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Nigerian Militants Drive Up Oil Prices; South Africa Violence

Aired May 23, 2008 - 12:30:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Isha Sesay. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly window to the continent. This week, images reminiscent of apartheid era clashes in South Africa township. But this time, immigrants are the target. We'll explore the root causes of the violence.
And Nigerian militants are helping drive up global oil prices. We'll hear from a filmmaker who was detained while documenting the militancy in daily life in the Niger Delta.

We begin in South Africa, where hostility towards immigrants had boiled over into violence. Mobs have been beating immigrants, even setting some victims on fire. President Thabo Mbeki deployed the army to help stop the attacks, which have killed dozens of people and displaced thousands. Many of those targeted are refugees from other African countries. As Robyn Curnow reports, many poor South Africans blame them for taking away jobs and other opportunities.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Scenes like this remind South Africans of the dark days of apartheid, the cat and mouth game between the police and residents in the poorest townships. A burning shack, the bloodied bodies in dusty streets. At least two people have been burned alive by angry mobs. Images that are a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s, when anti- apartheid protesters clashed with the white government security forces.

But this is not South Africans battling each other. Instead, South Africa's poor are now hunting down and lynching immigrants and refugees from other parts of Africa.

So, how did South Africa get into this mess? The violence against foreigners exposes a deeper anger and frustration among South Africa's poor, many of whom are impatient with the slow pace of social change since the end of apartheid 14 years ago. They blame the immigrants and the refugees and the foreigners, but the causes are far more complex.

It's a simmering cocktail of poverty and poor (ph) services, inadequate housing, a lack of running water and electricity. Food is more expensive, and crime is out of control. Nearly 20,000 people were murdered in South Africa in the past year. And South Africa's robust growth has not generated enough jobs. Economists estimate real unemployment is around 40 percent. So, they hound out and hunt down the foreigners, blaming poverty, joblessness and crime on non-South-Africans like this Mozambique man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people broke into my house, take a lot of my stuff.

CURNOW (on camera): So, you're living now out of the car.

(voice over): It was not safe to stay at home, he says. So now, he's living in his car on church property with his young family.

Immigrants are flooding into South Africa. It is estimated that at least 2 million Zimbabweans, maybe 3, are here, fleeing their country's meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just most of them -- they just have to go back to their countries and leave us in peace.

CURNOW (on camera): But they can't go back. There are 3 million Zimbabweans here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that's the only solution. They just have to go back to their country. Or they're going to get killed, as you can see, at the moment, (inaudible).

CURNOW (voice over): But most South Africans we speak to are unrepentant. In the background of this shot, you can see the man in the striped shirt mocking the badly beaten immigrant on the floor.

And the police, it seems, also have little sympathy for the foreigners who are being hunted down. We watched them set up a crime scene around the badly injured man without helping him. Stabbed and choking on his own vomit, he later died in front of the police without any of them going to his aid.

Frustration, resentment, desperation -- the simmering cocktail has now exploded, and the dreams of what's being called "the rainbow nation" because of South Africa's diversity being very distant.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Johannesburg, South Africa.


SESAY: So, what are the causes and what can be done to prevent this violence from erupting again? Still ahead, we'll hear from a South African newspaper columnist. Stay with INSIDE AFRICA.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. As Robyn Curnow reports, the attacks on immigrants in South Africa have been taking place in the poorest townships. Let's take a quick look at some of the underline economic and social conditions. The World Banks says extreme disparities exist between South African income levels. It says about 13 percent of South Africans live in so-called "first-world" conditions, compared to 50 percent who live in "developing world" conditions. Compounding the problem, economists estimate the unemployment rate is closing in on 40 percent. These factors contribute to South Africa's crime rate, which remains one of the highest in the world. About 20,000 people are murdered in South Africa each year.

Well, despite those alarming statistics, South Africa has enjoyed an image of stability since it became a democracy in 1994. Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu once coined the nickname "Rainbow Nation" to describe South Africa's multiracial unity. So, what's happened to that sense of unity? I asked South African newspaper columnist Justice Malala of "The Times."


JUSTICE MALALA, THE TIMES: Here, in South Africa, we just have a spike in the number of people crossing the border from Zimbabwe into South Africa. And parts of that (inaudible) that you see more and more people in economically hard times coming to this country. I think what's happened is that over the past 10 years, you've had a failure of leadership in South Africa, you've had a failure of morality on the part of President Mbeki, and that has built up into a situation now where you have more than at least 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa, and a lot of people are starting to look at them saying -- well, where are the jobs, in the economic slowdown like the one we're having.

SESAY: So, what do they need to do in your opinion?

MALALA: First, we would need to speak up morally on the issue of Zimbabwe. We have failed over ten years to actually say that what's happened in Zimbabwe is a catastrophe, that Robert Mugabe has run his country into the ground. If we can't -- if we continue to say that's not a crisis, as President Mbeki has said, then there's - you know, you'll have a conflagration in this country because you have a failed state to the north of us (ph).

