Nasir Jones, one Hip Hop’s most gifted and critically acclaimed rappers, once said “People fear what they can’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer I guess it’s just a theory of man”. The initial part of the statement is a fitting description of South Africa and its relation or lack of it towards foreign nationals especially those of African origin. It’s through the lack of understanding that violent xenophobia has reared its ugly head in our communities in the most recent times. ‘Xeno’ means stranger or foreign in Greek and ‘phobia’ is fear hence the word xenophobia. In the last two months the worst expressions of violent xenophobia have to be in Attradgeville and Mamelodi which are two townships located on the east and west of Pretoria respectively. During those two incidents, which were believed to have been perpetrated by the same gang, foreigners’ homes and properties were damaged and the worth of their lives plummeted to lows yet to be experienced by the Zimbabwean currency as they became disposable commodities who just happened to have human characteristics. Some were able to escape the barbaric treatment they were subjected to by a people whose national anthem’s opening lines boldly states “Nkosi Sikelel’ i-Africa” and who, 14 years ago, were also relegated to the status of being sub-humans. But such actions aren’t surprising because history is littered with cases of people doing to others what was done to them examples, the English did to its colonies what the Romans did to them, the Jews of Israel did or are doing to Palestinians what the Germans did to them and the Afrikaners did to Africans what they suffered at the hands of the English in South Africa. There are four major factors which gave rise to xenophobia and its violent manifestation in South Africa: Media, Statistics, Lack of education and Economics.
STATISTICS AS AN INSTIGATOR
Numbers make it easier for organizations to plan and execute their duties. So what happens when the qualitive information that’s collected is flawed and unreliable to account for the number of foreign-nationals that come into the Republic? Well, for one it makes it possible for others to temper with and manipulate the figures of influxes to suit their agendas and create confusions that mostly lead to animosity amongst the citizens of the receipt state against the so called ‘aliens’. Since it’s not possible for the data ‘collectors’ and researchers to know exactly how many migrants enter the country illegally, the next best thing is to capture the data of those who are deported, but that’s also not a credible methodology because a foreign-national may be deported and that might be marked as one less illegal ‘alien’ in the country, but what happens if the same person manages to regain entry that means the number of deportations may show an increase whereas it’s actually the same person.
MEDIA AND ITS POWER O SHAPE PUBLIC PERCEPTION
It goes without saying that the media in all its entirety has influence beyond measure. That could be dangerous in a country whose xenophobic tendencies are as high as our own. In a paper delivered by Nahla Valji at York University it was noted that the media in this country produces/reproduces 3 main stereotypes: that migrants steal jobs, create crime and that they enter the Republic illegally. One of the most powerful perceptions created, partly, by the media is that Nigerians are inherently corrupt and drug dealers. When such reporting reaches the public it distorts the manner in Nigerians are viewed and thereby fuelling violent xenophobia. One is not advocating that the media should be soft in their approach to the conduct of foreign-nationals, but that it not be sensationalized simply because such reporting becomes the dichotomy of life or death for other law abiding foreign-nationals who are here on credible reasons.
LACK OF EDUCATION AND RISE IN FEAR OF THE OTHER
One of the important reasons that make South Africa such a conducive place for xenophobia to anchor itself is lack of education and the roots of this problem can be traced to Bantu Education. The education that was donated to Africans was structured in a divide and rule system in a sense that the students were separated according to their ethnic groups. That meant that the Zulus were taught their history, the Xhosas, Sothos, Pedis their own and so on and this with the hope that this would create ethno-phobia, which to a certain extent was achieved. When it came to education regarding peoples beyond the borders of Limpopo little of that history was taught, and if it was, they were represented as people who are ‘too dark’, they live in the jungles, they smell awful and that South Africa’s relation to Africa is its geographical location. It’s not until recently with the efforts of a few dedicated people in particular President Thabo Mbeki that South African are beginning to address themselves as Africans and aligning themselves with the rest of the continent. So the impact of the lack of education had damaged whatever ties that may have been forged by the citizens of this country and its foreign-nationals. Something amazing though about the xenophobia practiced in South Africa is that it’s ‘conditional’ in a sense that foreigners from Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Asia and Europe, yes, Europe are treated better than those of other African countries, but I’m not advocating that those others foreigners should be equally brutalized.
ECONOMIC AND XENOPHOBIA
The greatest contributor to violent xenophobia in this country is economics. That’s why the violence is always in areas and amongst people that are at the periphery of the economy. The fact that the citizens of the Republic have to compete with the foreigners for what’s already scarce resources makes it
instinctive for the citizens to effortlessly resort to the disposing of the foreigner and thereby eliminating the competition. Another factor within this fierce economic battle is the fact that foreigner is, in most instances, a desperate individual when it comes to employment and usually settles for half a loaf instead of the ‘nothing’ the South African rejects. The employer would pick the foreigner as opposed to the native citizen who knows that he’s protected by labour laws which the foreigner can’t claim if he’s an illegal immigrant. In conclusion I’d like to firstly make mention that it’s not the majority of South Africans who are xenophobic and that as South Africa, we must accept that we are part of the global ‘community’ and as a result we are bound to have people of other nationalities relocating to our country at some point. Even the foreign-national without proper documentation are humans and should be treated as such. To the state, it must insure that the immigration laws of the country tighter in order to make sure that people who won’t contribute to the economy positively aren’t allowed. To the foreign-nationals I urge that you respect the rule of law especially the labour laws of South Africa. Happy Africa Day on the 25th of May.