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Africa , Poverty, Refugees, Social Movements, South Africa

Xenophobia deflects government failures

My friend Beauty at “Nigeria What’s New” posted on the violence against immigrants taking place in South Africa and wonders

why bloggers in the diaspora are not screaming about this horrible human rights issue since the story broke on May 1st.

Good point, Beauty after all if this was happening in Spain, France, Britain or any where else in Europe we would be screaming. In fact I was screaming the other day about asylum seekers in Britain. Talk to any African foreigners and they will tell you their own experience of xenophobia in South Africa. But these encounters are superficial and hide the truth. What is happening is far more complex than is being presented in the reports as violence and xenophobia. Nonetheless, these very disturbing videos here and here and here, fit well with the one posted from last week on Race Hate in Russia. More importantly the videos tell us how governments with the support of the media can and have used immigration as a way of deflecting people away from the real issues and their failure to meet the valid expectations of the people.

This article in the Times [A simple recipe for xenophobia] points to a number of factors that have no doubt contributed to the violence.

What caused the terrible scenes unfolding in our country today: children beaten and displaced, women raped and men left with pieces of flesh hanging from their faces, homeless and hungry and desperate?

What led to a situation where young men were unashamed to stand in front of television cameras and say they will kill foreigners?

We should not be surprised. For the ANC, led by Zuma and Mbeki, the chickens are coming home to roost………….

These people are behaving like barbarians because the ANC has failed – despite numerous warnings – to act on burning issues that are well known for having sparked similar eruptions across the globe.

But the bulk of the cocktail comprises the failed state that is Zimbabwe. The country’s economy has collapsed. Its political leaders, security services and agents are looting the treasury. Zimbabweans are fleeing.

The writer, as in the last paragraph, still externalises the violence by bringing it back to Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe. But it is not just Zimbabweans who are victims of the violence – all Africans are – from townships to universities. In fact the statement only fuels the violence against refugees. Yes clearly there is a struggle for scare resources such as food, housing and jobs but this does not explain everything. The truth lies more in the total failure of the post Apartheid government to bring about meaningful social change for the masses with the country largely remaining in an economic time warp of white rule. The violence is an indictment on the government which has engaged in an outright attack on the poor in urban and rural areas which is reminiscent of apartheid and what people see is more hardship not less.

The media and the government are naming the violence as xenophobia but the reality is that people have reached boiling point after 14 years of dashed hopes and have now turned on the most vulnerable in their communities, refugees, and foreigners to vent their frustration. This in no way justifies the violence but does go some way to explain the fragility of the country.

I would add that progressive shack dwellers’ movements, like Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) which has members in some shack settlements in Jo’burg, as well as the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, have always taken a strong position against this violence. Abhalali has always been clear that it welcomes all shack dwellers in to the movement irrespective of where they come from and indeed has hosted men and women from Zimbabwe’s shackdweller communities as well as reached out to the residents as far away as Cite Soleil in Haiti.

It is a tragedy that such attacks are happening in poor working class communities, where the poor are fighting the poor. But there is a clear reason for this. Many in our communities are made to believe that unemployment is caused by foreigners who take jobs in the country — this is simply untrue. Forty percent (40%) of all South African citizens are unemployed and this has been the case for many years. This is not the result of immigrants from other countries coming to South Africa but rather, the result of the anti-poor, profit-seeking policies of the government and the behaviour of the capitalist class. Such massive and sustained unemployment is a structural problem of a capitalist system that cares little about the poor, wherever they are from/live.

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19 Comments

  1. Thanks, Sokari, this is an important and vital conversation.

    I’ll be following up on it later on my blog.

  2. Chukuemeka Akpe

    When the group at the social/economic ladder vent their frustration, it usually does not go high enough to consume those at the top; the many victims are the same people on this same level as the aggrieved.
    Innocent people who fled the cauldron of their failed (or near-failed) states are consumed by ‘xenophobic’ flames. What a shame!

  3. i read a snippet of this on nytimes today. and i made a mental note to read more later on after work.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/20/world/africa/20safrica.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

    i thought of you earlier on this morning when i was reading abt sex trafficking in the emirates and the efforts by an activist in getting the women out of these situations

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90404253

  4. yepan?

