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THAT year of 2008, I happened to be in Pretoria attending a Conference on Regional Cooperation of Africa’s Correctional Services, bringing together African countries on correctional matters.
Unfortunately it was at the height of the worst kind of xenophobia that saw more than sixty foreigners killed and hundreds of them left homeless following pillage of their properties from irate mobs.
The targeted people were Africans from Zimbabwe, Malawi, DRC, Mozambique, Somalia and some West African countries living in South Africa.
It was so embarrassing to the African National Congress (ANC) government and an ad hoc committee of senior government officials, mostly ANC senior ministers were assigned to address our delegations from African countries and apologized on behalf of the South African government.
They tried to remind their fellow South Africans on the history of that country, and indeed saying that South Africa was built by many hands of foreigners including Indians, Chinese and Africans according to the ancient history.
But the latest history in which the current generation is aware of, is how Africa and the world at large stood together to fight the apartheid regime and that South Africa is now a free democratic country! I thought South Africans have assimilated that hard fact and that there won’t be a repeat of that embarrassing situation to the ANC government.
But just recently unrest occurred again in and around the coastal city of Durban, and at least six people were killed and hundreds forced to flee their homes.
More than 30 people were arrested for possession of unlicensed firearms and other crimes however despite the increased police presence, authorities are hard-pressed to stop the unrest.
Following this xenophobia unrest, the South African press in unison has been flooded with different opinion pieces as narrated in this column.
The “new South Africa” after 1994, became home to many outsiders playing a key role in offering protection and refugee status to people who had suffered unfavorable conditions in their home countries. At the heart of South Africa’s complex problem with xenophobia is the misconstrued meaning of the term ‘foreigner.’
Regrettably, the term ‘foreigner’ in South Africa usually refers to black Africans. ‘Other’ foreigners–particularly those from the Americas and Europe go unnoticed–they are often lumped up with ‘tourists,’ or even better, referred to as ‘expats.’
One may ask “Why is it that a Somali man can run a shop in a township, get raided and beaten up, while a white immigrant in town continues to run a restaurant full of patrons?
While this sentiment may be correct– that the violent expression of xenophobia in South Africa is meted out mainly against black African immigrants While we can ascribe the attacks to sentiments of discriminatory in nature, we must also agree that the attacks are fuelled by a sense of hatred, dislike and fear of foreigners – and that is xenophobia.
No wonder President Mugabe had to say “South Africa will kick down a statue of a dead white man but won’t attempt to slap a live one. Yet they can stone to death a black man simply because he is a foreigner.”
The violence against immigrants in South Africa is “an expression of a terrible failure of memory by South Africans” who endured racial intolerance under apartheid, two South African foundations named after antiapartheid leader Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada, another campaigner against the white racist rule that ended in 1994.
In a statement, the foundations welcomed efforts by Zuma and other senior leaders to stop the unrest, but accused the government by saying, “For too long, South Africans in leadership positions have either ignored the crisis or stoked the fires of hatred. Some South Africans have accused immigrants of taking jobs and opportunities away from them.
The latest violence followed reported comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, an influential figure among the Zulu ethnic group, that foreigners should ‘pack their bags’ and leave.
The king has since appealed for an end to the unrest. Late in March 2015 at a rally, the monarch reportedly told supporters “We urge all foreigners to pack their bags and leave.
As I speak to you, you find there are unsightly goods hanging all over our shops”. He went on “They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognize which shop is which.
They are all blocked by foreigners,” the King lamented. Many foreign-born merchants closed their shops until the unrest eased.
Some in Johannesburg reportedly received fear-of-antiforeigner- violence-in-south-africais- spreading-to-johannesburg text messages warning: “Zulu people are coming to town starting from market streets their mission is to kill every foreigner on the road, please pass this to all your contacts in case they come, people should be on alert.”
South Africa’s xenophobia reflects the country’s history of isolation. As a country at the southernmost tip of Africa, South Africans are fond of referring to their continental counterparts as ‘Africans’ or “people from Africa.”
Many business ventures, news publications and events–aimed at local audiences– routinely speak about “going to Africa.” Of course this narrow-mindedness, suffered by both black and white South Africans, is a by-product of apartheid.
For black people, apartheid was an insidious tool used to induce self-hate and tribalize people of the same race. For white South Africans, apartheid was a false rubber-stamp of the white race as superior.
It is these two conceptions that gave rise to the myth that South Africa is not part of the African continent, but a different place that just happens to be on the tip of the continent.
It is said that Mozambique had retaliated by roughing up South Africans. However, this melancholic feeling against foreigners is very visible in the whole part of South Africa.
It remains to be seen whether South Africans will break away from these shackles, and rid themselves of this horrid prejudice anchored in our past, but seemingly fuelled by our present.
Source : Tanzania Daily News