PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

The tourism industry suffers: What can be done?

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

THE Chief Executive Officer of Tata International, Noel Tata, expressed his frustration about South Africa’s immigration laws not long ago. They have made it quite problematic for Tata employees to travel to South Africa. He said that the company had to wait up to six months to obtain a visa or work permit if it needed to send highly skilled employees to South Africa.

Tata had voiced the pain felt by many international private and business travelers on South Africa’s immigration laws.

We saw the new statistics again on tourism last week, released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA). Unsurprisingly, they were dispiriting. It’s crystal clear that with the new immigration laws in full force, our tourism industry has been hammered.

Stats SA figures compared the number of foreigners entering the country in May and June this year with those in June last year. The data showed a drop of 9% of international visitors year on year. Our major market, China, declined the most again, 28% year on year.

This was another evidence of the ruinous impact these laws have imposed on the tourism industry. Grant Thornton estimates these stringent laws could cost the country more than R40 billion. Thousands of jobs could be lost as tourists become scarce.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

At least most of us can see now that our economy continues to suffer – that something needs to be done to reverse this catastrophic trend. In my previous piece here at Ineng, I wrote that these laws should be repealed. We need to think of the quick and efficient visa application process that will encourage tourists around the world to choose South Africa.

The South African government has acknowledged that there is a need for e-visa. E-visa would simplify and speed up the visa application process. In a vast country like China, people would not have to travel long distances to apply for a visa in person. They could do it in their homes via the internet.

It is an idea that the former Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, embraced three years ago. Other countries such as the United States of America, Australia, Bahrain, India and Turkey already have e-visa. This would be one of the effective ways to grow the tourism industry.

What we also need to do is to grant visa-free access to most of our neighboring countries in Africa. This would certainly encourage others in the Sub-Saharan to grant visa-free access to their territories. African countries need to trade with one another to bolster their burgeoning economies – and the ease of travel in the continent would make a great positive impact.

Entrepreneurs in Public Policy recommends that the private companies “be allowed to assist investors with business and corporate visas that do not require biometric validation. By doing so, entrepreneurs will continue to source private investors and group tour bookings to help facilitate both foreign direct investment and tourism.” This is a fantastic idea – that will not only encourage foreigners to travel to the country, but will also boost entrepreneurship – which is what our country needs.

These are some of the things our government should do to grow this thriving sector and boost our economy. The rand has tumbled over the past months against the US dollar; to its lowest levels in 14 years. Such downswings in our currency could be beneficial to our tourism industry, if we have laws that make it easy for foreigners to come to South Africa and spend their money on cheap goods and services.

Given the fact that South Africa’s economy continues to be lackluster with disappointing economic growth, it is a matter of urgency that our government implements policies that lure tourists from all corners of the world.

The tourism industry has potential.  We just need choose policies that fuel its growth, over the medium and long term.

It is Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Home Affairs who, bizarrely, still defends these immigration laws. We all wonder what’s in it for him that he’s gone this far in defense of these laws.

The concern over child-trafficking is justified. Human trafficking worries the entire world. Countries are urged to fight against it. And what the South African government should do is to strengthen the police. The police must be effective in its methods to detect human traffickers, and resist taking bribes.

And Minister Gigaba should acknowledge the crisis the industry is confined in. That, in a way, will give us momentum to find the way forward. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

Thomas Piketty comes to South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

THE FAMOUS French economist, and author of the bestseller, Capital In The 21st Century, Thomas Piketty, is expected to arrive in South Africa this week. He will deliver the 13th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the University of Johannesburg on the 3rd of October.

Piketty comes here at a time when the entire world is obsessed with income inequality – which is his area of expertise. Politicians, academics, the media, ordinary citizens, all lament the current high-levels of income inequality. Many of them claim it is one of the causes of social upheavals we hear about and see every day.

Piketty’s talk on income inequality will resonate with many. South Africa has one of the highest income inequalities in the world. Currently, the nation’s Gini coefficient, which measures income distribution (with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality), stands at 0.65; in contrast to America’s 0.45, China’s 0.47 and Brazil’s 0.53.

Most people are bothered by these statistics; and as a result, they now call for the reformation of the free-enterprise system. They are disgruntled by greedy CEOs and the top 1 percent who, in their view, take all the income gains at the expense of the middle class.

