Wake up, looters: you’re a heartbeat from being a Somali
Those who attack foreigners should realise how close we are to going down the path of Venezuela, Somalia and Zim
Those residents of White City, Soweto, you saw running down the street with looted goods two weeks ago might want to stop and reflect on what their future may look like.
They may not be aware of it, or have even contemplated it, but the path from where they are today (relatively safe and prosperous) to finding themselves in a situation where they are exactly like their Somali and Pakistani and Zimbabwean victims, is very short.
As our compatriots ran amok, killing at least three people, news agency Reuters reported that Brazil was sending armed forces to keep order near its border with Venezuela. Another neighbor, Peru, declared a health emergency as a regional crisis sparked by thousands of Venezuelans fleeing economic collapse escalated.
The exodus of Venezuelans to other South American countries is building toward a “crisis moment” comparable with events involving refugees in the Mediterranean, the United Nations said.
There are close to one million Venezuelans now living in Colombia and more than 400,000 in Peru. The Venezuelans are fleeing economic collapse. They are fleeing their own country to, as their president Nicolas Maduro has said, “clean toilets in other countries”.
Yet Maduro must not lie: those people know that cleaning toilets in other countries is better than living on nothing in their own country.
It shouldn’t be this way. According to Bloomberg, Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia. “Once one of Latin America’s richest countries, it’s now plagued with shortages of everything from toilet paper to antibiotics and food. It’s been a steep downward spiral since the heady days when the late President Hugo Chavez set out to use an oil boom to light a socialist path to prosperity, not just for the poor in Venezuela but across Latin America.”
Chavez died in 2013, about a year before oil prices fell sharply. His protégé and successor, Maduro, has sought to tighten his hold on power as opponents complain of economic mismanagement, corruption and political oppression.
Things are bad in Venezuela right now. People are seeing their wealth disappear into nothing. Here in SA we complain about the sharp spike in the fuel price. Well, imagine if everything became as expensive as the petrol price a million times over in just a matter of days. It means your money is nothing but toilet paper.
That’s what has happened in Venezuela. Inflation is forecast to reach one million percent in 2018. Maduro had lowered the official exchange rate of the currency by 95% – one of history’s greatest devaluations – and redenominated the money by lopping off five zeros.
What went wrong?
It was political mismanagement of the economy. In 1998, Venezuelans were charmed by a former paratrooper who attacked the US and promised a socialist utopia. Chavez nationalised thousands of companies or their assets, reducing the country’s capacity to produce anything but oil. The oil price was fantastic though, so he thought things would be okay forever. With the oil money, instead of investing, he went on a massive social spending spree while giving neighbours cheap oil to make himself a regional player.
It has ended in tears. The oil boom stuttered and came to an end in 2014. Oil revenues account for 95% of Venezuela’s foreign-currency earnings. All that has disappeared. Suddenly, there was very little on supermarket shelves.
It sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia yet the Saudis are thriving while Venezuelans are fleeing their homes and loved ones to “clean toilets” in other countries. It sounds like Zimbabwe, a country with incredible wealth and education. Yet its people are the victims of disgusting xenophobic attacks in SA.
So our compatriots in White City and elsewhere, as they enjoy a plate of pap and relish stolen from their local Somali trader, might want to think twice about the fact that our leaders seem to have taken their eyes off the ball. The rand is taking a beating, meaning that all imported goods will become expensive. We have fallen into a recession, meaning that the economy has stopped growing. There will be no jobs.
South Africans who attack foreigners need to realise just how interconnected the world is. We are a heartbeat away from being a Venezuelan, a Somali or a Zimbabwean.