In a volatile society such as ours, it is not difficult for provocateurs to instigate acts of violence against “the other”. Often, this “other” is foreign nationals who are attacked on the basis of some wrong one of their own has done or is rumoured to have done.
The offences – real and rumoured – result in retribution against a whole group that the offender is believed to be associated with. The sporadic outbreaks of xenophobic violence we have witnessed since 2008 have generally followed the same pattern, and many innocent individuals have become victims of those violent sprees.
It was not surprising that the gut-wrenching gang-rape of eight women in Gauteng’s West Rand a few weeks ago was going to lead to a frenzied backlash against “the other”. The informal settlement from where the rapists are believed to have originated is populated by illegal miners, most of whom are undocumented immigrants from countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
For a long time now, residents in West Rand towns have been complaining to the authorities about the reign of terror conducted by bands of zama zamas. Horrific tales of rapes, murders and robberies are par for the course.
Because the bulk of the zama zamas are said to be from Lesotho, much hatred has been generated against people from that country. Fed up with the state’s inability to protect them against the zama zamas, or Marashiya, as the marauding gangs are also known, the communities unleased a wave of violence against Lesotho nationals. Whole settlements were torched and families driven into the bushes. It did not matter whether or not they were associated with illegal mining, just the hint of Lesotho nationality was enough to damn them.
Abetted by a state that is either incapable of looking after its people or just uncaring, and fuelled by anonymous fire-stokers on social media, South Africans are constantly adding to the groups of people we want to hate. This is just not sustainable. If we continue at this rate, we will be headed towards a xenophobic conflagration worse than the 2008 and 2015 waves.
Government needs to recognise the urgency of what could hit this country in the not-so-distant future should these temperatures continue to rise.