Xenophobic?

[Unathi Kondile- Youth Radio Cape Town]

Imagine you lived in a shack, in pristine poverty, unemployed and bound to a life of nothingness and no aspirations. Better off people – those that live in suburbs – constantly call you ‘lazy’ and worthless. You’ve tried crime, you’ve tried menial jobs and you’ve even tried school. But for some or the other reason you’re still stuck in your one-room shack.

Then one day a new neighbour arrives. The neighbour is from Zimbabwe. He too is poverty-stricken and unemployed. A week later your Zimbabwean neighbour tells you he got a job. You brush this off as luck. A few weeks later 1000 Zimbabweans move into you neighbourhood, build their own shacks with scrap metal and within hours they too have jobs. Is there something wrong with you? Your neighbours come and they get the jobs but you’re still unemployed. A few months down the line – the entire Northern Africa has relocated to South Africa and they’re thriving, doing better than you economically. The poorer South African locals in shacks cannot understand this. They’re lazy but they’re not that lazy – they think. And the trend continues. Poorer immigrants, fleeing poverty and violence in their own countries come to South Africa and thrive.

Until one day, when all of this has finally reached the point of being nonsense for the local shack dwellers. They congregate and decide. “Let’s kick out the foreigners!” Consensus is reached and within two weeks, more than 42 foreigners are killed and tens of thousands of immigrants across South Africa are homeless. Those tens of thousands of immigrants are relocated to make-shift temporary camps in parks and church yards.

News headlines say: “Xenophobia” and the local savages, who’d chased and killed immigrants, wonder “what on earth is xenophobia?” A few weeks later the entire South African populi is up in arms calling for an end to the merciless displacement of foreign nationals.

Two days ago I was standing in Johannesburg, a few miles from the place where it all started – Alexandra township. No-one wants to speak about it. All you hear is: “We’re tired of these makwerekwere (derogatory term for foreigner) – they take our food, our women, our houses, our money, they take everything!” Meanwhile those living in surburbs, see this all unfolding in their 72 inch plasma TVs, and cosily lambaste the poor and call them savage brutes with no compassion for their fellow brothers. The reason I keep on bringing in stuff about suburbanites is because some township dwelling hairstylist asked me: “Do you see any of those foreigners in suburbs!?” I said, “No.” and then he proceeded to ask me, “Where do they live?” before I could answer he said, “they live in townships and we have to fight for the same resources there!” I really wanted to interrupt but this stylist was getting more and more angry, “The government allows these people to come here, allows them to get work permits, allows them to stay in out townships, but if they dare go anywhere near the suburbs they’ll get chased away to the townships!” He picked up a glass of water; I reared closer to the mirror to see if, in his anger, he didn’t damage my hair.

He gets back and as I relax, he goes at it again, “when you go to Botswana or some place you have to report to the government there and you are no allowed to get a job in Botswana!” he paused, “you can’t even get a place to stay – you get put in refugee camps! … Now why must South Africa be different? Why must South Africa be a safe heaven for all!?” He was getting furious. I could understand his frustration, but I just couldn’t see why it had to lead to so many deaths and so many displacements. It’s winter and all those 30 000 and more immigrants are living in tents, sleeping on grass and pavements. It’s sad. And I really wish I was making this up – but I’m not.

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2 Responses

  1. Right, but it didn’t start in Alexandra.

    It started in Atteridgeville two months ago, and popped up in Mamelodi before it reached Alexandra. And some have said that people arrived in taxis to stir up local people against the foreigners.

  2. yes, yes, it allegedly began Atteridgeville in March or so, and then Mamelodi in April and then Alex in May – I wont get into such technicalities of origins because we all know it began way before Atteridgeville – from as early as 2006 in Alexandra, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Butterworth, etc. Yes, some of us know because we were already covering this back then. Atteridgeville just so happens to be the first place the media chose to focus on and not evidence of true origins. In fact the blame partly lies on the South African media for fueling such violence – because it has been happening for so long and when they finally hit a dearth of news in their newsrooms they chose to go and fuel, give publicity, exacerbate issues that have been ongoing for some years now, not months.

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