Behind xenophobia in Africa

2015-05-07 06:00

IT would be simplistic to say the king of the Zulus, Zwelithini, started xenophobia-based violence.

Sporadic attacks against our brothers (and sisters) from the other side of our border are not new.

People have pointed out that South African blacks are jealous of the competence and resilience of foreign nationals in business and as employees.

The black foreigners are also accused of offering their labour and services at a low price and they enjoy an unfair advantage over locals.

Fellow Africans from our neighbouring countries are said to be hard working and skilled, as opposed to South Africans who have allegedly mastered the art of too much complaining and less work.

One young African woman said to me that foreign nationals are producing too many children and competing with local people for government welfare grants. They are also accused of being filthy, they increase the crime rate, including drug peddling and robbery, and they are difficult to catch because they can disappear without trace.

What is the cause of this problem? I say the main cause of this rising confrontation among blacks is that foreign nationals are running away from their countries as a result of tribal war, poverty and the greed of fellow black elite who rule in those countries.

It is interesting to hear black politicians from our neighbouring countries complaining that South Africans are being harsh to the so-called foreigners, yet the political elite from those countries are directly and indirectly responsible for them leaving their country or the masses voting with their feet.

Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are said to be taking the lead in staging revenge attacks on South Africans in those countries, including preventing South African business vehicles or trucks from working, calling for the boycott of South African shops, as well as protesting against the presence of South Africans in their country.

What do you expect people to do when political leaders care more about looting wealth and occupying themselves with corrupt ways of abusing government resources as well as appeasing multinationals beyond prioritising creating jobs and focusing on the social welfare of the people who put in power?

The whole xenophobia thing is a smokescreen. It has always been waiting to happen on a full scale. This is a time bomb waiting to explode like the pending Boko Haram bombs that have been promised in Durban as a place where the current black-on-black violence is reported.

I wish the latter was a joke, but Boko Haram bombers have no time for jokes. Their threats are often an expression of intent to act and may materialise as quickly and as effectively. Obviously South Africans have a serious reason to be very worried.

Apparently, it is okay when the Boko Haram guys bomb fellow Africans in Nigeria, and when South Africans chase them away due to petty prejudices and genuine concerns, then revenge is in the offing and bombardment is in the pipeline. Welcome to the new Africa of Kwame Nkrumah­ and Nelson Mandela’s high dreams.

I think that xenophobia is about Africans saying they are tired of being poor, jobless and without incentive to start their own business and income-generating initiatives. It is about the youth saying they are tired of waiting for government support to help them to survive while billions are being stolen by the elite every year.

It is about Africans saying they are tired of the rampant corruption of the elite and the gross exclusion of the underdog from meaningful socio-economic participation.

Will a conflict situation wake up the supposed enlightened leadership in the continent who thrive on intellectual posturing in the African Union and United Nations platforms while their people languish in hunger and a continued lack of safety nets to safeguard their welfare and that of their children, or do we make ourselves vulnerable to a future re-colonialisation of a superpower like China and America when we have killed and made each other weak? I wonder.

• Simphiwe Mkhize writes in his personal capacity­

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