In the United States, the notion that the middle class is declining has gained traction. Those parroting this false rhetoric refer to declining household incomes and wages as indicators that the capitalist system has benefitted only a few, the top one percent.

But these people should do themselves a favor – they must stop for a few minutes and think.

In his well-written and intelligent piece, titled ‘The myth of wage stagnation’, published by CNBC last year, Daniel J. Smith, an assistant professor of economics at the Johnson Center at Troy University, argues the claim that incomes are stagnant is “wrought with holes and erroneous interpretation of the data available”.

Looking at just average hourly wages in the United States, adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), shows that earnings increased only 5.58% since 1964. But, this statistic and others like it, are misleading because they do not factor in the new forms of growing employee compensation, and they overstate the erosion of purchasing power. “Once these contributions are taken into account, a much more clear — and positive — picture of the average incomes surfaces”, he writes.

When you look at total compensation – which is your salary, plus benefits such as healthcare, paid vacation time, hour flexibility, improved work environments and even daycare, you come to a conclusion that actually, earnings have increased more than 45% since 1964, not by 5.58%.

But to people like Piketty and his followers, this sensible interpretation of statistics doesn’t mean anything. Logic and common sense doesn’t mean much to them.

It’s not only Daniel J. Smith who has written about this ignorance by people like Thomas Piketty. Thomas Sowell, the legendary American economist, has written a lot about income inequality.

In his column, ‘That top one percent’, Sowell contends the top 1% is an income bracket, it’s not people. Americans in the top 1% in a given year are not there permanently. I may be in the top 1% this year; but it’s quite likely I won’t be in the top 1% next year. People’s incomes fluctuate overtime.

Yet these top 1% people are written and spoken about as if they are an enduring class. How irrational.

Also, people with this obsession ignore the fact that age is a factor on income inequality. It takes years to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to have a high-paying job. People older than sixty years will have higher incomes than those in their twenties; because they have worked longer, have experience, and accumulated a lot of money during their working years. Is the relationship between age and income that difficult to understand?

Here in South Africa, like in the United States, this obsession over income inequality persists. People don’t even give themselves time to think about this; they hear rhetoric and they run with it.

It will take a long time for South Africans to reduce income inequality; because, twenty-one years after the end of apartheid, millions of people remain unskilled with minimal education. And all these points I have discussed above on income are relevant to South Africa.

The great news is this: In a new democratic South Africa, significant economic strides have been made. As Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation South Africa explains in one of his writings, the once ostracized and repressed Black communities have made remarkable economic progress.

To speed up this progress, South Africans should fix their education, open up and deregulate markets to create employment opportunities. People will need skills, jobs, experience, to climb the income ladder. Those who argue we should take a portion of A’s income and give it to B are totally wrong. That is not the solution – that approach will violate human rights.

Thomas Piketty will speak at a time when many South Africans move far to the left. Government’s interventionist policies in the economy, over the past seven years, have been astounding.

I think that his senseless and illogical message, will resonate with most people, who themselves don’t believe in sanity.

I tweeted days ago that I wish this French economist would speak about how we should address poverty, not income inequality. Because that’s what bothers me – millions in this country are jobless and live in poverty. And income inequality has nothing to do with poverty. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

South Africa and the Economic Freedom of the World Report 2015

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

EVERY year, the Fraser Institute, a free-market think-tank based in Canada, publishes the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) Report. The report “measures the extent to which individuals within a particular country enjoy the liberty to produce, exchange, and interact with one another with minimal interference from governments.”, according to Richard J Grant, a professor of finance and economics at Lipscomb University.

Free-marketeers believe the report vindicates their view that free-markets work – that they result in individual prosperity. I too, as a pro-market South African policy analyst, view this report as evidence that only free markets will save our world.

There are many though, who disagree with us, but they object to our opinions without any credible, sensible facts to support their rejection of a free-market system.

This report, in my opinion, ought to guide politicians on what kind of policies they should pursue in order to speedily grow economies. Because at the moment, most governments around the world, choose policies that are anti-market and culminate in repression of personal freedoms.

The South African government makes these wrong choices too; and, as a result, its ranking on the EFW continues to decline. This year, it declined to an overall rating of 6.74 (out of 10). Relative to other countries, it has dropped to 96th in the economic freedom index.

These statistics aren’t startling. Because we continue to see the government interfering in the economy and its size expanding, at a huge cost to taxpayers. These interventions, have produced one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. The hard-hit are the youth, who account for more than half of the unemployed.

