Almost two years ago I wrote an opinion piece titled ‘Killings mirror our hatred and indifference’ on the xenophobic violence which had erupted in the country.
At the time we saw violence and killings across Durban and Gauteng, with many blaming Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini for his speech in Pongola where he stated, among other things, that foreigners from other parts of Africa should go back home.
Prior to that, in 2008 and in possibly the most horrific scenes of xenophobic violence we’ve seen in the country where a man called Ernesto Nhamuave was burnt alive on the streets of Ramaphosa informal settlement in the East Rand (a case which has not been solved to this day), the body count totalled just over 60 people who were killed that particular year in xenophobic-fuelled attacks.
Here we are in 2017 and Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba has been quoted as saying that illegal immigrants are holding our country to ransom and that he is going to be the last South African to allow it. Not only that, the mayor then went on a tirade which gave me flashbacks of apartheid in Hillbrow, requesting that people produce their IDs in order to prove that they were in the country legally.
A few weeks later an ‘anti-immigrant’ protest march was planned and as expected there were tensions between the march participants and foreign nationals.
Again the blame for this ‘xenophobic march’ had a scapegoat – Mashaba was seen as the reason for these tensions.
In the wake of the march, President Jacob Zuma, speaking outside a police station in Soshanguve where foreign-owned shops had been attacked and looted, said he was concerned by attacks on foreigners and proudly stated that South Africans were not inherently xenophobic, adding that he did not agree with what he termed ‘the narrative’ that South Africans were xenophobic.
Well, Mr President, I for one beg to differ.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve received unprovoked calls from South Africans on 702’s open line saying things like: “These people are the reason we are unemployed”, “These people come here to commit crime”, “These people should go back to their countries”. I have in many instances had to stop friends, acquaintances and even family members from repeating similar rhetoric.
This sounds like xenophobic talk to me. I won’t make a blanket statement and say that all South Africans are xenophobic, but come on, let’s be honest here, there is a large and significant number that simply are.
The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging it and we cannot have the president burying his head in the sand and pretending that the issue of xenophobia doesn’t really exist, or that the actual issue is criminality. Granted that may be a factor, but certainly not the main one and it is a blatant lie to make this the main reason for attacks on foreign nationals.
We also can’t have ‘leaders’ like Zwelithini and Mashaba fuelling the fires of the views many South Africans hold to begin with.
Although the mayor’s actions and statements have been as irresponsible as the views held by the Zulu king, is it not time for us as South Africans to introspect?
Is it not time for us to admit that we have a serious problem here?
Is it not time to ask ourselves if this may be an issue of self hatred?
Has the time not come for solutions to be found for this inherent hatred we project on our fellow Africans?
We all know it’s not true that ALL foreign nationals coming into our country are here to ‘steal’ jobs and deal drug, but we are prepared to allow this kind of talk from our families and friends without raising the alarm and calling people out on their xenophobic talk; we allow it to continue and then when xenophobic violence erupts we act surprised and try find people to blame, knowing full well that all that was needed was one push to get there.
We all have to start looking at how we contribute to the atrocious scenes of xenophobic violence when they arrive and then and work towards achieving a united Africa. The blame game won’t solve the issue.