Friends & Friction: Xenophobia is bad for business

2015-03-10 06:00

In 2008, refugee camps sprang up around South Africa as locals hunted down foreigners for “taking their jobs”.

Earlier this year, locals started burning shopkeepers alive and looting their goods, demanding that they leave the townships because they were foreigners.

Now, South Africans are separating along tribal lines in Malamulele, Limpopo.

There is only one absolute truth in this whole matter: there can be no excuse for xenophobia, tribalism or racism.

People who love this country must not be silent while politicians create the conditions for genocide like baboons planting poison trees with the seeds in their faeces.

When the DA’s Frau Helen Zille said blacks from the Eastern Cape were refugees in the Western Cape, we should have responded viciously to that soft knock of Nazism.

Although National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete apologised to Julius Malema for calling him a cockroach, the seed of dehumanisation her insult planted can’t be wiped out that easily.

There is a fallacy that economic growth will cure our xenophobic tendencies. Evidence suggests otherwise. Economic growth didn’t cure South Africa of racism – instead it funded it. The government had enough money to pay for forced removals and build police and defence forces with all the necessary technology to brutalise the people. Recent economic growth has failed to demarginalise a lot of black youth.

So there is a need for a strong push for a programme to deracialise South Africa as well as expunge tribalism and xenophobia from this beautiful country.

This may sound callous, but xenophobia is bad for business. South Africa has a relatively small population that is poorly educated, so a growing tourism industry helps to create jobs.

Attracting visitors to a hostile environment is a different matter altogether. Who will visit a country if they fear they’re likely to be burnt alive? No amount of advertising millions will change the opinions of family and friends. If visitors to the country speak about how terribly foreigners are treated in South Africa, the goodwill created over the past 20 years will be eroded.

Xenophobia is also harmful to exports. Foreign markets will not take kindly to products from a country that burns innocent people.

The xenophobic violence we’ve experienced recently is only a symptom of a more deep-seated problem.

As a nation, we rushed to forget the past like someone who decides to stitch a wound without first removing the puss. Now racism in all its forms has deep roots, and threatens to become the key ingredient that defines South African society.

Perhaps we can learn something from the Cape Town of old. The Mother City has always suffered from chronic xenophobia of some kind. During the days of apartheid, Capetonians hated the “Vaalies”, as they called people from the then Transvaal.

Naturally, this was bad for business for the small city.

They then launched a campaign that said: “Have you hugged a Vaalie today?” It was aimed at making the locals embrace people from outside their province.

The politicians are unable, or unwilling, to change the minds of South Africans about foreigners. Instead, as elections become harder to fight, xenophobia will one day become the basis of election campaigns, as happens elsewhere in the world.

Business needs to abort this trend before it forms.

The tourism industry needs to lead the charge and welcome foreigners to South Africa. There are profits to be made in doing so, but most importantly, there are lives – and the soul of our country – to be saved.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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