Meanwhile, other African countries such as Mauritius and Rwanda have improved, and continue to improve their rankings in the economic freedom index. Hence there were no surprises when I read about Mauritius’ pro-market policies in the Financial Mail days ago.

Mauritius’ corporate tax rate is just 15%, in contrast to South Africa’s 28%. It’s the best place to do business in Africa, according to the World Bank. There are no restrictions on the movement of capital. There’s no capital gains tax, donations tax or hereditary tax.

Based on these tax statistics, there is no doubt that if Mauritius continues with these pro-market policies, foreign direct investment will flow in to the country, more and more jobs will be created, and Mauritians will prosper.

South Africa needs to do the same – pursue pro-market policies to grow the economy.

But under President Jacob Zuma, it’s clear this will not happen. His government has continued its interventionist economic policies that have caused serious harm to our economy.

He does so when countries that were poor just 65 years ago, Hong Kong and Singapore, continue to hold on to their number one and number two spots in the economic freedom index. They are also among the richest in the world. While those that rank at the bottom of the index are amongst the poorest. This, is evidence that free-markets work.

The Independent Entrepreneurship Group (Ineng) will also launch the report in Cape Town this weekend, Saturday the 19th. The event will be at Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Pinnacle Building, 18th floor, Cnr Burg and Castle Road, at 11:00 AM. Our Director at Free Market Foundation, Themba Nolutshungu, will be the speaker.

By launching this report and assessing South Africa’s ranking on the economic freedom index, we hope South Africans, the government officials, the media, academics, and ordinary citizens, will hear our lone voice – that calls for the lifting of controls on the economy. Because we believe it is the only way we will surmount the socioeconomic challenges we face.

We thank all those who attended the launch of the report at Free Market Foundation. I hope those living in Cape Town will attend another launch at Ineng this Saturday. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

President Zuma, we need a multipolar approach to foreign policy

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

THIS week, I was again disappointed to see President Jacob Zuma doing what he’s famous for – tarnishing our image around the world. There are many others who were disappointed too. Not only in South Africa, but also around the world.

The President was invited by the Chinese government to commemorate World War II victory over Japan. President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations, and Vladimir Putin of Russia were also there.

There was nothing wrong about attending the military extravaganza. What frustrated many of us was President Zuma’s meeting with al-Bashir on sidelines of the occasion.

The two spoke of the need to strengthen the relations between the two governments. And Zuma promised to visit Sudan in future.

Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the alleged crimes against humanity in his native Sudan. Even though the arrest warrant was issued in 2009, between then and today, Al-Bashir has travelled freely across the African continent. None of the African countries have held him accountable for the alleged genocidal deeds.

Months ago, he was here in South Africa to attend the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. The Pretoria High Court issued an order barring him from leaving the country pending an application for his arrest. But the President Zuma’s government defied the order and whisked him away before the Judge made the decision on whether to arrest al-Bashir.

Just months after flouting the law and defying the judiciary, the President, the head of the state, sees it appropriate to meet al-Bashir and discuss ways to strengthen the relations between the two governments. I find this reprehensible.

Mmusi Maimane of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is correct when he says “I believe that it’s an injustice to the people of Sudan but furthermore it is an insult to our courts that he [Zuma] is able to now build this relationship with Omar al-Bashir.” This is, really an insult to our courts, and it’s also an injustice to victims of al-Bashir.

All this happens amid significant mutations to South Africa’s foreign policy by the President and his ruling party, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC). They have chosen to become pro—China, and for worse, anti-West.

Of course we do have to work with China. Every country in the world has to work with China. The United States of America is working with China.

The Chinese are the world’s next superpower, the engine of global economic growth, the world’s second largest economy, the world’s most populated nation, and account for more than 15% of global gross domestic product. Its burgeoning global political power becomes more and more visible. So we all have to work with them.

But our trade ties with China and other nations in the East, should not be at the expense of our relationship with the West. Frans Cronje of the Institute of Race Relations says “What South Africa needs is a multipolar approach to foreign policy – as is the case for the majority of other emerging markets. Instead what we are getting is an unnecessary re-run of the Cold War with policy that is unflinchingly pro-Russia and China but vociferously anti-Western.” That is absolutely correct, what is in our interest and what we’ll be beneficial to us as a nation is multipolar approach to foreign policy.

