Are xenophobic attacks making South Africa vulnerable to terror attacks?

2015-04-11 20:31

Recent events in our country have led me to believe that if nothing drastic is done, we may become victims of terrorism later on. You may consider this an alarmist’s view but I consider it caution.

Not too long ago, in France, two gunmen rocked up in a satirical publication’s offices and opened fire killing innocent civilians. In Kenya, about 150 were murdered in the Garissa University College attacks.

In both incidents, known terrorist groups claimed responsibility. In France, the targeted building had published what they consider to be satire back in 2012 but some Muslims consider it blasphemous to make a picture of Prophet Muhammad, while in other parts of the world such as France it would be considered free speech. The gunmen are reported to have shouted “the prophet is avenged” after the shooting.

In Kenya, the terrorists had issue with the government’s ‘ill treatment of Muslim’ Somali residents. It is also reported that policing in Kenya tended to target Muslim residents from Somalia in mass arrests. Whether this is true or not is another story. But we do know that the Kenyan military is on some peace keeping mission in Somalia. They just got their first ATM there recently so I cannot find media reports on the rape incidents that are alleged by the terrorist group.

In attempting to find out how and why a person becomes a terrorist, I searched for academic journals on Google scholar. Agnew (2010: 132) notes that many scholars tend to agree that grievances are one of the biggest causes of terrorism. And he listed some of the proposed grievances that could lead to terrorism.

The one I found most interesting and most relevant to South Africa, was the denial of basic human rights which includes personal security, problems experienced by immigrant groups such as the discrimination they may encounter (Agnew, 2010: 133).

Agnew (2010: 135) suggests that these grievances stir up “a range of negative emotions, including anger, frustration, humiliation, and fear”, and such builds pressure on the person experiencing them to take corrective action and so the person acting alone or in a group, may seek revenge, especially if they feel that legal channels do not assist in overcoming the grievances.

If you consider that the publication in France was legally free to publish that blasphemous picture of the prophet, it is called free speech so legal channels did not assist in resolving the stated grievances.

The violence experienced by black foreign nationals in South Africa, the humiliation, and fear that comes from seeing a fellow migrant being burnt alive suggests that perhaps we are laying a strong foundation for a terrorist attack if you consider Agnew's (2010) views.

If it was your brother being burnt alive, you would be angry and frustrated too. If you think about the circumstances that led the foreign nationals to South Africa, many of them coming from unstable countries lost everything and every member of their family. Some of them face undue persecution in their home countries, now their chosen place of refuge also gives them the same problems, it would not be difficult to understand why an immigrant could commit such an attack on South Africa.

But we are fortunate in that many of our migrants are actually more peaceful and hard working than some South Africans. You loot their store today, tomorrow they’ll find another place of safety and start over as they had to start over when they moved to South Africa.

It is a shame that a country with a nasty history of undue persecution could commit such horrific acts. If we alienate people who came to our country because they were alienated in their own counties, we could very well be making ourselves vulnerable to a terrorist attack because in the end, they have nothing to lose as they have already lost everything.

But of course, not all who have grievances resort to terrorism, in fact, Agnew (2010: 135-136) suggests that majority of people who may have the grievances he listed actually resort to legal conflict resolution strategies such as negotiations. But as you have seen in France, and in Kenya, it does not take all those who have grievances, it may only take a few to inflict such great suffering on humanity. So please stop it South Africa. Stop it now. Make friends instead of making enemies.


Agnew, R. (2010). A general strain theory of terrorism. Theoretical Criminology,14(2), 131-153. Retrieved 11th April, 2015, from

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