Xenophobia in South Africa, a legacy of apartheid

Are the problems being fought for genuine or not? Is the media interest genuine? Are the reporting from a point of news or some other agenda? What are the lessons to be drawn from this and how can change for the better be instituted?

Many have attempted to answer these questions and come up with varying analyses and conclusions. Many of these are biased as well as many are objective and it is the later which spark my interests and a little bit of the former to be truthful, only if I’m inclined to find reasons that the Africans are holding the short end of the stick.
2008 saw the beginning of the more serious cases of xenophobic attacks by South Africans on foreigners of African descent. What’s surprising is that such energy has not been invested in dealing with economic and wealth subsequently, inequalities that have yet to be addressed since apartheid ended officially back in ’94.
Dr. O. Tella, a Senior Researcher, Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg writes on the pertinent issue of understanding xenophobia; The rationale for this attitude is largely due to the socio-economic realities of the post-apartheid era such as high levels of inequality, unemployment, and poverty (Tella & Ogunnubi, 2014).
Given the above point as a point of departure, I shall briefly point to some of the justifications for this heinous act. Some say foreigners have brought to South Africa, crime, joblessness, and disease among other claims. Yes, there are foreign criminals in South Africa, let’s not be fooled, there are also native-born criminals in South Africa. There are armed robbers and drug pushers who are decimating societies local and foreign-born. They should be punished to the full extent of the law. The police force needs more support to crack down on crime in an unbiased manner for that matter. There are also high achieving foreigners in business, academics and many other walks of life. Perhaps I can add a little bit of explanation as to why some Zimbabweans turn to crime in South Africa and from what I have gathered, only a small fraction does so. Many people left Zimbabwe when the country’s economy collapsed in the 2000s. Those who ended up in South Africa seeking greener pastures would find themselves working in fields in which they were overqualified. They were humbled and toiled on to fend for their loved ones. Young people would see their uncles coming back with flashy cars which I am told were mostly rented to show off at home to those who were not lucky enough to escape. A lot more people were drawn by the promises of the cars and the clothes and generally, the good living that South Africa promised. Getting there was another hurdle and most would employ illegal means of entering the promised and forbidden land. What I think would happen is that it would not be easy to land the jobs to get the cars and clothes and thus, for some, crime would seem lucrative. It is somewhat expected of people who go to South Africa to come back home looking rich, driving nice cars, dressed well and carrying a lot of money for their otherwise struggling brethren in Zimbabwe and thus the pressure was put on them.

It is also very vital at this point to mention that there are many South Africans who are opposed to these attacks. They still want a fair distribution of resources in their country but understand that other blacks are not hindering that distribution. More elements at play are colorism, a type of racism stemming from the treatment blacks received during apartheid. Anyone darker is seen as inferior, that’s the reason European immigrants illegal, and Asian are being spared because a psychologically captured black man cannot stomach ruthlessly killing a white person like he would do darker-skinned black people even though he’s black himself.
Some scholars are trying to analyze the causes of xenophobia by black South Africans. What’s difficult to grasp is that South Africans have turned on those who gave them help during their struggle against apartheid, these include Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique. Officials from most of these countries have decried this forgetfulness with some claiming that it is even too soon to cast their former allies on the wayside.

Among the many explanations for this behavior is one that suggests that during apartheid, South Africa was isolated from the world and the rest of Africa. There was some migration, mostly European with little migration from African countries. Those who came from other African countries were mine workers or other laborers who posed no threat to the way of life of the black South African. Apart from that, the apartheid police were so ruthless and protected capital, resultantly, it was almost impossible to run amok. When apartheid ended, there was an increased inflow of Africans into South Africa and that is said to be one of the reasons that upset the native Africans. Other studies such as one by Steerkamp quoted in Tella’s article submits that South Africans do think that they are not similar to the rest of other Africans. When he was president, Jacob Zuma was quoted saying, ‘We cannot think like Africans in Africa. This is Johannesburg. It is not some national road in Malawi’, (Tella & Ogunnubi, 2014). This is the attitude and stance of the people of the nation in question. The thinking is that other Africans are from war-torn zones and suffer from poverty and disease which makes them not the ideal immigrant. This is the same viewpoint Europe and the rest of the west have and that is why terms such as immigrant are particularly used about those who leave their homelands seeking safety and economic wellness while those from the west are regarded as ex-patriates even if they go to other places seeking the same.

Moreover, a submission by Matsinhe (2011) states and in support of the same notion brought about above, that during the years of apartheid, an isolated South Africa achieved technological and infrastructural advancement. Resultantly, the country had a feel and look of Europe and hence its citizenship and nationality being reserved to whites only following the establishment of the Union in 1910. This gave rise to a belief among South Africans black and white, that white was perceived as that which is to be admired and good while black was despicable.

