Every time I hear South Africa, I think of Madiba, and even when the spate of violence rocked the world with images of people being burnt in the streets for being non South African, I still thought about him. South Africa has a long history of struggles with apartheid but also a triumph of the human spirit. A triumph for how the black, brown and mixed race South Africans rose above that and forged forward with unity and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela was a true hero and is as much a son of South Africa as he is a son of everywhere else, we all lay claim to him. But I digress. Today black South Africans are killing foreigners in another spate of horrendous xenophobic attacks much worse than what happened in 2008 where a record 67 people were killed nationwide.
This is quite clearly a problem of economics; these killings are happening in townships and poorer areas and the theory or justification for it is that these foreigners are coming into SA and taking their jobs, introducing drugs into the streets and raping their women. First off, I think all these are unfounded accusations and if indeed these were happening, since when were citizens allowed to take laws into their hands? Why haven’t these so called illegals been reported to the police or arrested for crimes committed? This is quite clearly a question of xenophobia. For me the biggest question is; why wasn’t the police dispatched in their thousands immediately? I understand that these crimes took place in the townships; does policing have an economic bias?
Furthermore, I disagree with the narratives coming out of this tragedy. I have read comments on social media and watched tv interviews. People keep asking why these South Africans are attacking their “black brothers”. Someone wondered how any black person in Africa can be regarded as a foreigner. Personally, I think that these conversations are important, but they may not be helpful. There should be an outright condemnation of the violence and attacks; the blackness of the victims is immaterial. This is a crime against humanity, plain and simple. This narrative of race, ethnicity and background coming into it trivialises it and reduces it to a discourse about race. I think the discourse about race is important, but I do not think this is the place for it. All those responsible for this heinous crime should be brought to justice, there should be consequence.
The world is such a huge case study of immigration and expatriation, we cannot have xenophobia taking root in the world, there are enough ills as it is. Surely everyone in the world has a relative who lives some place that is not their country of birth? These criminals and their supporters should be ashamed of themselves, particularly coming from such a history of prejudice and injustice, and rising above that through the solidarity and support of the world, how can they forget so soon? This is akin to the treatment that the perpetrators of apartheid dished out to them, thus they should know better. There have been solidarity matches in some parts of SA and elsewhere, condemning the xenophobic attacks and urging peace and tolerance. For every evil person killing a foreigner, there is another championing the cause of “live and let live”.
Let us hope that the government of SA deals with this swiftly and decisively. The Zulu king who has been accused by some of making utterances which began the cycle of violence has recanted and claims he did not say anything. Well, nothing was caught on video so we really do not know if he did. However, the SA government must know what triggers these attacks. Do they need to change the curriculum in schools and teach diversity on the African continent and more on the role of the rest of the continent and indeed the world in conquering apartheid? Do they need to embark on a 5 year (or more, or less) national orientation campaign? Do they need to create more jobs and opportunities in the townships? Do they need to invest more in policing the communities? Do they need to reform the immigration system to improve the skills coming into South Africa?
Invariably this is a horrible situation and no human being deserves to be treated the way some South Africans have treated the foreigners living in their land. I stand in solidarity with the victims and their families; may they find safety and comfort in the country where they have chosen to live. This was a repeat of the horrendous 2008 xenophobia attacks. I hope the 2015 occurrence does not repeat itself in a few years. The world is watching and standing with immigrants and expatriates in South Africa and indeed all over the world. Many countries have been built on so called foreigners, in some ways everyone is a foreigner somewhere by virtue of association, one’s self or family links. But first we are human beings and thus must be treated as one.