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Why do we hate our African brothers and sisters?

Lifestyle Section - Opinion

  On May 12, 2008, riots broke out in Alexandra Township. Mozambican, Zimbabwean and Malawian nationals were targeted. Two people were killed and 40 injured that day. It spread from there in the ensuing weeks, to other Gauteng settlements,  and to Durban, Cape Town and parts of the Southern Cape, Mpumalanga, North West and Free State provinces.

By the time the violence was brought under control, 62 people were dead, several hundred injured, immense destruction of immigrant-owned property had occurred, many foreign nationals had fled to their countries of origin, and 1 400-odd people had been arrested for taking part in the violence.

It’s called xenophobia. “Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries” the dictionary tells us. South Africa hung its head in shame, as it ought to have, after this disgraceful occurrence. Why the attacks took place, is a matter of conjecture – there have been a number of investigations which arrived at varying conclusions – but the most commonly cited reasons are competition for jobs, services and housing, nationalistic sentiment, and a sense of superiority in that for some reason, South Africans are “better” than other Africans.

Over the next six years, sporadic incidents of xenophobic violence took place, but did not spiral out of control, until last week Monday, when a Somali national shopkeeper is alleged to have shot to death a 14-yearold boy in Snake Park in Soweto.


According to news reports, the assailants are mostly young people; many of them school children, and the targets are foreign nationals, specifically shop-owners, but in the ensuing carnage, some South African shopkeepers are falling prey to the marauding bands, with the police trying desperately to bring the situation under control.

In much the same fashion as occurred in the early stages of the 2008 attacks, the authorities are hotly denying that the attacks are xenophobic, but it is hard to accept that assertion at face value, when the people on the scene, are heard to be saying that this will be the day that foreign nationals leave Soweto for good.

That the attacks seem to be co-ordinated is apparent, but to suggest that it is nothing other than criminal activity is little short of disingenuous. In the early hours of the morning last Thursday, a Malawian shop owner was disemboweled and set alight, and his shop looted. Police said that the attack was “definitely not xenophobic”.

What is it about us South Africans? Why do we see foreigners as a threat? Do they take away our jobs? Do they consume services at our expense? By operating retail businesses that are apparently selling goods cheaper than our local shop owners can do, are they threatening the livelihood of our entrepreneurs? I have no answers for these questions, but it would seem that there is a perception that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “Yes”.

Inevitably, when confronted with an ugly outburst like this, the horrors of the massacre in Rwanda in 1994, and the Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian ethnic cleansing which took place in the Balkans after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, come to mind. Unspeakable acts were perpetrated in an internecine war that stained the conscience of the world at large, and all because the targeted populations
were “different” or “inferior” or a “threat”.

If this latest outburst is not quelled with precipitate action, we will once more have to hang our heads in national shame for the manner in which we treat our bothers and sisters from Africa. At last count, six people have been killed in the violence: 14-year-old Siphiwe Mahori, whose death sparked the violence, Malawian shopkeeper Dan Mokwena, a 19-year-old bystander in Naledi, a baby trampled to death on Friday, and two suspected looters shot on Monday morning in an exchange of gunfire with police – and 178 have been arrested. It is unclear how many people have been injured in the on-going violence.

Written by Norman McFarlane You are reading Why do we hate our African brothers and sisters? articles

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