haunted by these thugs

It has been some time since I've seen my favourite car guard stationed at The Glen shopping centre in southern Johannesburg.

It has been some time since I've seen my favourite car guard stationed at The Glen shopping centre in southern Johannesburg.

Speaking of the south, when I moved to Johannesburg from Cape Town in 1999, I settled in the south. I was attracted by the area's rolling hills. Another attraction was the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve - which I still have to visit.

Most importantly, it was the affordable rental that convinced my wife and me that this was the best area to settle in.

There are of course snide remarks about my not living in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

I remember meeting a former schoolmate at a function in Sandton. He asked me if I was still based in Cape Town. I told him I had moved to Johannesburg and was living in Winchester Hills.

"Where is that?" he asked.

"It is in the south of Johannesburg," I answered.

"Oh, so you are still gonna move to Johannesburg," he said.

But back to my favourite car guard "Ntate" - that's what everybody calls him because that's how he addresses them. When I saw him on Tuesday, I suggested to him that after not having seen him for a while I'd assumed he'd returned home to Cameroon.

"No Ntate, I am around ... me I am not going anywhere ... I am a Zulu," he quipped.

His quip reminded me of the recent xenophobic attacks and how some of the victims continue to bear the consequences.

What also came to my mind was the chilling story reported by theSunday Times last Sunday about some youths from the Ramaphosa informal settlement.

These youths had brazenly told the newspaper that they were running a campaign to rid their community of foreigners.

Their modus operandi is to raid shebeens where they test the patrons' knowledge of a local language by asking them to identify an elbow in Zulu - indololwane.

Remembering the story brought back the reality of Ntate's quip about him being a Zulu.

What the quip means is that Ntate is a survivor who has adapted to the precarious situation that African foreigners find themselves in this country.

In telling their story the youths revealed that "woe unto any of the patrons in the raided shebeens who fail the test" because their fate could even mean death.

To some, their acts confirm the anger that the poor and unemployed have against foreigners, whom they accuse of taking their jobs and gain illegal access to services like housing.

It is common cause that the government - especially President Thabo Mbeki - rejects this notion. They claim the attacks on foreigners and some South Africans were acts by criminals who are taking advantage of the dire economic situation in the country.

I am no psychoanalyst but I have seen xenophobia developing in countries that are going through political and economic transformation.

Many of the exiled ANC members lived and studied in Russia in the 1980s. They can confirm that there were hardly any racial attacks then.

But about three years ago I went to Moscow and the first thing we were warned about was that we must watch out for racial attacks by some Russian skinheads.

Russia was going through some political and economic transformation, exposing some of its citizens - who had been cushioned by a state-controlled economy - to the challenges of a competitive, and more market-driven economy.

The same happened in Germany after merging former socialist east Germany and capitalist west Germany. The merging led to an influx of immigrants - including those of non-European descent - and we saw a rise in xenophobic attacks.

As for the young men of the Ramaphosa informal settlement, their actions must be seen as a cry for attention. Raiding shebeens and attacking foreigners is an act that affords them some kind of recognition. For once in their miserable, insignificant, poor and unemployed lives they are in charge.

Part of the solution will be to allow these young men control of their lives by giving them jobs and involving them in positive community development projects.