    I wonder why people hate foreigners. Often they are shunted into ghettos and they stay in their own communities because it is safe and secure, but of course it is also deathly kind of life. The best hope is universities, the opportunity to mix with others of various nations. In this day and age education has to be offered all the time to everyone. A lot of the so called terriorist had a wonderful education. ????

  5. A bad economy goes to the mind and makes locals find the reason of their troubles in foreigners. It’s happened everywhere and on every continent, and it sucks.

    Instead of blaming foreigners, the solution is usually more obvious and more reasonable: fixing the economy or sharing the wealth.

    In Lesotho the Chinese community was attacked recently, jump back and look at Hitler’s Germany, or even today’s Germany with its Turkish population. Look at France, which has a brisk activity of forcibly sending foreigners to their “homes,” especially Africans. All these people are seen as the problem that is at the root of locals not having good jobs, enough to eat, or whatever. Sucks.

    Rethabiles last blog post..Happy birthday, Malcolm X!

  6. The media and the government are naming the violence as xenophobia but the reality is that people have reached boiling point after 14 years of dashed hopes and have now turned on the most vulnerable in their communities, refugees, and foreigners to vent their frustration. This in no way justifies the violence but does go some way to explain the fragility of the country.

    Please, this doesn’t make any sense, I’m sorry.

    There is only one description for what is happening in S.A: Xenophobia.

    The government might have failed the people — but is this news in Africa? Most governments have failed the people, but only South Africans are setting their immigrants on fire!

    Why is it that the foreigners are doing better, and can see opportunities where the locals see nothing? Doesn’t this tell you a lot about the mentality of the South African blacks?

    There is no level of hardship or failed hopes that justifies the barbaric actions happening in S.A. The South African blacks must learn to hustle for themselves and hold their destinies in their hands!

  7. Comment by post author

    Sokari

    Immnakoya @ well it makes perfect sense to me and to a lot of other people! And no it does not tell me of the “mentality of South African Blacks” in fact I find that statement quite offensive!

  8. What is happening is far more complex than is being presented in the reports as violence and xenophobia.

    Again, there is nothing new here, Julius Caesar raised many questions about the force of fate in life versus the capacity for free will. The sheep being led to rowdy mischief by Zuma on his way to the top SA job has been play out several times before William wrote his plays.

    Up to 3M Zimbabweans are thought to be in South Africa, thanks to Robert Mugabe who after about 30 years turned Zimbabwe into a country that survive on grain handouts.

    The root causes of the issues may be unpopular but when 30% of 40M people are unemployed, there will be tensions.

    Nigerians also make up the large numbers of il/legal immigrants in SA as a daughter of Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo sleeps in jail over health ministry graft charges.

    We must try not to get carried away and become exotic with the headlines as they appear. It is only by being prepared for the future that we avoid the chaos of 6,000 people fleeing a place they called home.

    Beautys last blog post..Violence against immigrants – South Africa

  9. I’m sorry you find my statement offensive..but if the media and the government are the ones naming the violence as xenophobia, then what will you call it?

    The government of SA and the whole leadership of ANC have failed the people – no doubt, but the “acts of frustration” – or whatever it is – must be described as they are, clearly!

    Africans have a perception problem and manifest in the way we act and react to circumstances; this is being played out in SA – just as we have seen in several other geopolitical regions.

    Only if those engulfed with rage in SA would realize that the people being killed and burnt supported and stood by them during the Apartheid era. They just need to deal the real cause of their problem – the ANC machinery!

  10. Africans have a perception problem and manifest in the way we act and react to circumstances; this is being played out in SA – just as we have seen in several other geopolitical regions.


    Cannot be correct! If you think Africans have a perception problem, you would be agreeing with Dr DNA Watson‘s general statement. Please note he has apologized unreservedly as there is no scientific basis for a belief that Africans are genetically inferior. I am African and do not accept that a whole continent has a perception problem.

    Beautys last blog post..Violence against immigrants – South Africa

  11. Africans have a perception problem and manifest in the way we act and react to circumstances; this is being played out in SA – just as we have seen in several other geopolitical regions.


