Why are black South Africans who lived in exile during apartheid silent about xenophobia?


Pretoria-Steve Biko the black consciousness hero must be turning in his grave to see lives being lost through black on black violence.

The wave of xenophobia that has swept through the country over the past few days has laid bare the extent of ignorance among the general populace in this country about where we are coming from and where we are going, as well as the general apathy among many in leadership positions when it comes to tackling the problem of xenophobia.

It boggles the mind to realise that to those involved in xenophobic attacks, the meaning of the word foreigner has been narrowed to refer only to black people from outside South Africa.

Whites, Chinese and various Asian people are definitely not classified as foreigners judging by the fact that only blacks were targeted during the recent xenophobic attacks.

This kind of thinking also prevails among members of the police force in South Africa because I am still to see or hear of a police officer stopping a white person demanding that they produce documents to prove that they are in the country legally, yet to my knowledge, there are many white people who fled from Zimbabwe and have illegally settled in this country.

There should be many others who entered the country as tourists from overseas and have remained in the country illegally.

Why is it that police officers never stop white people to demand their documentation?

Who is more foreign in South Africa, people from Europe and elsewhere across the oceans, or people from neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique which are separated from SA by artificial borders imposed by colonialists.

I am not trying to say that foreigners from outside Africa should also be attacked, because countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark actually helped a lot in the struggle against apartheid, by accommodating South Africans in exile, as well as funding the struggle against the apartheid regime.

What I am trying to say is that the South African government and civil society have a mammoth task of educating the incredibly ignorant populace about their history and to make them appreciate the role played by their African brothers and sisters in the fight against apartheid.

Would South have defeated apartheid 21 years ago without the help of other African countries?

The answer is a big NO.

But clearly many South Africans do not seem to understand this, hence my call on the government and civil society to embark on a massive education campaign to educate South Africans about their history.

I find it totally unacceptable that a country with a painful history like South Africa has not found it necessary to make history a compulsory subject in schools.

I therefore to some extent sympathise with the ignorance that characterises the ordinary young South Africans.

Those aged 21 and below would have been born after the apartheid era, and if there has not been a concerted effort to teach them history, how are they expected to know about the role played by other Africans in fighting apartheid?

Like some people have pointed out, to those people at the bottom of the food chain in a country where inequality is the norm, the enemy becomes the foreign blacks who live next to locals in the townships and often do better than the average South African there because they are more enterprising.

Without the necessary education and understanding of the country’s economic dynamics, to these poor South Africans, these fellow Africans living with them are the cause of their poverty.

The fact that the situation could be better if resources were more equitably distributed does not occur to them. And because of apartheid, a white person is generally seen as “the boss”, the employer, and nothing else.

A colleague of mine, a black photo journalist told me something which I found awakening.

Pointing at the picture of Emmanuel Sithole being stabbed, that was in the Sunday Times, he remarked that if the photographer who took the picture had been black, there was a 90 percent chance that he would also have been stabbed for taking the picture.

He definitely agrees with me that there is an urgent need for a serious countrywide campaign to educate black South African youths and some adults alike that we are now equals with whites since the advent of the democratic dispensation in 1994, and that fellow blacks from other African countries are not enemies but friends with whom we must co-exist, especially if they are in the country legally.

This brings me to another point – that of corruption in South African society.

There are so many illegal immigrants in South Africa, not because the majority of them jumped borders, but simply because of corruption.

A lot of South African immigration officials at the borders as well as police officers are unbelievably corrupt and will let foreigners into the country for as little as R50 – a matter of self enrichment by putting self before country.

I have heard people talking that Beitbridge border post is the easiest to cross for undocumented immigrants as long as they have some money.

Unlike in the past, illegal immigrants are said to no longer risk their lives by crossing the Limpopo River through the bush, risking attacks by crocodiles, but come into the country straight via the official border point as long as they have money in hand to bribe immigration officials and the police.

Turning to apathy by those in leadership positions, one can generally conclude that there have been only half-hearted efforts by most politicians when it comes to tackling xenophobia.

The reason is probably that they are afraid of offending their constituents who they believe are against the presence of foreigners in the country.

Why is it that the ruling party (ANC) did not have the guts to confront Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini after he made inflammatory statements which resulted in attacks flaring up in KwaZulu-Natal?

In my opinion, only Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a few other clerics have spoken strongly and vociferously against xenophobia.

Some of us worked for anti-apartheid organisations during the struggle and rubbed shoulders with the likes of former president Mbeki who used to frequent Harare in the 1980s when he was ANC representative to the Nordic countries.

We trained as journalists in Harare together with the likes of Kingsley Mamabolo, former SA ambassador to Zimbabwe and Nigeria, and now SA’s ambassador to the United Nations, and many others occupying influential positions in government today.

Why are you guys quiet when fellow Africans are being slaughtered like animals? Why have you chosen not to speak out against xenophobia? Obviously for self political preservation.

Some of the politicians like our president and the premier of KZN Senzo Mchunu spoke against xenophobia “but also noted the concerns of our citizens”.

Among the concerns noted by both leaders was the laughable one that foreign shop owners sell their things cheap. Surely how can leaders point to this as a concern, as if there are some cheap wholesalers from who locals are not allowed to source goods?

This points to questionable leadership credentials and a lack of understanding of simple business principles.

Are locals also forced to buy from the shops of foreign nationals?

It’s time to be brutally honest with our people and educate them about all the things they need to know, such as the history of this country and the fact that wealth is accumulated through hard work and not through getting state grants.

It is time to teach South Africans that when most foreigners get some money they do not rush to the nearest bottle store to buy beer, but think of ways of growing that money.

South Africans must stop blaming fellow Africans for their own shortcomings but rather learn how most of these people who arrive in the country with very little or nothing, end up becoming economically much better than locals.

Another fact is that locals must also stop being choosy when it comes to job opportunities, especially if they are not well educated.

It is only in South Africa where people without any qualifications blame foreign medical doctors or engineers for taking their jobs.


By Babington Maravanyika- Maravanyika is a Zimbabwean working as a journalist in South Africa 


Don't be shellfish... Please SHARETweet about this on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Email this to someone
Print this page

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *