Africa Day: Foreign nationals being used as scapegoats

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Researchers say that people should be focusing their anger towards government instead. Photo: Jaco Marais
Researchers say that people should be focusing their anger towards government instead. Photo: Jaco Marais


“We are not a hateful nation, we have nothing against our African brothers and sisters. What is happening in South Africa is that the economic opportunities are becoming fewer each day. When people see people coming into the country to fight over the few opportunities that remain, things are bound to get tricky,” a South African told City Press on Africa Day.

On Wednesday as the continent celebrated the 59th anniversary of the founding of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the AU, there are many South Africans that share Andrew Makhubela’s sentiment of a fight over economic opportunity.

“I am personally not against anyone coming to look for a better life here. If they come here legally and follow the rules of the land, I do not think there is anything wrong with that,” the young man from Hammanskraal in Pretoria said.

Leko Mabaso*, from Winterveld just outside Pretoria, said she was against foreign nationals coming into South Africa and doing as they pleased.

READ: Xenophobia against the Pan-Africanist agenda that liberated us from apartheid

“They are calling the shots and setting up crime dens in our inner cities. I cannot walk the streets of Sunnyside alone as a young woman. When I do, I feel like I am the foreign national and that is what people are against,” she said.

Mabaso, who is a student at the Tshwane South Tvet College, felt government was to blame for what was happening because they have failed to secure the borders.

Mabaso said:

People come and go as they wish. We also have an inefficient SA Police Service that cannot police them when they are in the country.

Don’t scapegoat foreign nationals, rather blame government

Bongani Mavundla, a researcher at Unisa’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences, said that xenophobia was a fight among the poor. “People are fighting foreign nationals, people who have been excluded or forgotten by their governments. Our government is failing to own up to its failures and mistakes in creating jobs, securing the borders and having efficient policing. In their rhetoric they scapegoat foreign nationals,” Mavundla said.

In 2018, then health minister Aaron Motsoaledi blamed the overcrowding of hospitals on foreign nationals. He said: “The weight that foreign nationals are bringing to the country has got nothing to do with xenophobia … it’s a reality”.

Mavundla said such statements were just government officials covering their behind.

The researcher said that people should be focusing their anger towards government instead. He said what was needed was a civil society that would tell people that “the country is in the state it finds itself not because of foreign nationals, but because of the failure of government”.

 Mavundla said:

When we have a nation that is informed, we can start focusing on the real issues.

Nombulelo Shange, a sociology lecturer at the University of the Free State, said the challenges facing the country “are so big that even our leaders do not know how to start coming up with solutions”.

“There’s this tendency to go for the low hanging fruit. Rather than dealing with racism, dealing with the fact that we haven’t healed from apartheid, we haven’t received the justice that we were promised, or dealing with colonialism as the prelude to apartheid, it is much easier to blame the foreign nationals,” Shange said.

READ: How immigration benefits us all

She said there was strength in South Africans working together with foreign nationals through ubuntu to tackle the challenges they face.

“If we can root ourselves in our humanity, in our ubuntu, then we can definitely start to resolve some of the challenges we face within our communities. We need discussions and discourse around what the real issues are. We also need to start to engage with other Africans, engage them on what brought them to this country and learn more about each other,” Shange said.

*not their real name


Sthembiso Lebuso 


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