Dear Fellow African Countries, Be Careful! Your Methods Will Make Afrophobia Worse

2015-04-19 18:33

My grandmother once taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right. As deplorable as the barbaric attack on foreign internationals on our soil is, our neighbouring governments need to exercise caution and refrain from making rash, emotional decisions that will hamper any long-standing economic, cultural and political relations between our countries.

Without doubt, South Africa’s diplomatic integrity has been dealt a serious blow and confidence in the people of South Africa is at an all-time low. However, it must be argued that the current moves by our neighbouring governments is highly emotive and will do little to improve relations between the countries nor help to quell the storm of Xenophobia in our backyard; essentially, their actions will have far-reaching implications that will not benefit anyone.

Let’s give a bit of context. In the international diplomacy scene, the Nigerian and Malawian (the highway joke coming to bite us?) governments have threatened to cut diplomatic relations and recall their ambassadors. Nigeria, in particular, is reported to be considering passing laws that will hurt South African business interests in that country. Zimbabwe’s ruling party has come out guns blazing against the attacks and their Information Minister has not minced his words about SA’s racial policy. In Mozambique, South African workers have fled for their lives with little to no intervention from the Moz government.

In the cultural scene, immediately after the attack on fellow Africans in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South African musicians had to cancel their international tours after calls for a South African boycott. This boycott has reached heightened levels in Zimbabwe for artists like Big Nuz and DJ Tira and possibly Cassper Nyovest. It has also been reported that Kelly Khumalo’s UK tour has been postponed indefinitely.

The first mistake that the governments in question have made is to assume that South Africa is an Afrophobic country. This is not true at all! The vast majority of this country’s citizens have lived in peace and harmony with their sisters and brothers from Africa and other parts of the world for many years. Many of us have gained friends and wives and husbands and drinking buddies and business partners. To respond to a few, albeit barbaric, incidents in pockets of the country with such major decisions is really not justifiable.

The actions and statements of our neighbours will do well to exacerbate the situation here at home. Many South Africans might see these kinds of threats and the fear of abuse of fellow South Africans in neighbouring countries (as is the case in Mozambique) as confrontational and provocative. Many South Africans have kept their peace and refrained from attacking foreign nationals because they believe our visitors are innocent victims. But with their governments assuming such aggressive postures against the country, who knows what will happen?

It gets worse. One would think that it is only the governments that are acting in this irrational, hasty manner, but the reality is that many citizens of the countries involved also have deep feelings ranging from disgust to hatred of South African people because of this. Had it only been the governments, we would have tasked our Minister of International Relations and Presidency to remedy the frosty relations. But when the people on the ground also harbour such feelings, the picture becomes drearier. One need not go farther than Facebook and Twitter to see scorching comments and tweets about South Africa and her people. There’s even a “new” map of Africa without South Africa trending on the internet.

It’s somehow becoming increasingly apparent that the response by our brothers and sisters and their governments is a result of pent-up, already-existing stereotypes about South Africa and her people. It is no secret that many believe that South Africa has treated itself as a country above and far-removed from Africa. Indeed many South Africans have an aloof, cool attitude towards Africa and instead aspire towards a more Western lifestyle. And so, these opinions are once again finding their way into discourse and are now used to further isolate South Africa as a rogue, African-hating country that kills Africans.

Some will argue that such decisive action is essential to send a strong message to South Africa that Afrophobia is intolerable. They will argue that termination of diplomatic relations and withdrawal of ambassadors and sanctions against South African businesses and boycotts (wait a minute, is this sounding more and more like the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that South Africa was once exposed to during that dreadful Apartheid?) is necessary punishment for the deaths and brutality leveled against foreign nationals. However, careful, sober and deeper analysis into this issue shows us that fighting fire with fire is not the best way to go.

We are not oblivious or immune to the anger and hurt felt by our brothers and sisters in Africa. In fact, we not only feel anger towards our fellow South Africans who have acted in extremely animalistic ways, we also have to juggle emotions of hurt, worry, disgust and a deep, deep sense of shame. All we ask for from our neighbours  is patience and space to fix our issues. Our government, police and Defence Forces are more than capable of instilling peace in our streets and we will decisively overpower this handful of murderers who kill in our name. Rest assured that the majority of the people of this country abhor such violence; our student organisations, political parties, trade unions, civic organisations and civil society as well as tall people and fat people and purple people and orange people and and ….everyone is totally against Afrophobia and violence thereof. Just please cease threatening advances against South Africa’s government and her musicians and her businesses and her people as it will not end well for anyone and will, instead, make things far worse if not irreparable.

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