The Root of South Africa’s Xenophobia

With the spate of attacks finally dying down, and the ‘peaceful protests’ winding down, it is safe to say South Africa is returning to its state of calm prior to the inception of the xenophobic attacks that began a few weeks ago. As expected, many officials have come out to condemn the attacks and in the case of Emmanuel Sithole’s killers (read the story here), the promise of justice is ringing in everyone’s ears. It seems the government has managed to mop the floor dry this time, and all we can do is wait until something else arouses the same feelings of hate amongst the locals. We can play ‘mini-mini-mani-mo’ to guess where the attacks may begin next time, or we can all pack our bags and leave (as rightly pointed out by the locals, we shouldn’t impose our presence on them), or we can get to the root of this hate- close the tap instead of constantly mopping the floor.

In 2008, after the xenophobic attacks reportedly killed 63 people, former president Thabo Mbeki said the government will ensure no such thing happens again. But here we are, discussing the same issue, with foreigners trying to defend their right to reside in a country whose locals can barely stand the sight of them, not to mention the fact that they’ve somehow managed to make SA’s developing economy work to their advantage.

Apartheid is the excuse for every issue that affects a black man in South Africa. The lack of wealth distribution amongst blacks, the lack of sufficient education, the lack of good homes, flushing toilets and even good shoes is all due to apartheid- an excuse that is fast beginning to lose steam, if only the leadership of South Africa would see it. The killers of Emmanuel Sithole according to news reports are between the ages of 18 and 22, a generation that was certainly NOT affected by apartheid in any way! So what’s their excuse?

The liberation of blacks by Nelson Mandela and his comrades was probably one of the biggest events in African history. Nelson Mandela fought for what he believed in, worked for what he believed, and was jailed for what he believed in. He liberated the people, but I daresay he may have spoiled them. Oh? Are you surprised? At the time the black community was liberated, SA’s leadership was barely established. Things were shaky and the economy was and is still in its developing stages, yet so many promises were made in a bid to empower the previously disadvantaged generation of blacks. Social grants were promised, houses, small business loans, affirmative action for blacks where employment is concerned, bursaries… the list goes on. In spite of all these advantages, the black locals are angry at people who are from other African countries because these people own small spaza shops and make minimal profits each day just to survive. The leadership of SA has indicated that the locals are frustrated, hence their urge for violence, but why exactly are they frustrated? It is definitely not because of foreign nationals. the problem is a little more personal and deeply rooted than that. Foreigners unfortunately happen to be caught in the crossfire due to their helplessness.

 A combination of hypengyophobia, an entitled attitude and slothfulness is the root of SA’s xenophobia.

It may be a cold truth to swallow, but the fact is many of these black locals who are quick and willing to harass foreigners and loot foreign-owned stores, are not willing to move a thumb except the government allocates a committee to move it for them! Oh yes! The government with all its promises has taken on a load that threatens to break its back. To provide for every single need of the people, while the people take a lackadaisical approach to their own lives. Of all the government’s provisions to empower black people due to the part history played in their lives, bursaries for education are what I support wholeheartedly. Free houses? That’s up for discussion, as is the issue of affirmative action where people expect to get employed not because they are qualified, but because they are black in South Africa.

Let’s face it; entitlement is the order of the day in South Africa. Even amongst educated South Africans, one may be surprised to find that the attitude of entitlement sticks like glue and rears its ugly head when a foreign counterpart is in line to receive something he/she worked hard for. Let’s break it down: foreigners are being accused of ‘stealing’ opportunities from South Africans because they open shops in CBDs around the country, and in townships. The question is why didn’t these locals think of renting these shops before the foreigners arrived? I’ll tell you; they were expecting the government to give it to them for free because they are entitled to it! A few years ago, a township in the Western Cape complained they didn’t have toilets. The municipality built toilets for them but the toilets had no doors because it was an impromptu project and the budget was insufficient. One would expect that the group of individuals in this township would put up some piece of wood, create a makeshift door, you know…make things work for them. Instead, they broke the toilets and demanded fancier and better ones… you know, because they can. The attitude of entitlement here in SA goes really deep and is rooted in the government’s constant ‘back-patting’ of black locals who are not ready to take responsibility for their lives and make themselves better in spite of historical circumstances. That of course is rooted in what seems to be a national phenomenon of hypengyophobia- the fear of responsibility.

I have never seen this fear of responsibility manifest so much amongst a group of people. Everything is someone else’s fault. Foreigners are the reasons SA locals are drug addicts. That’s like blaming a grocery store for selling cigarettes because people are addicted to nicotine. It is the fault of the buyer, and the buyer only. No one pulls people off the streets and feeds them drugs. Drugs are handed out for free at corners to celebrate holidays- they are bought, paid for by interested parties who decided of their own accord to purchase them. It is not because of apartheid that black people are still uneducated (yes you can bite my head off if you wish), but with the abundant bursaries and opportunities available for black South Africans, there is no excuse for not being educated. Apartheid ended 20 long years ago, and while the wounds may not have healed completely, or while some ignorant parties may still exhibit racist characteristics, one cannot blame apartheid for the complete lack of progress of some black communities. For slow progress, perhaps. But complete lack? I beg to differ.

Black South Africans need to start taking responsibility for their lives, and for them to do that, the government needs to stop encouraging their acts of entitlement! It’s more fulfilling to show a man how to catch a fish than it is to give him fish. For xenophobia to end, xenophobic black locals in SA must stand up and work for what they desire. They must stand up and take advantage of initiatives put in place by the government for their benefit e.g. rent-to-own initiatives where they can become home owners instead of waiting for the government to build them houses, and protesting when these houses are not built to their taste (I honestly have never heard of anything so ridiculous!). They need to take advantage of the available bursaries and educate themselves to make themselves employable. They need to take responsibility for it is no one’s fault that they are where they are today. The blame game is a little old and it’s time to take some responsibility. It’s been 20 long years… it’s time to let the birds out of the nest, and devote all these funds dedicated to empower slothful locals to projects that can better develop the economy for their future benefit.

It’s not xenophobia (no I am not reducing the attacks to a debate over suitable terms to describe the inhumane attacks), it is terrible self-hate mixed with a hunger to prove ‘ownership’ of the land. Self-hate because they see what they can do without the government’s help through the actions of foreigners, and the desire to prove ownership because God forbid a black man from another country succeeds on their turf- a debate for another day, but for now, do feel free to bite my head off…