Chapter 16: Xenophobia: Personal South African Experience.
South Africa is undoubtedly a diversified society. There’s no doubt that it is much more diverse than many people outside its borders always think. But still, it is a place much like any other African country where people are still being grouped according to their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. But then, there are much more regroupings of people to some sorts of annoying varieties that we might never get in other African countries.
Critical look into and within South Africans themselves, it is obvious that they still ‘unconsciously’ keep to the inherited groupings of people according to their races. This system was so much visible during the infamous apartheid regime that was governing the country for many years before Nelson Mandela became democratically elected President of South Africa in 1994. Some of the more visible groupings are – white, black, coloured and Indians. It was these types of grouping that made it easy for the white minority (during the apartheid period) to foist their domination and rule over the black majority and other races in the country for several years.
Since the fall of apartheid government that ruled the nation from 1948 to 1994, the country which is today referred to as the “rainbow nation“ has suffered some setbacks in the way people interact and live with each other in what supposed to be a nation with multicultural and multi-racial setup. Though we know that basically some years after the fall of apartheid, no one would assume or expect automatic change in attitudes especially on how each of the races that weren’t working together with others will now live together and see themselves as from one nation.
Worthy to note also is that South Africa is a country with much larger population of refugees, economic and political migrants especially from their neighboring countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Congo DRC, Somalia, etc. The presence of these countries especially some refugees who came in without proper documentations, and thus have no valid permit in the country has also affected every facets of life within the country, including much more the economy of the nation.
This notwithstanding, how and manner by which greater percentage of South Africans especially the black race among them view their brothers and sisters from other countries around them is something that gives urgent concerns. It looks more like they are trying to take revenge of what happened to them (the black South Africans) during apartheid on the black immigrants and refugees inside the country.
Watching the scenario from afar, you would find nothing less than just a mere mental replacement of suppressions and oppressions that were very much visible during apartheid regime (which was mainly meted out mainly to the black people of south Africa) with some sorts of disgusting and sometimes very glaring xenophobic attitudes which might not be sharply disconnected from the mental shift of the oppressed, assuming authority suddenly and then turn into being the oppressors after the apartheid. Since they might still have some elements of fears about their then “masters” – the whites, they now feel comfortable in unleashing their xenophobic attacks on the helpless black refugee population. Thus, more than 26 years after the fall of apartheid, segregations did not just disappear from the society; rather, it is now growing into another dimensions, and has developed a new face called xenophobia.
Sometimes, I did imagined the mental understanding of few South Africans that seemed to be comfortable in using some derogatory words and adjectives to qualify people from other countries, even from their neighbouring Southern African countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, etc, and why they think in their mental imaginations that they were better off than these people. For instance, their popular use of the derogatory words like “kwerekwere (plural amakwerekwere)” to refer to foreigners or someone who is not a South African is very common, and so worrisome.
Derogatory name tagging is capable of breeding violent hate attacks, and that’s exactly what happens whenever there is xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Whenever people are segregated and branded with derogatory names, then fear of them being attacked by those that segregated them would rise. It takes action from the popular maxim of giving a dog a bad name to find a reason to hang it.
Xenophobia is an irrational and totally unnecessary fear of anything, anybody or anywhere perceived as foreign or strange. It is a phenomenon whereby people consider others in their midst that are of other nationalities or other races as evils or rivals, and would do anything ranging from mental and physical discriminations to suppress and oppress them because they are more protected in their own environment than the foreigners.
According to Wikipedia, “Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an in-group towards an out-group, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”.”
Xenophobia in South Africa is undoubtedly taking some sort of ugly dimension every day. These xenophobic South Africans would hate others for nothing just that you were incidentally (never out of your choice) not born within the artificial geographical map called South Africa. Some of them cherish and derive pleasure in causing mental, psychological and even bodily harm to anybody from any foreign national if given any slightest opportunity.
It was too bad that I thought that they suddenly forgot how other countries, especially their fellow Africans accepted them, fed them in exiles and sponsored them to fight back against the infamous apartheid government that subjected the black majority in that country to inhuman suppressions and oppressions from 1948 – 1994, or maybe, or that the younger generation of South Africans who take this xenophobic option are barred from reading history.
There had been incessant xenophobic attacks in South Africa almost daily. By this I meant that almost every day, someone of foreign national is getting either verbal or physical attack from South Africans for nothing more than being a foreigner.
On 30th of May 2013, a 25-year-old Abdi Nasir Mahmoud Good, was stoned to death. The violence was captured on a mobile phone and shared on the internet. In another case, three Somali shopkeepers had also been killed in June 2013 and the Somali government requested the South African authorities to do more to protect their nationals. Among those murdered were two brothers who were allegedly hacked to death and their shops were looted by the South African residents even as their Policemen were watching them without doing anything to stop them.
