African Fear within South Africa

The outbreak of the recent xenophobic violence is nothing new with the South African government taking a stronger stand than ever before.

African Fear within South Africa

Shu’eib Hassen - Cape Town

The recent brutal treatment of African refugees in South Africa is not a new phenomenon. It has existed in the country for years. It is at particular moments, due to a variety of factors, that xenophobia reaches the grotesque level of violent outrage. Unfortunately, the African refugees who came to South Africa for better pastures continuously rebuild their lives in a country where certain groups reject their presence with abject cruelty.

The South African government and populace have responded stronger than ever before to the recent xenophobia attacks that seem to be ever escalating. The first wave of xenophobia in South Africa this year was in late January. In Soweto, which is the most densely black residential area in Johannesburg, a Somalian store owner utilised a firearm to protect himself against a group of people looting his store. The trail of gunshots found its mark on fourteen year old Siphiwe Mahori. The community of Soweto was outraged and demanded public justice from the police, whilst the pillaging frenzy of Somali stores continued in the area.

A few months later, the second wave of xenophobia sounds off in late March. The fuel to the xenophobia flame is further ignited by the influential Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at a moral regeneration event, “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries.” He further added, “The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.”

These statements were made in the presence of Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and the KwaZulu-Natal community Member of the Executive Council Willies Mchunu. The Zulu King is not a politician but his influence and societal status can not only stir masses but also silence government to an extent. The African National Congress is hesitant to lose favour with the Zulu King, especially with the country’s municipal elections set for late April. The repercussions of not acting urgently enough to those statements has seen the result of African refugees forced to flee into safety camps or be butchered.

Through the streets of South Africa mass marches calling for xenophobia to end has brought an African unity. These marches are necessary and a crucial cause to unite for, but these marches have not been able to unite inclusively those carrying the idea of xenophobia as a solution to purge the country’s social and economic ills. This is one of the greatest challenges of the ailing situation.

Psychology of Xenophobia

There are many theorists that delve into the concept of the “other”. It is recognising an ‘other’ as being different from ones social identity or self. In xenophobia the foreigner is not only recognised as an ‘other’ but also as an ‘unknown’. This ‘unknown’ is where fact and fiction collide into myth, and then transforms into an irrefutable perception of reality to those caught in the psychology of xenophobia. Hence, those that have attacked the African refugees (the ‘other’) believe that their jobs or livelihood has been stolen (myth) because they are either suffering from poverty or, in addition to that, unemployment (fact). It is these individuals who are the key aggressors of the group.

The amalgamation of myth and fact can result in perceived realities that become actions based on the individuals personal adapted moralities. Thus, the transgressors of xenophobia do not view themselves as criminals. They consider it a social justice. So by looting a store it is considered taking back what is owed to them as the transgressors see themselves as victims rather than as perpetrators. This further complicates a solution.

Economic Reality and Impact of Xenophobia

According to a report released last year entitled “Migration and employment in South Africa: An econometric analysis of domestic and international migrants” which was published by the Migrating for Work Research Consortium (MiWORC), only 4% of South Africa’s working population are international migrants. The other 96% are South African citizens. However, the data does indicate that there is greater chance for international immigrants to be employed than locals in South Africa. The reason provided was that the international immigrants are more willing to accept jobs that the locals are not wanting, especially in the informal sector.

The report further indicated that international migrants’ influence the country’s economy positively as they provide employment for other international migrants as well as South Africans, contribute to the country’s tax, and provide reasonably priced goods on the market. The continuous xenophobia will impact the country negatively nationally but also on a much grander scale as countries like Nigeria, Malawi, and Zimbabwe have threatened to economically strain South Africa.

South African companies based in Nigeria have already experienced the rebuttal. Companies like MTN fear the economic impact as their growth within Nigeria has been greater than in South Africa due to the greater population size providing highly profitable business. In Malawi, over 2000 have protested at the South African High Commission in the capital city of Lilongwe. If action is not taken against the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini then they will economically boycott South Africa. Zimbabwe’s largest student organisation, Zinasu, has also announced economic retaliation on South African goods.

South Africa still suffers from mass poverty and unemployment, as well as other social ills. It is the frustration of living in these conditions combined with politicians’ promises joined to a despair that needs an outlet and a culprit. When frustration meets despair the easiest scape goats become the victims.
Xenophobia will eventually reach to a calmer state in the country, but the African fear experienced in South Africa will be forever etched into memory. However there is an opportunity in tragedy that allows for immense growth if it can be properly cultivated. The immense call for African unity that has grown in reaction to the xenophobia must continue, if Africa is to ever compete as a considerable continental player on a global stage.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Nisan 2015, 12:10