This still goes on today, according to Bhekithemba Mngomezulu, an expert on regional politics and international relations from UWC, the apartheid mentality, still places whites at the top of the social hierarchy. During the xenophobic attacks, whites have hardly been the targets. They are seen as the investors who create jobs which the foreigners are snatching away from South Africans. Whites are safe in this situation, even if they are not investors and they are competing for the same jobs with South Africans. The perception that whites are good compared to blacks is widespread across the world, it’s not just a South African issue. This is a case of mistaken identity, miseducation, and mental colonization.
Xenophobia is an issue which calls for African heads of state summit. It is an existential matter. African governments have to look at this as the manifestation of their policy failures. Perhaps they can clean up their act and ensure that their policies will not lead to their citizens seeking livelihoods elsewhere where they are not wanted. One more thing to talk about is that the reason we are fighting is because of the borders and institutions created by Europe but all Europe is doing now is watch and report as well as some like American president obtain proof supporting prior statements about Africa.

Tella and Ogunnubi (2014) further posit that xenophobia could have also been necessitated by South Africa’s failure to deliver economically since the end of apartheid. Politically, they scored a huge gain but economically, the majority of South Africans are doing poorly and have been for quite a while. The ruling class is the only beneficiary or largely for that matter. This can be explained also by some internal conflicts within South Africa including the Cape Coloreds not wanting certain people who are not from that particular part of the country to remain in it for economic reasons. There are nuances to this as shown above.
As life has become increasingly tough for the average South African, the foreigner has been the easy scapegoat for those whose responsibility has been to deliver political goods to the people. Politicians, in a bid to gain votes, have thrown the foreigners to the dogs. It is easy to do so and be elected and then continue to do nothing about the problems plaguing the nation and that has been seen everywhere in the world. In South Africa, time and again, it has been discovered that every time politicians blame foreigners for the economic ills, police brutality on them has ensued.

It is also worth pointing out for the sake of it, or there may be something in it that, foreigners from Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland are usually more favored than those from, say, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique, the Congo Somalia, etc. it is rather sad that some findings have it that darker-skinned people are subjected to even worse brutality. Other differentiating aspects include haircuts, clothing styles. There have been even some South Africans who have been casualties of these brutalities such as the Shangaan from the Limpopo area.

There is hope, perhaps when the Pan-African project realizes some success, then African people will finally discover who their real enemy is? It is the presidents who misuse national funds and plan poorly, allowing nations like China and western corporations to exploit their resources with no real benefits to the citizens of their countries. It is not their fellow Africans who are also trying to survive the onslaught from the same enemy. As for those who find themselves in other countries, especially in Africa, they may also have actively try to engage with their local counterparts and try to assimilate the culture. This perhaps might reduce the animosity towards them by locals. I know family members who have been in South Africa for decades whose manner of speech, dress and all else is now pure South African if there is such a thing. Those foreigners hide in plain sight among South Africans, difficult to distinguish unless they are revealed by their inoculation marks or other physical markers.

Additionally, there must be the re-education, if it is not too late, of the South African’s mindset to shape their preferences and perception of the other, especially black people. If not, they are doing the racist’s job for him. They are subjected to racialist treatment and perception by those they are not fingering in this seemingly perpetual and vital struggle for resources. On a government level, if accountability is introduced to those in power, and they begin to account for their speeches, those things that they are charged with taking care of. On an international level, they can heed calls by the international community to put an end to xenophobia. More importantly, South Africa would experience better resource management and also be responsive to its population’s needs instead of letting people be frustrated to such a point. The easy way out, is the lazy way out, that which has seen many foreign nationals were killed or injured as well as their livelihoods destroyed. One other fact that is worth considering is the strengthening of relations between African states. I would like to believe that South Africa would be more responsive to, say, the United States or England or even China for that matter and would address their concerns much quicker as compared to, say Zimbabwe or Ghana. That is the reason why other countries apart from Nigeria are having difficulties getting through to the South African government. In addition to this, the non-caring attitude of other African governments has made it easy for South Africa to largely ignore the issue. After all, the rest of these governments are the ones responsible for the destruction of their economies which these immigrants are running away from. They did not show any concern for their citizens from the onset and nothing will change things now. Tella and Ogunnubi, (2014) also add on to the solutions by pointing out that reforms are needed in one of the complicit parties’ modus operandi, the media.

The media has the potential to play a pivotal role in mitigating the menace of xenophobia by presenting non-discriminatory, tolerant, non-stereotyping and analytical reporting”. This is the problem everywhere, even in the west. Every news article published or broadcast has an agenda. People should not be gulping every news bit for the sake of it and taking things at face value because that has been seen to cause harm to otherwise vulnerable groups.

Many news outlets perpetuate stereotypes and make public labels such as illegal immigrants, job stealers, criminals, and drug traffickers according to (Danso & McDonald, 2001; Smith, 2011) as quoted by Tella (2014). How many have jokingly called an immigrant a certain type of name or associated them with a certain criminal inclination because they come from a certain part of the world? Admit it, and whether you do or not, most of that was likely picked from the media which has an agenda. There could be an unseen hand in all this, a hand that seeks to destabilize South Africa and Africa at large. This hand has been meddling with the affairs of the continent for centuries now which has culminated in black people have lost all respect for one another, choosing instead to value those of a different race. While foreigners may have brought competition for jobs to South Africans, they also have brought talent and resources to invest in the economy. Perhaps they are posing a threat to local white and Asian business owners who might be involved in insinuating this violence, after all, why are they not being attacked. It is not too early to write that off. Maybe something good will come out of this but it has to end first.