I think President Jacob Zuma should have learned from the gigantic Nelson Mandela on foreign policy.

Mandela managed to work with the Western world, while his cordial relations with Gaddaffis, Arafats and Castros of the world, remained intact. All these people were believed to be adversaries of the West, but Mandela managed to find his way through and did what was in the interest of his country. President Zuma ought to take a similar approach.

We South Africans face a myriad of challenges – the moribund economy, poverty, racial tensions, xenophobia, staggering unemployment, corruption. We can’t afford to taint our image by duck-hunting with al-Bashirs of the world. We need to retain the positive image in order to attract foreign direct investment.

And if we continue the hostility aimed at the West, we’ll be making a terrible blunder. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

We need the Free Market Foundation South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

I WAS elected a member of the Board of Non-Executive Directors at Free Market Foundation South Africa (FMF) this week. It’s an honor to serve one of Africa’s very reputable think-tanks – one that contributed immensely in the fight against apartheid, and, in advancing liberty in South Africa over the past forty years.

The FMF was founded in 1975. Its mission, ever since, has been “to promote and foster an open society, the rule of law, personal liberty, and economic and press freedom as fundamental components of its advocacy of human rights and democracy based on classical liberal principles” in South Africa.

The existence of this foundation is a blessing for our young, sometimes dysfunctional democracy. It contributed a great deal to South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution. Its hard work resulted in a constitution that, though with imperfections, recognizes the significance of private property rights.

But I will not bore you with the history of the FMF – which I have very limited knowledge of. If you want to learn more about this famous institution, visit our website: www.freemarketfoundation.com.

I will rather take this opportunity to point out a few things that I think South Africans should be cognizant of.

Firstly, we live in tough times –where liberty is under threat. The political elite desperately seeks power. They use every technique to deny us our freedom. They pass laws often, in order to repress our liberties.

So we are in a time where the Free Market Foundation is more needed. They, along with the South African Institute of Race Relations have devoted themselves to the cause that will save South Africa’s future. And I’m glad to be part of this cause. I want to be part of this cause.

Secondly, our economy is headed in the wrong direction, because the political elite’s mission, it seems, is to control all the activities that you and I engage in in the market. The size of government is ever-expanding. Every time President Jacob Zuma stands at the podium to address the nation, he announces committees and commissions that cost taxpayers billions of rands.

The FMF’s mission is to call for the renunciation of the policies that constrain the markets, and the reduction of the size of the state. This is the only way we can revive our economy, create the needed jobs, while we guaranty liberty to our citizens.

At Free Market Foundation we have numerous projects we are currently committed to, and that we hope will make this country a better place. The two most important ones at the moment, at least in my opinion, are the Labor Law Challenge, spearheaded by Herman Mashaba, and the Khaya Lami Project.

It was in March 2013 when we launched the Labor Law Challenge. We are challenging section 32 (2) of the Labour Relations Act (LRA 1995).

Basically, under section 32 (2), the minister of labor “must” extend bargaining councils agreements (be it on conditions of employment or wages) to non-parties. Most parties in bargaining councils are big businesses, whose decisions have a huge impact on small businesses.

We want one word changed in section 32 (2), and that is “must” to “may”. Changing this one word will allow the minister to apply his thinking on the impact the bargaining councils agreements will have on small businesses and those desperate for employment. Big businesses should not decide the fate of small businesses. It’s unfair.

Changing section 32 (2) will result in survival of many small businesses that suffer and shutdown due to the fact that bargaining councils agreements are forced upon them, and to creation of jobs for the unemployed. We need your support as we battle trade unions who oppose our constitutional challenge.

The Khaya Lami project is also a very important initiative. The project’s aim, as we explain on our website, is “to convert all municipal council-­owned apartheid-era rental houses into freehold and freely tradable properties with title deeds issued to the registered occupants, many of whom have lived in them for decades under a form of “house arrest””. Millions of these council rental houses are owned by municipalities.

We urge South Africans to donate to this project. We just need R1 850.00 to covert each property. This amount covers conveyancing costs, administration and supervision cost. Donate, and help to bring about economic and social upliftment in South Africa.

