KIRUKU: Xenophobia Not Unique to South Africa

KIRUKU: Xenophobia Not Unique to South Africa

The outbreak of xenophobia that erupted in the country’s eastern port city of Durban has in its wake left five people dead and another 5,000 foreigners and asylum seekers displaced.

The number of displaced persons, made up mostly of single men but with a few families as well, has increased. Men have been separated from their wives and children.

As always happens, women and children are the ones who end up bearing the brunt of displacement and violence: Rape, hunger, cold nights, tears, pain, psychological torture, and insecurity are all associated with displacement camps.

The violence started last month following a speech by King Goodwill Zwelithini, a traditional leader of the Zulus, in which he blamed foreigners for South Africa’s high crime rate.

The Zulu king is reported to have said that all foreigners must “take their bags and go,” sparking attacks that have now spread to Johannesburg and displaced thousands.

This is not the first time South Africans are venting their anger on other nationals.

In January, shopkeepers in the vast town of Soweto were forced to flee and six of them died when looters rampaged through the area.

Earlier in 2008, 62 people were killed in yet another spate of xenophobic killings in the country’s major townships.

But lest we think that violence against other Africans is confined to South Africa, other African nations are meting out their anger and frustrations over the challenges they face in much the same way.

Blacks in Morocco, Libya and Egypt, whether students or other types of immigrants from south of the Sahara, are constant victims of discrimination.  

In Kenya, a forced repatriation looms. The country has given the mostly Somali refugees in Daadab, the world’s largest refugee camp, a three-month notice to leave for their country.

Most of the refugees fled Somalia due to the anarchy that followed the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime more than 20 years ago.

It will be a shame if Kenya refuses to heed the United Nations call not to close down the refugee camp, which houses more than 350,000 Somalis.

Kenya has blamed the rising Al-Shabaab terrorist menace on Somali immigrants in the country.

Back to the killings in South Africa: Once other Africans are out of their country, will they then blame people from other races and continents for their woes?

It is paramount for South Africans to realize that expelling other Africans will not solve their problems of unemployment and rising crime levels.

The solution to poverty, unemployment and insecurity lies in formulation and implementation of innovative policies that tackle these problems and enable economies to grow while ensuring equitable distribution of wealth.

In our own region, a similar situation threatened to occur in South Sudan, where the government recently wanted to expel foreign workers.

In that case, however, the world’s youngest country was prevailed upon by regional governments to withdraw those plans.

East African countries have for decades offered safety to thousands of refugees fleeing the unending wars in South Sudan.

Those countries that have benefitted from the support and generosity of their neighbours and then turn against them simply show just how thankless they can get.

For a long time during the apartheid era, frontline African nations such as Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania offered sanctuary to the African National Congress (ANC) leaders and fighters. In fact, Dar es Salaam served as the headquarters of the ANC.

These countries paid a heavy price for supporting the struggle against apartheid. They were destabilized, they were bombed, and their economies sabotaged.

The death of President Samora Machel of Mozambique in a plane crash instigated by the apartheid regime stands as a tall reminder of that sacrifice.

Just how selfish and ungrateful can South Africans become?

The challenges that South Africa faces are not peculiar to that nation. Regional solutions are best in addressing these problems; for instance, East Africans are beginning to enjoy the benefits of regional integration, leading to greater wealth generation.

This is because of the larger markets, economies of scale and synergies created by such co-operation.

These sorts of mutual benefits cannot accrue in a situation of xenophobia.

After all, why should other countries be enthusiastic about receiving South African workers and products if its citizens do not feel obligated to reciprocate?

In fact, what South Africans have done goes against every value they were taught by the great icon of their freedom struggle, Nelson Mandela.                                     

By Anne Kiruku