Xenophobia in South Africa exists, we need to acknowledge that first. There is a narrative in the country that there is no conflict between South Africans and foreign nationals from Africa.
On the ground is another reality, where the horrific spate of xenophobic violence of the past few days targeted foreign nationals from the continent.
It was specifically the shacks of Zimbabweans in Marabastad that were torched, the auto repair shops of Nigerians in Jeppestown that were burnt to smithereens, and the trucks of Zambian truck drivers that were blocked from moving, and the drivers’ lives threatened.
It is reminiscent of the recent stabbings of Malawians in Diepsloot and Mamelodi because of their accents, and the extortion of Zimbabweans in the Johannesburg and Pretoria CBD’s who are told if they don’t pay up they will be sent to Lindela.
WEF in Cape Town
But what was particularly ironic about the outbreak of violence this week is that it happened on the eve of the Africa World Economic Forum in Cape Town, where South Africa was meant to showcase its commitment to greater integration and trade with the rest of the continent, and market itself as a premier investment destination.
This was the moment to herald the promise of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and position South Africa as a gateway to the continent – a potential manufacturing hub that will export value added goods to the rest of Africa. This week’s nightmare not only undermined the president’s investment drive, but threatened the stability of the country in areas where tensions are already at boiling point.
There is something about the pattern of violence in this week’s xenophobic attacks against African nationals that seems far more organised and orchestrated than previous outbreaks, and we need to ask the questions why and who.
How was it that looting and burning of foreign owned shops and homes broke out in so many unrelated locations in the space of 48 hours? Jeppestown, Rosettenville, Germiston, Tembisa, Turfontein, Boksburg, Melvern, Marabastad, Alex, and even in KZN all within a matter of hours or simultaneously.
What was the motive?
Could this really have been a spontaneous explosion of criminality and prejudice against African nationals who are being blamed for poverty, lack of jobs and social inequality in the country, or is there something more going on?
As it turns out, the police were in fact armed with intelligence about what was about to happen, although it is unclear whether it was actionable intelligence. The African Diaspora Forum – the umbrella body of the largest group of migrant traders – claims that it warned the police of impending attacks.
Who funds the organisers?
How much do we know about the three organisations that allegedly motivated attacks against foreign nationals? The All Truck Drivers Foundation, Respect SA, and Sisonke Peoples Forum make no secret of their agenda against foreign nationals, but we don’t know who funds these organisations and what links they have.
The African Centre for Migration which maps xenophobic violence through their online site Xenowatch puts the vast majority of recent incidents around the Johannesburg area at 301, in KZN 77, in the vicinity of Port Elizabeth 31, and in Cape Town 111.
If we are to wage war as a country against the scourge of xenophobia, first we need to acknowledge that it even exists, we then need to officially categorize certain violent crimes as being xenophobic violence, (currently the police have no such reporting category for statistical purposes), map where it is occurring, and with what frequency. Once we have a more accurate picture we can develop strategies on how to counter it.
South Africa needs to work on curbing unnecessary strikes and demonstrations. They need to educate their populace on the history of the country and the importance of a united Africa. A lot of programmes such as early childhood drug abuse education can be incorporated in school curricula. The country needs to heal well from apartheid. Mostly these are the side effects of a failed reconciliation.
Author: Geture Chidhanguro