a fairly dangerous country and I think we’ve seen a breakdown of the rule of law and of law and order in many poor communities. And a third area is employment. The effective unemployment rate in South Africa is now 40 percent. In many of the areas where we’ve seen conflict over the past two weeks, that rate is closer to 50 percent,” he says.

He accuses the government of ignoring the warning signs and says they were “dismissed as alarmist and sensationalist by the ANC government. I think they made a critical political mistake in that regard in that they’ve been guilty in recent years of misinterpreting their strong electoral support as being an endorsement of their policies success, when in fact they were surviving on their liberation mythology and that much of that liberation capital has now been exhausted.”

Tuesday, South Africa’s safety and security minister said xenophobic violence has been brought under control and that the government has responded in a timely manner. An inter-agency task force has been set up to deal with the problem and brief President Mbeki on its findings. Mr. Mbeki has called the violence an absolute disgrace and said those responsible would be brought to justice. Last week, he deployed troops to quell violence in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Asked whether he foresees an change in policies if ANC president Jacob Zuma (Mbeki’s political rival) survives corruption charges and is elected South African president next year, Cronje says, “We have already seen, I think, a change in policy, a jump to the left effectively, with trade unions and the South African Communist Party playing a far more direct role in policy-making in South Africa. It’s arguable today in South Africa whether President Thabo Mbeki is in fact still running the country. As far as policy-making goes I think that Jacob Zuma and his allies on the left of the African National Congress are directing policy from party headquarters and the government is taking instructions directly from them.”

Cronje says while foreigners have borne the brunt of the recent violence, minority groups in the country have also been attacked. He says there’s no short-term solution or quick fix to the problem; and that a slowdown in economic growth will make it harder for the next government to achieve poverty relief goals.

“We would like to see a fairly radical shift in policy. If we don’t see something like that, I think we’re seeing a government that’s guilty of complacency and a wait-and see-attitude that will probably result in some sort of unrest again at a point in the future,” he says.

He says some radical change is needed in the country’s education system, recommending the reopening of teacher training colleges, the “scrapping” of the new school curriculum, which he says is unfit for a country of South Africa’s development level, and a system by which poor black South Africans are ensured a college education.

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