One of the most amazing things about South Africa is just how multi-cultural it is. And I'm not just talking about the mixture of white and black and colored and indian people. When we talk to people on the streets we run into people from all over Africa. There are people from Ghana, DRC, Malawi, Namibia, and every other country you can name.
The saddest is the people from Zimbabwe. Zim (as they call it here in the papers) borders on South Africa and as Mugabe has systematically destroyed the country it has caused somewhat of a refuge crisis here. The cholera epidemic that has started with the rainy season, combined with the complete collapse of the Zimbabwe economy, has caused straving, sick refugees to flood across the borders. To their credit the South African government is trying their best to help them, although on an individual level life for the refugees is very hard.
The situation for Zimbabweans in South Africa is similar to that of imigrants all over the world. They are desperate and poor and therefor they are willing to do work that local people don't want to do, for salaries that local people wouldn't want to be paid. The result is that local people resent them and accuse them of stealing jobs. In South Africa this got to the point where imigrants were being burned alive on the streets in anti-immigration riots. I talked to one man who sells things to tourists down the road from here who said that he had lived in a township for years when the riots started and he had to flee when the local people came to burn down his house. He was lucky that he had savings in a bank and most of his supplies in storage but he says many of his friends lost everything they owned.
There can be little doubt now that there will be a tradgedy of enormous proportion in Zimbabwe this coming year. The economy has completely collapsed with the value of the currency falling by 50% every two hours last week. There is no food production, the water supply is contaminated with cholera, and the government has ceased to function. Solidiers were running rampant on the streets last week because they hadn't been paid and were trying to steal their salaries. Mugabe had a bunch of people randomly executed to restore order but it is unlikely to last as more people starve and die.
Much of the blame for the situation in Zimbabwe rests squarely on the shoulders of the South African government (the ANC). Sure, Mugabe is an evil bastard, but it is the ANC that has actively worked to keep him in power all these years. Every time Mugabe steals an election the ANC hails him as a great democrat and an example for Africa. Every time people attempt to bring Mugabe to justice or suggest pressuring him to leave, the ANC blocks the action and says they will stand by him. Post-apartheid South Africa had a strong start as a moderate country and a voice of freedom around the world. It is a real shame that only 15 years later these principles have been so completely forgotten that the ANC is willing to let millions of Zimbabweans continue to suffer.