Here are other initiatives we have devoted ourselves to in order to make South Africa one of the prosperous countries in the world:

  • Luminary Awards – The FMF recognizes unique individuals who inspire others in a particular sphere of life.
  • Civil liberties – We’re arguably the most active defender of civil liberties in the country.
  • Weekly Business Day column – Our Executive Director, Leon Louw writes this column, and it has become the first item that many Business Day subscribers read every morning.
  • Website and social media – We are on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Please do follow our work.
  • Free Market Foundation Youth – The FMF Youth seeks to advance the cause of liberty by persuading young people toward an understanding of and appreciation of the benefits of the free market. I spearhead this division.
  • Energy Policy Unit (EPU) – The EPU is composed of energy experts and FMF Executive members who are seeking market solutions to the current energy crisis
  • Finance Policy Unit (FPU) – This unit has been established to monitor regulations and their effects on consumers, especially low-income consumers.
  • Health Policy Unit – Our Director, Jasson Urbach, represents the foundation on matters relating to health care.

We are doing all we can to make South Africa a much better place. Please support us on this very long journey to freedom.

The FMF is an organization rich with history. And all South Africans should be grateful of its existence and its contribution to the well-being of our society. We need this foundation.

I personally am honored to join its Board of Non-Executive Directors, and look forward to advancing human freedom in Africa and around the world. But we need your support in steering South Africa in the right direction. Help us make a difference. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

The solution to Eskom is clear

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

OUR directors at the Free Market Foundation South Africa have written extensively about what ought to be solutions to South Africa’s troubled state-owned electricity producer, Eskom.

They have argued the only way to curb power outages is to liberalize South Africa’s power industry – to privatize Eskom and open up the market to encourage competition. I think that’d work.

The only reason why Eskom is mired in a crisis – that’s crippling our economy – is because it is owned by government.

Government exists because we taxpayers finance it – with no terms and conditions attached. Our money is taken away by force.

The portion of this money we are forced to pay also finances Eskom. So when this parastatal falters, we pay to pull it out of its mess.

The objective of the company isn’t to make profit – which is the reason why it’s been mismanaged. And now, it can no longer meet South Africa’s ever-rising electricity demand.

If you eliminate the profit motive in any business, you are eliminating the incentive for the owners to efficiently manage their business. This is what government has done with Eskom. It has guaranteed to write it a cheque no matter the mess it finds itself in. As a result, there’s no incentive for those in charge to get their act together, they have nothing to lose.

This special treatment has created an inefficient monopoly that fails to provide electricity. What’s made things worse is that the government has created barriers to entry – which has made it very difficult for independent power producers to enter the market. Consumers have been denied exposure to the market – where they may choose to whom they buy electricity.

In one of his columns for Business Day, our Executive Director at Free Market Foundation South Africa, Leon Louw, wrote “Eskom is a victim of bad policies and absurd expectations. Basic arithmetic makes it clear that Eskom alone cannot, with whatever subsidies the government can provide, supply enough electricity for prosperity. Only private investors in a deregulated market can do so.” He was correct.

Even though it is clear that government mismanages Eskom, many, including the South African Communist Party and the Congress of the South African Trade Unions, think that the company shouldn’t be privatized – in other words it should still remain in the hands of the political elite. They reason, if privatized, prices will rise and this will make life difficult for the poor.

But the rise in prices won’t be new. As Pierre Heistein of the University of Cape Town wrote in August 2014, “Eskom itself has sought tariff increases of more than 8 percent. Last week the National Energy Regulator of SA granted permission for the power utility to raise its tariffs by between 3 percent and 8 percent next year.”

And again early this week, hearings into a request for an additional tariff were held in Johannesburg. Eskom has requested a 9.58% tariff hike. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) is expected to make a decision by the end of this month whether to grant the company’s plea.

So those who argue that prices will rise if Eskom is privatized forget that prices are rising anyway, even though the company is owned by the state.

Liberalizing the electricity industry and privatizing Eskom is the solution to the power crisis we endure every day. It’s not the R23 billion injection announced by President Jacob Zuma early this year. Privatization and opening up the market will improve the service as independent power producers will be competing for consumers.

Yes prices will rise as producers need to remain profitable, but at least they will rise along with the improved and efficient service – and market competition will keep them stable. As more and more businesses enter the industry prices will decline.

Of course there are many who will not afford these market prices; but that won’t be a shock, because today as we speak, there are many who can’t afford the prices set by this inefficient monopoly. Life is becoming a misery.