SESAY: And ultimately, Justice, this situation also throws up the plight of ordinary South Africans. As we say, the rising inflation, the falling employment figures, the power shortages. The problems that South Africans themselves -- South African themselves are having to deal with on a daily basis. The government needs to turn its attention to those problems. Do we see any signs of that?

MALALA: Generally, this government has -- has brought about some laudable changes -- economic changes in the country. I do think that as a country, we've been complacent to 3, 2, 5 percent growth when countries similar to us, you know, are doing 8 to 9 percent growth. And I think President Mbeki needs to apply his mind to -- to what needs to be done. But there's politics involved. President Mbeki's on his way out. His successor in the ANC, Jacob Zuma, I think is the person who will speak to these problems and will need to -- will need to deal with them, really.


SESAY: We asked the South African government for its perspective on the story, but our phone calls where not returned.

The Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai offered his source (ph) on the violence while visiting displaced Zimbabweans. He told them the only lasting solution is for them to go home, at least temporarily, to vote in a presidential run-off next month. He faces the incumbent president Robert Mugabe, who's been in power for 28 years. Tsvangirai won the first round of voting in March, but not by the single majority required to avoid a run-off.

Attacks on Nigeria's oil infrastructure are contributing to a spike in global oil prices. Still ahead, we'll look at what Niger Delta militants are fighting for and why the impact is so far-reaching.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Making business news in Africa this week. Independent analysts say Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate has passed 1million percent mark. At the last count, a loaf of bread cost around 200 million Zimbabwean dollars, the same amount that could have bought 12 new cars just a decade ago. Ordinary Zimbabweans are doing what they can to cope with severe shortages. Basic food stuffs like cooking oil are often repackaged in smaller containers, to help make them more affordable.

And the value of South Africa's currency dropped sharply from a three-month high, following an outbreak of anti-immigrants violence. The rand lost ground against the U.S. dollar before rallying late in the week, but analysts say the currency remains vulnerable.


SESAY: You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. Welcome back.

The Niger Delta's main militant group reportedly has rejected a proposal by the Nigerian government to transform rebels into security personnel. Local newspapers quoted the defense minister as suggesting he might be willing to hire limited liability companies formed by militants to provide security for oil and natural gas infrastructure.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which has launched numerous attacks on Nigeria's oil industry, called the proposal laughable. MEND says it's fighting to bring more oil revenue back to the impoverished Delta region. As Christian Purefoy reports, the impact of MEND's mission is having a far-reaching ripple effect.


CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We filmed these militants two years ago singing about their suffering. And now, some of that suffering is being felt as far away as the United States. Recent militants attacks on oil pipelines here in Nigeria are one reason driving up gas prices worldwide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the (inaudible), the American who is in the middle and lower economic brackets is actually paying for that systemic failure of the Nigerian government over the last 30 years in doing something structurally, you know, positive about the Niger Delta.

PUREFOY: Nigeria is America's fourth largest oil supplier, and these heavily armed men say they're fighting for a greater share of that oil wealth. The Nigerian government has proposed a peace summit to find a solution to the region's problems, but in the meantime, while a barrel of oil from the Niger Delta costs more than $120, 70 percent of the people here live on less than $1 a day. So far, the militants attacks on oil facilities are small, but the fallout is substantial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any time a pipeline is affected, any time any production gets shut down, you see oil prices jump up $1 or $2 a barrel, just because there's no slack in the system.

PUREFOY: The troubles don't stop at the gas pump. Militants also target American oil workers. Since militants released Texan Macon Hawkins two years ago, they have kidnapped hundreds more foreign workers, often released only once a ransom is paid.

Oil companies like Shell and Chevron have invested heavily in security for their stuff and facilities. But with the militants threatening more attacks to come, it's unlikely they will be able to protect the American consumer from the soaring price of oil.

Christian Purefoy, CNN, Lagos, Nigeria.


SESAY: On Thursday, the Nigerian military said its troops killed two militants as they attacked a Niger Delta oil installation. MEND said it had not authorized any attack. Now, American filmmaker Sandy Cioffi has been working on a documentary about the troubled region for years. Just the last month, Nigerian authority stopped Cioffi and her film crew on the Niger River and detained them for several days. According to news reports, Nigerian officials say the production team illegally entered the region without proper military clearance. That's a claim the filmmakers deny.

Cioffi recently discussed the region's volatile history with CNN's Jim Clancy and provided this with some footage from her unfinished film "Sweet Crude."



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it's for us to control. It's our right.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) not a privilege. It's our right to control our resources.


SANDY CIOFFI, FILMMAKER: It's finally the case that people in the U.S. and certainly in Europe understand the impact of the Niger Delta on the price of oil, and certainly the humanitarian crisis needs to be figured in at the same time.

I would say that it's because of that humanitarian crisis that you see at ever escalating amount of energy towards the militancy. Now, that militancy has been around for a long time, but it's at a fever pitch, and part of the difficulty is that you have criminal elements in the militancy, very much so, and you have political elements. And I think whether the criminal elements will win out or the political elements, it's something that people in the first world can have an awful lot to do with.

