'Xenophobia' Is Only The Beginning

2015-04-30 12:41

We’ve all been exposed to copious amounts of content and explicit imagery depicting and protesting xenophobia. So much that I thought discussing something different would be a good change. But how much better than the perpetrators would I be if I didn’t acknowledge this social unrest as a necessary conversation? At the risk of sounding defensive, it’s not just me. On the contrary, I’ve encountered quite a few people who have consumed media in its different forms and through its various channels, who share the same sentiment.

By observation, it would almost seem that some people have become somewhat desensitised to the shock tactics displayed in efforts to generate interest and encourage action against such discrimination. In fact, one could argue that it almost becomes easier or more convenient to turn the other cheek and hope that someone else will be more responsive. The only problem with that, other than the fact that it defies humanity of course – is that if everyone adopted the same mind-set, who then would be left to take accountability for the gradual destruction of a reputable South African legacy?

It would seem to me that to some, “minding your own business” and disassociating yourself with matters that don’t directly concern or affect you, almost becomes a standard not to be interfered with, out of respect for the personal space of the people involved. Especially in smaller communities like Alexandra where similar issues like domestic violence are also classified as incidents intended for the family to resolve amongst themselves in a dignified manner.

While this approach is understandable in lighter situations or situations where a family is in mourning, the problem with this sort of thinking when it comes to violence is that it’s not about being “nosy”. It’s about offering help to those who are unable to fend for themselves. Otherwise our communities develop internal wounds that we allow to fester by doing nothing – effectively destroying our nation from the inside out.

What’s more concerning is that South Africa has experienced very little if any outside threats to the country. By that, I refer to threats in the form of wars, terrorism and natural disasters. Not to undermine the crimes that befall us but these are problems far in excess of our ability to comprehend, never mind tackle - and with the disintegration currently manifesting itself, how prepared would we be really, should it happen that we are faced with such problems of a larger scale?

Yes, xenophobia has contributed significantly to our great fall but responsibility can and should also be attributed to the way we’ve conditioned ourselves to deal with problems. Unfortunately from where I stand, it would seem that there is a sample of Black people in poorer communities (especially men - as they are the more predominant attackers), that appears to have underdeveloped skills in effectively dealing with the frustrations of unemployment. In an article from 29 April 2015, Jan-Jan Joubert elaborates further by adding that:  

… contributing factors to xenophobia included competition over access to resources, rivalry for employment opportunities, business rivalry, failure by local government to regulate business registration, involvement of foreigners in criminal activity and the spread of misinformation, including on social media.  

Although these frustrations are sound, the methods used to resolve them are often not. Instead, we find that people find reason in initiating a series of violent acts including burning tyres and protesting in order to be heard. I by no means discount these methods as they were presumably adopted from previous years to counter injustices during apartheid. However, these were methods that were effective during that era. It stands to reason that different methods should be employed to address the problems that we face today in a progressive country that practices liberalism.

That said, retweeting and hash-tagging alone, won't cut it. In the same way that we condemn ‘liking’ images on Facebook as a means  of redressing the hunger of a poverty-stricken and malnourished child in upper Africa, we should also condemn the display of ineffective ‘More Xen. Less Phobia’ signs created in a ploy to get away with the sentiment of being a good citizen. I say "ineffective" because how many of the people that you're addressing, do you think, can afford mobile phones with functions that support your choice of medium - when they can barely afford to put food on the table?

I’m not saying that we should all go into the affected communities with gumboots and shotguns, but surely we could think of other ways to play more proactive roles in our communities. That is - roles that not only recognise the problem of xenophobia and protest it, but roles that also offer solutions to the attackers who feel that there is no other way to “get rid” of their “problems”. I’ll even give one right now…

How about… getting involved in SME workshops that advise people on how to integrate the streetwise thinking of a local South African, with the internationally-informed thinking of a foreign national or foreign-turned-South African, to create a mutually-beneficial import business? I mean, I don’t exactly have a booming multi-million rand business to fund a whole CSR initiative but I would be willing to contribute whatever I can to such a cause.

Also, as an individual, granted - it’s difficult to do much when you don’t live in an area where there are people who perpetuate this violent behaviour. But by gathering the courage to go into these communities in numbers, you effectively open the way for those living within these communities to sustain humanity as well. It may not be "as easy as it sounds" but that’s the point...

... to facilitate a culture of facing great challenges head on, together, so we can strengthen our walls in the event that greater challenges threaten to demolish our national pride.

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