The solution to Eskom’s problems is clear – government must get out of the way. It is the only way we can keep the lights on, and our economy productive. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

Why they don’t call American domestic attacks “terrorism”

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

WHEN Dylann Storm Roof shot to death nine people who gathered this past Wednesday night for a Bible study at a landmark church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in South Carolina (S.C.), United States of America (U.S.), it was an act of terror.

There are some though, who argue that if these violent attacks happen in the United States, as it’s just happened in (S.C.), the media, the academia and politicians, don’t call it “terrorism”. Because the imperialist United States of America sees itself as superior, they argue. They say violence of this kind is only called “terrorism” only if it happens in foreign countries, Africa and the Middle East.

My friend, Ernestas Jancenkas, commented on one of my statuses on Facebook this week. He said:

“Elijah,” replying to one of my friends “didn’t you know, white people do not engage in terrorism? Especially not Americans?” He further said:

“This perception has deep structural reasons rooted in the racist, colonialist discourse. E. Said termed it “orientalism”. Discourse which enables to dehumanize and deride “the Other” goes hand in hand with imperialist and colonialist policy. That way the mindset and the actions follow from each other and strengthen each other enabling the conqueror to reach “material” objectives while upholding a positive image of himself as “the unifier” or “the harbinger of civilization”. At the same time the said discourse helps the conqueror to deal with the subject in a convenient manner. This can be seen throughout history in some form or another.”

I partially agree with Ernestas, but cautiously. Because this I do not think really has to do much with racism and colonialist discourse.

I’d argue that people’s perceptions are mostly influenced by history, their background, their knowledge and the realities of life.

Not long ago, I saw a new security company here in Johannesburg – called Londoloza Protection Group. They usually have public marketing on the roads around Johannesburg. All their security guards were white and wore military fatigues, with huge guns strapped on their chests. Some of these men were tall, with long beards.

You know, the first time I drove past them I thought of Eugene Terreblanche’s Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) – a right wing Afrikaans extremist, racist movement that fought very hard against the end of apartheid in South Africa in early 1990s. The AWB never wanted apartheid to end. Thanks to God they failed in their efforts.

That was the perception that sprung out of my mind when I saw this security company. Why did I have these perceptions about these innocent men? Because of my knowledge on South African history. If I were someone else, I’d probably even fear getting close to them.

When a Muslim man walks on the streets in the United States, with his long outfit and his long beard, people hide their children, thinking he could be affiliated with Taliban or al-Qaeda. He’s searched and questioned by the police.

When I was a student, one of my house mates, an American, called a friend of mine at the time, a terrorist. Why? Because of the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya in 1998, and of course the devastating 2001 September 11 attacks in New York.

Not only because of that, there were many other things as well, that had strained relations between America and the Arab world. Add to that, the daily bombings of innocent lives across the Middle East by men who also wear long outfits, with long beards and call themselves Muslims.

All these had and has created a perception that when you see a Muslim, be vigilant.

Perhaps we may take this further to criminality in the United States. Criminality is, in comparison to other ethnic groups, worst in black communities – statistics show that. Because of this reality, a white person or an Asian walking in the black community fears that he could be mugged or assaulted. Again why this thinking? Because the high rate of crime in black communities has created this perception.

When I asked a lady at work this week to find me a place to stay at Soweto, she said “But why do you want to stay in Soweto? Why do you want to stay in a township?”

In Gauteng, many people fear townships. One guy once said to me that if I want to stay in a township then I must always be prepared for the worst. Why? Again, because there’s a high rate of crime there.

This high rate of crime has, unfortunately, created these perceptions. I could give many more examples to show that these perceptions are created by the realities we face in our world. But I will stop here.

The shooting in South Carolina was a terrorist attack – that I do agree with. Similar to the one that took place in Peshawar, Pakistan, last December –where members of the Taliban stormed into a school and shot more than 100 people, most of whom were children.

But most people around the world won’t really call the shooting in South Carolina a terrorist attack. Terrorist attacks in the West are rare. Yes they do occur, but they have not yet created perceptions to the level that people can overwhelmingly call them “terrorist attacks”.

Terrorism is largely associated with the Middle East and Northern Africa – it is in these regions where terrorist fundamentalists flourish.

This attack does have to do with colonialist racist discourse, but very slightly. In large part, it has to do with the reality that has created wrongful perceptions in people’s minds. That is the core of the problem, and that is what we should talk more about. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI