Something to Ponder

Xenophobia South Africa
Photo © Janah Hattingh/Flickr CC

South Africa’s Xenophobia Problem

Bearing the label “foreigner” is not easy for anyone, be it in the so called developed or the developing countries. The Hispanics trying to cross into the United States feel the weight of this label just as the Zimbabweans, Kenyans, Nigerians and other nationalities who are right now facing xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Actually, one does not have to cross borders to feel the effects of the label. Life is difficult for anyone who migrates from their country/region of birth to settle in another country/region and try to make a living. But when such a label means life or death for the bearer, now that is another, serious matter altogether.

South Africa has been one of the countries if not the country that has benefitted the most alongside Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia from other African nations that opened their doors to freedom fighters and other political activists who fled their countries during the fight for independence. Generations of these people still reside in the countries where their progenitors settled during those dark and gloomy days and nobody is harassing them. In fact, in those countries, they are free to follow their careers, and most have prospered. After the struggle was won in the 1980s and 1990s, the new governments in those newly independent countries invited their hosts to send professionals, artisans, business people to help build their new nations and share their knowledge with the locals.

At first, all seemed to go well as the emerging nations welcomed their brothers and sisters from across the borders and allowed them to live in their midst and share their skills. In some cases, the locals did learn and went on to excel even more than their trainers. In fact many locals formed partnerships with their foreign friends and opened businesses which thrived. However, the root of bitterness seems to have taken root in South Africa against her foreign residents that is not so obvious in other countries. This is not to say that xenophobic undertones are not existent in other nations, they are there but nowhere is the “hatred” and “rage” against foreigners more exposed than in South Africa.

Granted, in some cases, foreigners may be seen to have  crossed some boundaries when they take some unskilled labour and manual jobs that an uneducated local can do. But when asked, employers even those who are locals themselves answer that the locals refuse to do these jobs and the foreigners are willing to and perform very well. Local youths prefer lazing around drinking houses and other such places passing time but are not interested in doing menial work. Whether this is true or not, these youths should not be allowed to go out on rampage dragging people out of their houses and beating them up as happened in Kwa-zulu Natal last week. They should not be allowed to seize other people’s properties, loot businesses and kill just because the people who own these properties and businesses are foreigners. After all this madness, these people will not automatically inherit the ruined properties. They will not own the businesses either. What they will succeed in doing is denying their own people the service that the teacher, doctor, shopkeeper and other traders they ran out of their premises and homes were providing. They will leave their own brothers and sisters who had been employed by these so called foreigners without a job adding to the number of unemployed in the streets. The gaps so created by these actions, the perpetrators cannot fill them themselves and then what?

The South African government needs to go after these hooligans and put a stop to this madness once and for all. Government officials and those in positions of authority need to stop making statements that seem to imply foreigners are unwelcome in this country. Soon, South Africa will be shunned as a favourite destination for tourists and international events like sports and meetings because nobody wants to put their family, employees, or citizens at risk knowingly. When this happens, the hotel industry, the airlines, the transport industry and many others which directly or indirectly benefit from the incoming visitors will suffer a great deal and many more jobless people will join those already in the streets.

iAfrica Digital News Editor