As a member of a minority (I’m a South African of Chinese descent), my ears naturally tend to prick up when the term Xenophobia gets bandied about.
Rioters on the move in Alexandra Township
Reports from local newspapers claim 16 000 people have been displaced. I don’t know about you, but in my book, that qualifies as a state of emergency.
Its time to pull out one of my favorite conflict analysis tools. I find this tool particularly useful, and its usually the first analytical process that I teach in my workshops. And today I’m going to show you how to apply it to a topical issue.
Johan Galtung’s Conflict Triangle
I like this tool because it allows anyone to rapidly deconstruct a conflict and arrange incoming data in a more meaningful way.
The three points of the triangle represent 3 factors which need to be considered when analyzing a conflict, namely:
Note the horizontal line bisecting the triangle. When analyzing a conflict it is important to separate behaviors from attitudes and the context. Together, the attitudes and context form a latent sublayer of wants and needs.
It is interesting to note that the BEHAVIORS observed are not the actual CAUSES of the conflict. Just as a sore throat; loss of balance and nausea are “symptoms” of a more serious middle ear infection, so are those behaviors are “symptoms” of a far deeper, more wide ranging set of un/mis-addressed issues.
So let start by thinking about the observed behaviors witnessed over the past few days:
i) Acts of extreme violence (rape; murder; assault and looting);
ii) An increase in police presence (an now a military presence);
iii) An escalation in the incidence of violence;
iv) Displacement of refugees/foreign nationals/certain minority groups.
Let us now delve deeper, into the underlying latent subtext, namely attitudes and context.
Attitudes held by rioters:
i) Foreigners are the cause of crime;
ii) Foreigners are taking jobs meant for South Africans;
Factors making up the context of the conflict situation:
i) Rising oil and food prices;
ii) High levels of unemployment in South Africa;
iii) Rising levels of crime and violence;
iv) Lack of service delivery (i.e. poor sanitation; non-functioning services).
Human beings are hardwired to look for patterns; correlations and relationships especially in situations which are beyond their understanding. Thus human beings will look for convenient “scapegoats” on which to vent their rage. In this case the scapegoats are foreign minorities.
What this says to me as a conflict management expert, is that there are still many unresolved issues still lingering from the Apartheid era. Issues of deep rooted social conflict brought about (partly) by the inability of our present government to meet those needs. It is important to realize that the current wave of violence is SOCIAL in nature, and not POLITICAL.
Government lacks the capacity to deal effectively with these issues.
Note that I said “Lacking in Capacity” and not “Lacking in Money”. Also note that I said that they are unable to deal with these issues effectively. I did NOT say that they are lazy or lacking in funds.
Despite our shortcomings as a nation, most echelons of Government are trying hard to be effective within their respective portfolios. And they are given huge budgets with which to initiate projects to improve the status quo. Its simply a lack of capacity which leads poor execution; and ultimately to the poor effectiveness of the most well-intentioned of projects.
On a final note: A recent study by Synovate revealed that 1 in 5 South Africans plan to emigrate or are seriously considering it. The study stated that the option to emigrate was most popular around the 18-44 year mark. Quite dangerous as this represents your most economically active strata of the population.
A common underlying thread linking these xenophobic attacks and wave of emigration could be a loss of identity. As a second generation South African Chinese person, I find it difficult (if not outright impossible) to relate to the man on top (Our president). But the same could be said of countless other South Africans of any skin color.
Xenophobic attacks can also be viewed as satisfying a desperate need for renewing or re-establishing a group identity. The old “us” versus “them” mindset. There is a definite element of anonymity with regards to group violence. In most cases those who participate in mob violence do so with the certain knowledge that they are in essence invulnerable and will not be held accountable for their actions.
On a deep level, this represents a desperate need to gain control over factors which have left many feeling powerless.
Nevertheless while such behaviors can be observed, analyzed and interpreted, in no way can any rational and sane human being condone the brutality visited upon innocent people seeking a better life.