In the month of October 2013, the popular second-hand clothes market located at De Villiers, Small & towards Wanderers Streets in the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD) all of a sudden, with no warning at all, was closed down and all goods were seized from the traders by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD). Though when it was widely criticized, they also extended it to other part of the CBD, but I couldn’t find any reconciliation between those actions, with any good governance of the area if not that that market was mostly dominated by foreigners. This then left some of the people, who found their daily bread in that place in another level of hardship, until I later heard that court order was issued that the traders should return to their business positions. Removing the traders and seizing their goods (without any prior notice) was judged to be inhuman, and more so because it was done because the place was dominated by the foreigners.
It is not that the Gauteng Provincial Government has no authority to relocate traders or to tell them to vacate an area, but they deserved to be given some prior notices since they were the ones that even built the shades under which those traders were doing their businesses. I don’t believe that the Provincial Government would have done the same (without notice) had it been that those traders were all South Africans. Many people attributed it to just mere xenophobic policy to frustrate the foreigners. Though they later reversed the decision after few months, but then the prior motive that generated that spontaneous policy was what we are talking about. This is just one out of many examples ranging from the reason why a typical black South African Police would likely stop and search you for things you might not know about just because they know or perceived that you are black and also a foreigner. Being black foreigner makes it look to them that you have more than double tendencies to be a criminal.
Despite this, getting job in any public or even private sectors in South Africa as a black foreigner does not most often depend on the person’s level of qualifications. Even those from other foreign nations that can even speak South African languages more than some of their citizens are also being discriminated against. In some cases, they aren’t interested in what someone can offer, rather they are much more afraid that the person are coming from a foreign nation to ‘take away’ their jobs even when they are not capable or qualified to do those jobs. This made some business minded people from other countries not to waste their time looking for job in South Africa, but rather, develop their own businesses and even give out jobs to some South Africans. Despite that, it doesn’t make some locals to start liking the foreigner at all.
Though we have to quickly say that these xenophobic tendencies are not in all South Africans, but it is obvious that the majority of them hate seeing anybody from another country, with emphasis on the black African migrants from other countries in Africa.
I was going home to where I lived in Rosettenville (a suburb of Johannesburg) one day, and that was on Thursday, 10th of October 2013, from Braamfontein (near Johannesburg CBD), and we were in Metrobus when some group of guys came into the bus and started preaching how black foreigners are taking their ‘jobs’ and their ‘houses’. This unholy sermon was being preached specially to kids returning from school and then to any other person in the bus who cared to listen. That was to me a kind of indoctrination. And behold, this is how till today they poison the minds of their upcoming youths against foreigners. At the end of their unholy sermon, all I could gather was that they were either thugs or loyal party members of ANC, and were gathering supports for the African National Congress for the then forthcoming elections. Why must ANC do their campaign coated with xenophobic utterances? And why were these guys talking to the children that even then had not reached the age of voting? Was that so important in their campaigns?
But then, I thought it is time we call a spade by its name, and try to tell those in position of offices in the government of South Africa that they are not doing enough as far as this issue of xenophobic issues is concerned. In fact they are aggravating it by being silent or not being loud enough. As long as my knowledge could serve me right, I have never seen or heard of any kind of punishment or even arrests for these people that hate others just for the sake of nothing other than being from other nations.
The month of April 2015 was even bloodier and much more embarrassing that the unfortunate situation carried a lot of headlines in international news. The unguarded speech of King of the Zulu – King Godswill Zwethini, sparked some wild raging wave of xenophobic attacks across Kwa-Zulu Natal Province of South Africa, especially in its premier city – Durban. This wave of xenophobic attack started to spring up and raged like wild fire across other cities in South Africa, including Johannesburg. There was a lot of casualties and a lot of shops belonging to foreign nationals were looted. Social media, local and international news were all agog with the current disturbances. South Africa was almost at the verge of diplomatic sanctions from several countries, especially the ones whose citizens were very much affected by the ugly situation.
Violence fueled by xenophobia has been too regular in South Africa that these days it has become like norms. In February 2017, the strong wave of xenophobia erupted again in Gauteng Province of the country. Many foreign nationals were reported to have been attacked and their shops looted by the local miscreants.
The only viable solution to xenophobia is preaching and acting tolerance for everyone irrespective of his/her social, religious, geographical or cultural affiliations. The world should be viewed as an asset belonging to whoever live in it irrespective of the part of the world he might come from.
 Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenophobia, 10/08/2015