*a deadlock between two equally matched opponents
I actually was contemplating doing a piece on the vandalism of the sculptures that represent our colonial past as well as the apartheid regime, however the recent Xenophobic1 violence that have awaken our country from it’s a stupor takes my pen’s attention towards its contemplation. The sculptures and the old regime’s memorabilia will have to wait; I suspect though, with the current rate of tension here and there in our country that before long that issue will re-occupy our national agenda just as xenophobia takes it turn again presently. But even as I respond in the present jotting I must confess to the reader that I am not best suited to offer a voice on the matter at hand. I am not confident. I am a writer enthusiast and writers write. May I press this point further by highlighting to the reader that what follows is my own observation of the situation that is unfolding in front of us; a meditation by all accounts. These scribbling can be seen in the final analysis as a subjective reaction of a South African¶
By now it is general knowledge that what is happening now has happened before as in 2008, 2009 and 2013². What is alarming is that the frequency of the violence seems to be gaining momentum. It must be borne in mind that this is what we know as per media reports. What about other violent incidents that may have occurred but were not reported? Up to the eve of the recent xenophobic attacks it is as if the center of power has wished that the attacks would be dissipated by ignorance itself. On the other hand the opposition is mum and the ultra left, the extremists who do not support democracy couldn’t care less. Interestingly there are other foreign nationals in South Africa of European, Asian and American descent who have not reportedly been harmed whenever this bloody situation rear its head. It is the black African who is affected.
How different are these recent xenophobic attacks compared to the attacks that have taken place in the past? This time, as per media reports, we’ve seen the African foreign nationals ready to fight physically in order to protect themselves from physical harm. Obviously, from an economic activity point of view; after spending many years in South Africa, the African foreign national’s position are justified when they feel that they have contributed to the economy of South Africa and have the right to live comfortably amongst South Africans.
Left to our own devices let us look for some sense of balance here. Ever since the flare up of the first attack two camps sprung up within our midst. On the one hand South Africans have persistently blamed foreign nationals that they take their jobs by accepting low wages while on the other hand those engaged in business have been blamed for the virtual disappearance en masse of South African township business ownership in our communities and their replacement by African foreign national owned business. The foreign nationals have opined that South Africans are lazy and that we, South Africans, expect our government should do everything for us. But wasn’t this a promise that the government we voted into power made when it campaigned for our support a little over two decades ago? Not to mention all succeeding elections up to now! Contradictorily as if the criticism hitherto leveled at South Africans is not enough to ignite their ire our very own leaders have concurred with the foreign nationals, though subtly, that we are lazy. At the sight of the foreign national thriving wouldn’t you consider this a violent trigger to the members of South African society honestly struggling to survive at the lower rungs of our society and growing impatient with a government that is not delivering?
How different are these recent xenophobic attacks compared to the attacks that have taken place in the past?¶
Added to this brunt of Xenophobic violence, as is natural, our leaders have disapproved of the hatred and violence visited upon African foreign nationals, by exclaiming that during the darkest hour of the duel against the apartheid regime African states offered homes to exiled South Africans. Our government contends that it is our duty through Ubuntu to accommodate Africans seeking asylum and refuge in South Africa. I have simplified my observation here, reason being that there is simply no time to get into the scholastic gymnastics of what is at the heart of the matter at hand; I leave that to modern African scholars and social scientists as they are best suited to give a coherent response as to how our South African government can respond to this pressing matter at hand without being mindful of the lack of readily available historical documentation that support this argument and more importantly, the trigger proper tenants that inspires xenophobic violence by South Africans on foreign nationals especially black Africans. This is our scenario of two opposing arguments that can be isolated from my simple exposition here of the two antagonistic forces that face each other on the present stand-off in South Africa.
One thing for sure is that it is unfair whenever xenophobia rears its head over and over in South Africa that nothing is done to deal with it. To tickle the reader’s imagination I would like to pose a few questions; just as much as there is the argument that South Africans were accommodated in the African states that make our continent during the glory days of the apartheid regime we should be permitted to ask, how South African foreign nationals in exile affected the lives of the people of the host countries they resided in during that period? Were South Africans competing with the citizens of their host countries for jobs and business interests? Better still we can further enquire, what kind of effect did exiled South Africans exert on the demographics of their host countries? Were they permitted to use the same services as in education, health, legal ect. ect. On the part of the host countries were there any controlling measures exerted on South African exiles in order to safeguard the host nations’ social dynamics as far as their various ISA (Ideological State Apparatuses) are concerned? The data gathered from responses to these questions should demonstrate the effects both negatively or positively. More than ever these are the questions that must be settled in order that oridnary South Africans at the lower rung of existence can arrive at an understanding of pre-democratic South Africa’s relation to the rest of Africa.
Only when we have adequately answered these questions amongst a myriad of many, from the context of the period of occupation by South African ‘political’ refugees (SAPR) in foreign African States, can we begin to entrench a fair historical narrative that can pave a way towards a South African historical self understanding from the context of ‘exile’. Perhaps with such an understanding in place can we then begin to articulate what a refugee is from a context of war, politics as well as from a context of economic deprivation. Furthermore with such an understand in place we could arrive at an understanding of what kind of response can be given to the ‘other’ African when they enter our shores. I believe only then would we begin to understand where we are. Sadly the recent snickering of African states as to how South Africans are treating their countrymen is misplaced as they themselves should be sorting their own houses so that their own people can see prospects in the countries they have fled from³. For now our townships will continue to resemble something akin to wires connected to a genocide ticking time bomb whose moment of explosion is eminent but indeterminate. To diffuse this bomb we will need to make certain sacrifices that would not necessarily be welcomed by the world that claims a stake in contributing to our freedom. To solidify the ‘pseudo camaraderie’ initial felt towards fellow Africans South Africans should be secured with regard to the long awaited economic emancipation. To date ordinary South Africans have been left wanting and uncertain of a better future in their homeland.
It is possible to have a peaceful warm welcoming South Africa. The center of power should safeguard the livelyhood of South African society, educationally and economically; after all it is South Africans who have voted it into that highest rung. Since these two tenets of modern society are complementary, that is education and economy; there is no reason why an ordinary hard working South African should not feel secured in his homeland even when he is competing with a skilled foreigner provided they are competing on a leveled field. At the heart of xenophobia is fear of domination by the other. I cannot overstate further wherein the solution lies¶
- The opening stages of the paper produced by International Labour Office (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Office of the United Nations high Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in consultation with Office of the United Nations High Commissioner Xenophobia is defined as [sic] attitudes, prejudiced and behavior that reject, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity. See International Migration, Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia, 2001.
- See South African History online at sahistory.org.za
- Ekuru Aukot makes an observation that in the context of the ‘western world’ that does not want refugees from Africa despite the fact that the rest of world needs Africa to thrive as far as globalization is concerned, Africa has chronically produced refugees due to its political, economical and environmental instability. See Aukot, E 2005. Protecting Refugees in the Era of Globalization: The Challenge of Africa in the New Millennium (a), cited in Negotiating Modernity: Africa’s Ambivalent Experience, Macamo E.S. (Ed) 2005. Coderia Books, Dakar. In association with Zed Books, London and New York. University of South Africa Press, Pretoria.
© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2015