Monday, March 16, 2015

End the Division

It took Getachew Eriro four months to make his way from Ethiopia to a South African township and open a little shop selling bread, sweets and canned fish. It took just a few minutes to lose it all when a mob of more than 50 residents broke in two months ago, ripping through the roof to steal his stock and trash the store. He says it was because he’s an immigrant. Eriro hitchhiked most of the 5,433-kilometer (3,376-mile) distance from his village near the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to Johannesburg. He fled his home country in 2009, concerned for what he said was his safety after supporting an opposition movement to Ethiopia’s ruling party. As the eldest of seven children, Eriro was charged with earning income to send back home. He chose to settle in Johannesburg because he had distant cousins there who said they would help give him a head start. Opening a business wasn’t too hard: No formal registration or licensing is required to operate a convenience store, known as a spaza, from a home. And spazas enjoy support in the community. Eriro lost all his clothes and personal possessions in the attack, including photographs and immigration papers. He won’t be able to send any money home until he repays a 30,000 rand ($2,536) loan he got from a friend to restock his shop and replace three refrigerators that were stolen. With debt to repay, Eriro said his only option is to keep his business open despite the hostile environment.

South Africa is in the midst of anti- immigrant violence. The violence reflects South Africa’s failure to live up to the ideals of a constitution admired around the world for protecting those rights and to provide hope for a better economic future for its citizens. It’s a tragic turn of events for a country whose 21-year- old democracy was created to uphold equal treatment for all, regardless of race or background.

Roland Henwood, a political science lecturer at the University of Pretoria explains: “Many people are so destitute and marginalized that they cannot see themselves achieving and making use of the opportunities. Therefore they prevent others from gaining that kind of advantage.” 

In overcrowded, poverty-stricken townships, competition for resources is high. Many residents survive on a monthly state welfare grant of 330 rand for children this year up to the age of 18 or 1,410 rand for pensioners. While the official national jobless rate is 24 percent, it stands at 35 percent if people who’ve given up looking for work are included.

Soko, 30, a resident of Snake Park for 10 years said “I think people are driving their own interests against foreigners, and not necessarily for the betterment of the community here.”

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