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Reflections of a South African: Unpacking the baggage of xenophobia

Headwarmaz

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As a young South African male it saddens me that we have lost the trust and respect of the rest of the continent and the world. This is largely due to the recent surge of xenophobic attacks, which were not the first and not the last violent attacks towards our brothers and sisters. It is unfortunate that the South African who is actively involved in ensuring that our land is safe and hospitable for all, is lost in the backdrop of the blood-thirsty image that has come to represent the average South African.
 
Firstly, everything in this article does not undermine the plight of the displaced people of Africa, who have come to South Africa seeking refuge and stability. We too can empathise with this feeling. Not too long ago many of us were forced to grow up without fathers, uncles, mothers and aunts. They had all fled to avoid persecution by the Apartheid government. Those of us with some sense will remember how they sought asylum in Lesotho, Swaziland and populated all African countries reaching as far North as Uganda. The more fortunate or affluent ones were able to establish themselves in Europe and America.
 
Secondly, as South Africans we cannot avoid being held accountable for allowing hostility to simmer until it reached the boiling point in the Autumn/Winter of 2008. However, I do feel that we need to undertake a closer examination of the situations surrounding and leading to xenophobic attacks. This will a**ist us in ensuring that we can avoid a recurrence of such despicable acts.
 
There is ignorance that festers in the minds of the average South African. It has been the mainstay of xenophobia to repeat the now cliche motto "They have come to steal our women and jobs." However, there is a greater ignorance in neglecting to further examine this statement. To home in on the origins and sentiments that give birth to this notion.
 
Firstly, South Africa was prematurely annointed as the 'promised land'. Apartheid left a heavy imbalance in the economic structure of the country. The have-nots, manufactured by centuries of subjugation, have not been given the fair opportunity to reclaim the wealth and resources (or control thereof) that they had been denied. BEE was the only recognisable approach for restructuring the distribution of wealth. It is now clear that BEE has been used inappropriately by a chosen few to further their own economic well-being and indulge in the life of luxury. The average person on the ground has not, and will not, see the same benefits.
 
This has left the average South African shocked and dissapointed. They would not be able to cash in on the promise of 'a better life for all'. At the same time, this same person had to walk the streets and see that a growing number of 'foreigners' were filling the streets, working hard and getting paid. Companies started hiring more refugees as a source of cheap labour. One must remember that the unemployment rate is 23.5%. This translates into hostility for all those South Africans who are unable to secure jobs.
 
Media did not help the situation by attributing the growing crime rate to the increased number of immigrants. Police were free to mistreat refugees, especially those who did not have the adequate paper-work. This did not set a good example for the average South African citizen to follow. Disregard for all refugees was to follow.
 
End of part 1

Headwarmaz...

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Headwarmaz

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You are reminded that these are the thoughts of one man. This is my attempt to redeem (for myself) the tarnished image of South Africa after upsurge the xenophobic attacks. For some they may appear to be justifications for South African attitudes. However, i hope those with a critical eye will view these thoughts as useful sidenotes as we try to understand and address the story of xenophobia. Please read, Reflections of a South African: Unpacking the baggage of Xenophobia (part 1), before continuing.

At the end of part one, I was starting to speak about how our leaders and other societal (authority) figures have at times encouraged a xenophobic attitude to fester.

Firstly, and most importantly, South Africans are given poor geographical education. It is rare to find a high school learner who knows the names, locations, capitals, presidents of at least fifty percent of the rest of African countries.

This disregard for the rest of Africa has led to South Africa being dubbed, Africa's United States.

It is therefore no surprise that South Africans are in the dark,let alone sympathetic, when it comes to the plight of refugees from wore-torn regions of Africa.

This ignorance is present at the highest levels of leadership, and has trickled down to those who are entrusted with public protection. The Police.

The police system is notorious for how differently they handle people of different races. Of course the South African black man has been at the mercy of the trigger-happy police since the beginning of the apartheid regime. However, things took a turn for the worst when the myth implicating Nigerians for importing drugs across our borders was circulated with vigour. This gave police license treat anyone suspected as being 'Nigerian' with the treatment usually reserved for stray dogs.

I was walking from the train station one day, and i pa**ed a police van that had five men lined up against it's sides, each one with their backs to the van. Two policemen were barking out orders and insults with liberal and nonchalant use of "kwiri-kwiri" (Xhosa version of kwere-kwere). After standing there for a while, i realised that the men where being ha**led for their IDs. Their inability to produce these was rewarded with hard slaps the cheek. All I could do was stand and watch.

It is said that the most unforgivable sin is not the evil of bad men, but the indifference of good men. Those of us who stood aside to watch similar events unfold are equally (if not more )accountable for Xenophobia along with those who beat, torched and pillaged. We allowed things to progress this far.

Hostility spread rapidly. Home affairs became a safe-haven for the xenophobic attendants. The workplace became unbearable. And of course, the foreigners living in the townships were vulnerable to the worst kinds of derision.

It was inevitable that violence would break out sooner rather than later.

(end of part 2)

Written by Wanda


Headwarmaz...

For the LOVE of Hip Hop