Xenophobia, the infamous word that dived into every South African’s vocabulary two years ago when the poor and marginalized, tired of the state’s empty promises took out their frustration on helpless immigrants, seems to be popping up everywhere. A week into the World Cup, rumours surfaced that fresh xenophobic attacks are to be expected as soon as the last player of the winning team steps inside a plane back home. The last few days, we have watched news clips of Zimbabweans and Mozambicans fleeing back to their countries of birth, afraid that they too could be torched to death like Ernesto Alphabeto Nhamwavane , the man who was inappropriately nicknamed “The burning man” by our wonderful print media.
Now that it seems as though South African shack dwellers might kill a couple of immigrants in a bid to chase ’em away so that ruthless corporations exploit them instead, every media outlet is running their obligatory analysis on the matter. I’m noticing a few instances were it is being argued that maybe ‘Xenophobia’ is not the right word to describe what’s happening right at the moment, in an article by Glenn Ashton, published at Pambazuka, Glenn argues that:
We must ask ourselves whether xenophobia is perhaps just a label we have slapped on a phenomenon that has been inadequately analysed or understood. Are our beliefs around xenophobia perhaps just lazy thinking?
Do we really collectively hate outsiders to the extent that we are willing to murder them, loot their businesses and homes and go so far as to set them on fire? Have immigrants not historically contributed significantly to building our nation? This is a situation that obviously needs to be more thoroughly examined ……………….But these supposed outbreaks of xenophobia occur exclusively within one stratum of society – in poor, black communities. This fact alone provides a huge clue that we are not looking at xenophobia per se, but a rather more nuanced phenomenon.
South Africa has attracted huge numbers of immigrants, estimated at between three and eight million people. We also know that many of our own people have moved around the country to a degree that was practically impossible during apartheid times.
Over at The Sowetan, my current obsession, Andile Mngxitama, has this to say:
We are certainly not a xenophobic country, because we don’t hate and hurt all foreigners. Only black people from the African continent are targeted.
Whites are tourists and investors. There are no white kwerekweres.
The 2008 afrophobia attacks left 62 black people dead, thousands fled the country and a lot of properties destroyed. What is often forgotten is that 22 of those killed were black South Africans.
Black South Africans need to know that we are part of Africa, that the borders were created by colonialists who came to plunder our continent and to oppress us all………….. Afrophobia must be condemned and combated.
But we need to understand it in order to uproot it completely.
How do we understand a people that say “we are behind Ghana” and then turn around and say “they must go after the Cup”.
And finally, in a blog post titled, “when all else fails, give it a name,” MoAfrika says:
How is this for a name: Xenophobia! It comes with an exclamation point because it is meant to make you sit upright and pay attention. Similarly, “Farm Murders” is meant to say something other than human beings killing other human beings. So what is new, you may dare ask – nothing really, except the number of deaths. Oh, and the number of heads buried in the sand.
I still don’t know how it has helped the people of this country to have named the senseless killing of human beings whose apparent fault is that they are not South Africans, Xenophobic (sic) attacks – how has it helped the victims and their families (yep they do have families, like you and I). A comedian, Chris Rock puts it rather crassly but aptly: “. . . just because you came out of a pussy in Detroit you think you are better?”
Does it make it better or worse that a victim of such ghastly crime is a South African or a foreigner, white or black, farmer or farm worker? Some of us remember the days when there was violence and then there was “black on black” violence. What happened in Bosnia and elswhere in Europe was however never termed “white on white” violence. What is this obsession with name-calling? Does the name-calling give us a better handle of the matter? Or is it some coping mechanism?
Maybe I’m still young and naive but I honestly don’t think it matters what we call it, we might come up with catchy names for it like “Afrophobia” but that won’t lessen the irrational hate Black South Africans have for the brothers up north.