NB: In May, 2008, there was a spate of xenophobic violence targeting blacks in South Africa. I wrote this opinion to the Nation, but it was never published. I republish it, as I reflect on what to write about the current attack. I sent this on 23rd May, 2008.
In September 2005, the Sunday Nation ran a column by Simwogerere Kyazze titled ‘Listen up you foreigners, you are not wanted’. Mr. Kyazze has stayed in South Africa and teaches Journalism at Rhodes University. In the column he expounded the plight of black foreigners, starting from the harassment at the embassies of South Africa in their countries to what it takes to live in South Africa.
South Africans are known to be virulently xenophobic towards black foreigners. The recent attacks are only a culmination of an anger that has been simmering over time. Over the last decade South Africa has become a destination to many job seekers from the many African countries for obvious reasons.
Being the largest economy in Africa and assumed to be joining the league of developed countries, it can only attract more foreigners. It is disturbing that Kenyans and other foreigners are being externally displaced in South Africa. The big question is are the South African locals justified to opt for violence in remedying their perceived injustices?
First, the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming wider and wider. The black elite and the whites own nearly everything. South Africa could be well in its way to a first world country but there are a million things it has to correct before another revolution erupts.
There are two significant events that will be happening in South Africa in the two years. We have elections next year and the World Cup. The timing of violence couldn’t have been more ill. South Africa has a tremendous calling of correcting its image. The latest attacks are the type that not even the military will contain. That will be only a short-term prospect. They ought to be addressed fully.
The proliferation of foreigners to South Africa probably angers South Africans, as they are perceived to be taking jobs they believe are justifiably theirs. There is a blatant unequal distribution of resources in South Africa. It is known that Thabo Mbeki, their president and his cronies care more for the rich than the poor. He is characteristically standoffish. He has tried to upgrade slums in Soweto and the poor receive monthly remunerations but they can hardly suffice.
As someone recently pointed out they might be demanding cars soon enough. It is a fact if you are foreigner in any country you are likely to work harder and send some money back home. Ever been to Eastleigh? You will understand why the Somali brothers are so industrious. In fact throughout the country they are extremely enterprising. Some might argue the locals don’t have the capital necessary to start the businesses. That can’t necessitate us to start killing.
Africans so much believe in violence. Whereas we have all the evidence that violence is never the solution we almost always resort to it. The leadership that should be demonstrated by South African politicians is not yet here. Apparently the many years of apartheid changed their mindset about fellow Africans. Apartheid memories are the ones that evoke really bad memories about colonization from Cairo to Cape Town, from Mogadishu to Free town in Sierra Leone. Now they have turned against many of their own.
Those who have been to South Africa say that South Africans behave like ‘black whites’. Ostensibly, hatred between people of the same colour is the worst. Or is it the case of like poles repelling? Since most of them are poor and not learned, the menial jobs are theirs for the taking. But as a friend who lives in Johannesburg told me the shrewdness of the businessmen from Kenya and Nigeria is unmatched. The only place where foreigners are not allowed is the transport sectors.
Zimbabwe has many immigrants in South Africa because of reasons you and I know. They have taken many menial jobs that the locals incidentally used to frown upon. It is dawning on them that they are not any different from us. Many Northern neighbors like Zambia, Namibia, as well as war-torn countries have exported a number of their citizens to South Africa.
We can’t expect much from Mbeki who is so silent about Zimbabwe either. He has good trading partners in his northern neighbors and cannot risk upsetting a few big men. South Africa may soon start having fragile diplomatic if it is not going to address this issue. I’m persuaded that South African citizens will be treated considerably fair in any other country.
It is ironic that South Africans consider the rest of the continent as a jungle. It is perturbing that when the world is going global that is the only news that can be churned out of Africa. We all love South Africa. We like their music, sports and everything. We cried and fought with them to be emancipated. Why have they turned against us?