NewsSouthern AfricaWhatever it takes – it’s a ‘no’ to xenophobia


Posted on Friday, 12 June 2015 12:11

Whatever it takes – it’s a ‘no’ to xenophobia

There is a Zulu gospel song that says 'singabahambayo thina kulomhlaba, kepha siya ekhaya eZulwini', which translates as 'we are all foreigners or travellers on this earth, and we are all heading to heaven'.

I am convinced that none of those xenophobic people and the culprits who committed the April attacks against immigrants in South Africa would want to head to hell.

The majority of South Africans are people of diverse faiths, and some of us also even honour our dead ancestors that we believe guide or protect us.

To some extent, we are all related as Africans. As a Zulu woman, my ancestral roots include a Malawian grandfather who came to seek work in South Africa in the 1940s.

At that time, no one even thought of attacking foreign nationals, as our enemy was the oppressor. My grandfather was a great tailor, and he created jobs for locals.

We have come a long way. Our late president Nelson Mandela once commented about the killing of Zulus and Xhosas in Boipatong.

When he addressed people who were grieving and those who did the killing, he reminded them that when he came looking for a job in the gold mines as a Xhosa in what was then called Transvaal, he was welcomed.

Although the hostel dwelling he lived in was divided between South African ethnic groups – Zulus, Xhosas and Sothos – they were all miners. But the potential of tension was there, even then.

Kwa-Zulu Natal has had a very violent past. The 2015 xenophobic attacks we saw starting in KwaZulu-Natal Province echo how the 1980s 'black-on-black' violence hit communities there.

At that time, people were creating homemade guns to kill each other. The only difference this time is the weaponry has been replaced by knives and abusive words.

The latest attacks on foreign nationals have exposed these unhealed wounds that were inflicted by the previous racist regime: self-hatred, internalised oppression and a state of victimhood.

There is still a long walk to mental emancipation because the enemy is in our hearts now. However, we cannot justify repeating the same crimes as the previous oppressor.

In part, the social protests were influenced by raised but unmet expectations.

There are lots of South Africans who have never visited any part of this African continent and who have never even been outside of their home province.

The arriving foreign nationals are associated with disgruntlement about slow service delivery and scarcity of jobs.

Some foreign nationals actually create jobs for local people, but admitting that requires humility.

Some black commentators in the street and on social media have raised valid points that as South Africans we have been berated as if we are all 'bad black people'.

These labels on local people – that they are lazy and too demanding because they feel entitled to strong labour rights – do not help.

But maybe there is also a grain of truth in some of those labels that we have to work on. In the end, we all want one Africa and one love. ●

A timeline of violence

May 2008 Xenophobic violence breaks out in Alexandra township in Johannesburg and spreads across the country, killing 67 people and displacing thousands.

January 2015 Foreign nationals are displaced after a 14-year-old boy is killed by a foreign businessman who claimed his shop was robbed in Soweto. Looting spreads across several townships around Johannesburg.

March 2015Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini calls for foreign Africans to leave the country.

1 AprilPresident Jacob Zuma's son Edward says: "We are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them [foreigners] taking over the country. They need to go back!"

2 April Locals loot foreign-owned shops in Durban townships like Umlazi and KwaMashu.

3-15 April Violence spreads across Durban. High-ranking ministers arrive to deal with the matter. Thousands are displaced and four people killed.

10 April Zuma calls on the nation to respect foreign nationals.

14 April About 300 people raid shops owned by foreign-born Africans in Durban.

19 April Horrific images are published of the murder of Mozambican street vendor Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra the previous day.

20 AprilZwelithini holds an anti-xenophobia rally. 21 April The army is deployed in Alexandra township and Durban townships.

23 AprilDemonstrators march through central Johannesburg to protest against xenophobia.

29 AprilZuma addresses a Southern African Development Community meeting in Harare on the same day that 1,500 Malawians leave South Africa.

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