THE BLOG

A Reflection On "Xenophobia"

Attacks are predominantly carried against fellow Africans. No foreign national of European descent has been attacked. So is it xenophobia or Afrophobia?

08/03/2017 04:54 SAST | Updated 08/03/2017 04:54 SAST
Mike Hutchings / Reuters

I was travelling on a taxi trying to get to work like many ordinary South Africans. The taxi driver was playing Umhlobo Wenene. If you are a South African and you don't know it I am questioning your South African identity; it is the second biggest radio station in the country. The topic of discussion was xenophobia. It seems appropriate since there have been xenophobic attacks in some parts of the country and not much has been said by the people who should be central in such discussions.

I remember the first time I heard the word xenophobia. I was in grade nine. It was after the 2008 xenophobic violence and we were discussing xenophobia in a Life Orientation class. People in the class were sharing their stories about the tragedy. I shared about how I had witnessed people loot shops and threaten Somali spaza owners and Nigerian cellphone store owners. There was something baffling about how it was defined as prejudice against "foreigners" which brings me to my next point.

How the conversation has been constructed is very troubling. The attacks are predominantly carried against fellow Africans. This is the big elephant in the room. It has been missed for nearly a decade! It is Nigerians, Congolese people, Zimbabweans, Zambians, Malawians, Kenyans and Somalis who are attacked, at least from what I have witnessed and heard. There have also been Pakistani and Chinese people affected. However no foreign national of European descent has been attacked. So is it xenophobia or simply Afrophobia?

Why does it matter? Well it does because if it is Afrophobia, we need to know why Africans from the South do not want fellow Africans to stay with them in the South of Africa. Do South Africans have a superiority complex when it comes to other Africans? If that is the case, where is it coming from and why don't they see other Africans, in Africa mind you, as siblings?

There were many callers who came out strongly condemning the attacks, some more articulate than others on why xenophobia is wrong. However I wondered where the experts are, what education institutions are doing to contribute to the conversation. Why aren't lecturers, teachers and researchers speaking out against this? Surely they have all the facts on why it's illogical to think that Nigerians are drug dealers and the high crime rate in South Africa is a result of having many African nationals. Where are they to counter the narrative of those with "xenophobic" views like Herman Mashaba the Democratic Alliance elected Mayor through a coalition (or not) with the Economic Freedom Fighters?

Yes, where is the Democratic Alliance to speak out against the dog whistle politics their elected representative has spewed? Are they going to make him account for this? Where is the ANC, people who understand how it feels to be refugees and seek asylum as Africans in Africa. Surely they identify with our African siblings since they, not so long ago, were in exile in many African countries, where are they? Where are traditional leaders, the supposed custodians of African traditions, isn't Ubuntu one such tradition or is it exclusively for people from the south of Africa?

Have we seriously thought about how a South Africa without other Africans will look like and how that may impact our families and communities?

As beautiful as the chorus was on the radio, I knew not all sing it because we still have "xenophobic" people in South Africa. If I had airtime I would have called in and asked if in our private personal spaces, do we call out hate against African nationals or do we silently suffer. Do we call out our loved ones, challenge them and educate them? And if we cannot do that then we need to remember the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

A woman in the taxi jokingly asked us "If you chase away Africans from the north who will feed my children, since their father is an African from the north?" A mama added "Who will give me food and let me pay on month end?" The taxi driver added: "Who will sell us goods at discounted prices and hire our children who do not have matric certificates?" These may have been only jokes but they are real lived experiences where I come from.

Have we seriously thought about how a South Africa without other Africans will look like and how that may impact our families and communities?