    Cannot be correct! If you think Africans have a perception problem, you would be agreeing with Dr DNA Watson‘s general statement. Please note he has apologized unreservedly as there is no scientific basis for a belief that Africans are genetically inferior. I am African and do not accept grouping the huge word Africa and a perception problem together.

    Beautys last blog post..Violence against immigrants – South Africa

  12. Comment by post author

    Sokari

    Immnakoya @. I am not saying the violence being carried out is not “xenophobia” but I am also trying to look beyond the label by calling the government to account, rather than just sit on it and go no further which is what the media and government are doing. Everyone needs to stand up and be counted and more so the government who must address the social inequalities and injustice that remain in South Africa. It is sad and significant that people who have little or nothing are turning against other people who have little and in many cases even less. But as hunger increases in the global south I expect to see an increase in xenophobia as indigenous people take out their frustration on immigrants who are easy prey. Considering the level and horror of the violence the SA government have been relatively silent.

  13. Ana

    What many have failed to see is that when resources and opportunities become scarce, “the other” is usually blamed.

    South Africans and Africans are not inmmune from this madness that humans carry in their psyche.

    I watched and listened to a poor Congolese woman in South Africa on the BBC, and I could see and feel the great fear in her eyes.I was so saddened, that the very people who received international solidarity to help bring about the end of the dreadful system of apartheid would turned into such monsters to hurt those who are foreign born.

    What a sad day it is indeed.

    Saludos.

  14. Comment by post author

    Sokari

    Ana @ “I was so saddened, that the very people who received international solidarity to help bring about the end of the dreadful system of apartheid would turned into such monsters to hurt those who are foreign born.”. Reminds me of another group of people who have turned on others what was done to them – Israel.

  15. Ana

    Sokari,I agree with you completely. Something is dreadfully wrong with human beings. Sometimes those who have suffered from injustices believe they have earned the right to inflict pain on others.

    There is a tremendous lack of humanity,empathy, compassion, memory, and even natural love in many people all over this awesome planet.

    I find these things so painful when I see them that it can make one lose hope in this world ever achieving any type of peace.

    But I will never lose hope in my fellow human beings to really learn someday from all the mistakes, pains, wrongs,foolishness and injustices that have been part of our existence on this earth from time immemorial and even up to today.

    Saludos.

  16. @Beauty – I do not agree with Watson’s statement. “Perception” as used in my comment has nothing to do with intelligence or intellect, and I can’t see where and how Dr Watson’s observation relates to the issue being addressed, directly.

    imnakoyas last blog post..Doing Business in Nigeria

  17. South African

    All you people all over the world just shut up and let us handle our problems.U have never lived in a township and have no idea what going on.Today i feel happy that my mother is safe at home while everyone is at work.I know for a fact that the bloody foreigners are busy hiding that to go a break into our house. I know for a fact that my sister is safe from this things that are non-south african. To hell with them.

  18. Comment by post author

    Sokari

    South AFrican @ I publish this only to say SHAME ON YOU, shame for your ignorance and your stupidity, shame on you for harming the very people who supported you in your time of need. Shame on you for the rock that is clearly sitting where your heart and brain should be, Shame of you for your lack of humanity.

  19. manzina

    After what happened in Zimbabwe,the economic meltdown,the collapse of democracy and the sheer anarchy loosed upon Zimbabwe it is clear that this problem is spreading throughout Africa.It is thus caused by bad governance in Africa.The way problems started in Zimbabwe is the way problems are starting in SA.The hikes in fuel,prices,basic commodities,the strikes etc.These should not be blamed on foreigners.It is the system of governance.However South Africans,male or female,catholics or protestants,black or white,jews and gentiles should not forget how they received support from other AFrican nations especially Zimbabwe and Mozambique during apartheid.Its barely 2 decades and our dear South Africans have already forgotten.Instead of saying thank you they burn,shoot and kill other Africans.To those that have lost their lives in this demonic phase of lunacy,savagery,ignoble violence and devilish attacks we say R.I.P. Africa (not South Africa) loves you dearly and we are mourning your deaths all over the continent.We know the goodness in Africans yet this knowledge can not diminish your loss or our grief.