I think that if we used the word "peace talk," that encourages more use of guns. It means you need to be one of the violent players in order to be at the table. I think that's very important that we consider a template like the Good Friday peace agreement. There were 11-some splinter groups of the IRA right before the peace agreement, but as it was clear that international mediation was coming, those criminal elements became more and more marginalized by the very just grandmothers in the areas where there had been the splinter groups. I think a similar model could work here.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. Let's talk about the problem in the Niger Delta. The people that are there represent so many different indigenous groups that always made their living off the land. They say with coming of oil production, fishing, other resources not available to them anymore, and yet there is no way of employment for them. Millions of dollars pumped out of the ground there in oil, in raw crude or in gas, and I'm just wondering -- why doesn't the money get back to them?

CIOFFI: Oh, simply corruption. The Niger Delta is at the other end of the Nigerian government that has been an oligarchy -- some people use the word kleptocracy.

Now, I want to be careful to say that, yes, that corruption is real. And yes, it`s demonstrable and it`s everywhere. However, the solution to it as I was finding in interviewing people in the documentary is in better and clearer governance from underneath, at the local level, that needs to be met by standards from above. What actually local people and governor's offices and local chairmanships are saying to me is we need international mediation.

I heard an MP say the other day in a presentation that if the United States, the U.K. and E.U. together work to collectively do everything they could "to stop the flow of money" that's being stolen from the Niger Delta and to stop giving visas to all the guys who are stealing it, that within the next ten years you can have most of the problems solved. I think there is a lot of truth in that.

CLANCY: The truth is, when you go there, in terms of health care, education, social services of all kinds, electricity wanting in every single category, and the people really giving up hope that they're going to get it from their own government.

CIOFFI: It's true. And I think that hopelessness has turned to desperation, and so you have people who didn't before are now supportive of violence. That's it.

I want to make sure and say that, you know, even small attempts at the remediation of the environment have in cases worked. And one of the sort of twists here is that gas flaring, which is some of the worst in the world in the Niger Delta is down, because production is down on the other side of militancy. And in the areas where there is no more gas flaring, the acid rain is reduced, and the fish populations are coming back. So, in some cases, the old way of life in some of those villages is being revived. And it's quite something to go see with your own eyes, a place that two years ago had two, three gas flares just right around one village. And now there is none, and you see fish there that didn't used to be there.


SESAY: That was documentary filmmaker Sandy Cioffi.

Our attempts to reach the Nigerian information minister for comment were unsuccessful.

But we want to know how you're being affected by skyrocketing prices for oil and gasoline. Send us an "I Report" and tell us about it. You could see right here on CNN during a special week of coverage called "Fueling Change," which begins on Monday. Just log on to I-Report. Com and send us your story.

I-reporter Lucia Abanka (ph) sent us these images following a pipeline explosion in Lagos, Nigeria, earlier this month. Dozens of people were killed. This also shows scorched piece of construction equipment. The cause of the explosion is under investigation, but the Red Cross says it appears to have been a construction accident.

South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius earned the legal right to compete in this summer's Olympics. After a short break, the latest on his efforts to qualify. Stay with INSIDE AFRICA.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. Here is a quick look at some stories making headlines around the continent. A rare public appearance by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as his country prepares for a run-off election. Mr. Mugabe was on hand at a graduating ceremony of police recruits in Harare. He told recruits not to be intimidated by what he called "false criticism" by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC accuses Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party of orchestrating a campaign of violence against opposition supporters. Mr. Mugabe accuses the MDC of inciting violence.

Fighting in Southern Sudan has forced the U.N. to pull about 250 civilian staff out of the disputed oil-rich Abiye region. Sudanese army official say at least 22 of its soldiers were killed in clashes with southern rebels. The U.N. says the fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people.

Now, the South African sprinter known as the blade runner is racing against time, now that he has won the right to compete at Olympic level. The court of arbitration for sport overturned an earlier ruling that said Oscar Pistorius gained an unfair advantage from his prosthetic legs. Now, he reportedly has to trim about a second from his 400-meter time to qualify for his country's Olympic team. Pistorius says the appeals process has taken a toll on his training regimen.


OSCAR PISTORIUS: It had a huge impact on my season. The ban came in December last year, and immediately took (inaudible) put it as a second party (ph) and prepared for the court case. We had still a lot of testing on the prosthetic legs on myself. It was a lot of trips to the U.S. and back that we had to do.

But, you know, I think the most strenuous it probably was -- was mentally and emotionally, I think. When the result came out last week, I thought I'd be jumping for joy, but in the end I also sighed with relief and sighed happily that it was all behind me, and that, you know, once again, I could put athletics as my number one priority.


SESAY: Whether or not he makes the South African Olympic team, Pistorius said he will be in Beijing this summer for the para-Olympics.

And there, we must leave this week's show. I'll be back next week with the brand new edition of INSIDE AFRICA. Thanks for watching.