Jean Barker

SA xenophobia’s echoes in the US

2015-04-17 08:46

Jean Barker

I always call myself proudly South African, and I still do. I am. I love my country fiercely, desperately right now... like a mom loves their jailbird son.

By which I mean, it is terribly hard to explain why I love South Africa to people here, when pictures of South Africans wielding pangas and news of police having to break up xenophobic violence in Durban shortly after a peace march against xenophobia is what’s dominating the media coverage of our country.

“That’s not what we’re about”, I say. But there’s a creeping doubt, even in me.

The sight of a panga (aka Machete) makes most people all over the world think immediately of what happened in Rwanda. I know that’s what I thought of. The image it creates of our country is that of a violent, hopeless place.

I know, and you know, that South Africa is much more than that, but remember something: the last time the world really heard about South Africa was when Mandela died. Then they thought we all had Ebola.

Now there’s this. I call for a collective “FML”.

Who cares what people think here?

Well, you care what people all over the world think. You care because of how it affects the value of the Rand, which affects whether you can ever travel, what you pay for your computer, and so on. You care because we live in a global world, and not being a welcome part of it is a scary thought. You care because: remember how great it felt to party with people from all over the world during the World Cup and surprise them with how lekker we are, even if we suck at football?

It’s true that terrible things can happen anytime, anywhere in the world - and do. There was a massive car accident involving a pedestrian and four vehicles a block from me in LA tonight. In a minute, your story can change.

However, when countries who helped South Africa fight apartheid by sheltering our freedom fighters are evacuating their citizens, even doggedly-patriotic-me knows something is horribly, systematically, wrong at home.

What’s really wrong?

The thing is that most people in South Africa running out of patience. Apartheid taught everybody that the law was something to be fought, and sadly, nothing has come along in a long, long time to replace violence or crime.

It seems to me that the ANC was full of promise at first, like Gramsci’s Modern Prince, but has recently lost its way in corruption and bloated inconsistency bigger than Zuma’s boep. The people are disappointed. The dream betrayed them. The DA appears to represent narrow middle class interests, even if they don’t mean to. Malema & Co embody the cliché of morally corrupt third world leadership. What’s left?

It sounds, from the news I’m reading, like the Zuma is finally taking the attacks seriously, at least when it comes to talking the talk. Let’s hope it’s not too late, and that at some point the ANC get round to addressing the root cause. This root cause is the same one that fuels the rise of violent corruptions of all ideologies: desperation.

Radical, extremist and violent ideologies always take root when people are desperate. From Nazi Germany to Yemen to post-war China, the story is eerily similar. They adopt the guise of tradition. They dress up as true religion. But they never, ever have anything to do with spirituality or the ever-shifting beauty of culture. They’re all about finding someone convenient to blame and kill. Xenophobia is to African pride what ISIS and Boko Haram are to Islam, and we need to end them both, now. You know all this, but it needs to be said.

If the South African government wants to save South Africa from becoming everything the afro-pessimists say it will become, they need to expand education, grow jobs, and stop stealing money to enrich their asses, because the only thing that really kills hate in the long run, is hope.

Basically, it’s like this: If the people in charge act like assholes and get rich doing it, how can The People be expected to behave any better?

- Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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