Afrophobia: South Africa’s selective xenophobia

This month, Afrophobia was back in the news. Incidents of violence and hostility towards immigrants are becoming so commonplace that South Africa is quickly becoming dead weight to Africa and killing any talks of the continent etching closer to pan-Africanism.

Earlier in February, Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba joined police and raided homes looking for illegal immigrants and criminals. Mario Khumalo, leader of a new political party of a few days called South Africa First, echoes Western immigration policies in an interview with Daily Maverick: “I don’t recall any South African going to another [African] country [during apartheid] and misbehaving.”

Khumalo either has a very selective memory, or he is the product and an epitome of how badly the South African education system has failed its scholars in a major way by not teaching South Africans that the country today is not a product of European invasion, but in fact a product of African unity. This is easily the most important part of Southern African history. South Africans took refuge in neighbouring countries – the same Zimbabweans he is condemning even took bombs and bullets from the apartheid government for supporting the ANC.

Convenient of him not to recall that the ANC had large uMkhonto we Sizwe bases in almost all neighbouring countries, and here we foreigners cannot even set up six square-metre spaza shop that doubles up as a house at night in this country without being being set alight and murdered from time to time. And on the days we’re not being torched, South Africans brandish us with derogatory names like “makwerekwere”.

Khumalo goes on to add: “Since 1994, we have never had a chance as a nation to sit down with our colonisers, talk about balancing the scales, and have a steak and wine.” Zimbabwe, as young as it was in the 1980s, and its leaders, felt like they could not simply watch on as their neighbours were fighting the same enemy they just defeated white minority rule. A newly independent Zimbabwe chose to uplift its neighbouring country, despite having its own economy to grow after defeating British colonial rule. If this is his case, South Africans owe Zimbabwe a refund for 1994 and events leading up to it, because steak and wine after its dependence would have been much easier to swallow than this inhumane treatment.

Immigrants are scapegoats for the ANC’s inadequacies

In idiosyncratic government fashion, government allows South Africans to take their frustrations of unemployment and dire poverty out on immigrants. With immigrants as scapegoats, the ANC doesn’t have to be held accountable for stealing from their own people and for failing to address current issues. They, instead, diffuse any responsibility pertaining to commitments made to ensure and spur national development. A foolproof plan because those South Africans carrying out the violent acts live in the same neighbourhoods as the targeted foreigners.

Government officials have long moved up and out of the townships, so are safe in their lavish homes in Waterkloof with no immediate fear of losing their lives or having their houses torched anytime soon.

These officials also live in white neighbourhoods, and it is clear that black South Africans have chosen to leave white people out of their disputes, because their circumstances in the past, now, and in the future all have obviously nothing to do with white people. South Africans know their place and know all too well that they are not welcome in those neighbourhoods unless they work in them, which they clearly don’t either, and I think this is the crux of the issue.

Adding fuel to the fire is the tangible relationship between white employers preferring foreign employees because South Africans are “lazy”. Zimbabweans, on the one hand, hold on tighter to the ideologies colonisers enforced upon us, than the British tried to hold onto the land. The ideology of having to work hard and play ball with white people by conforming to the romanticism of exploitation.

White employers exploit desperate foreigners that have left everything behind and thus come to South Africa only to work. I get it, the hustle is real and in a white-ruled South Africa, it’s the only way we’re going to be able to Western Union any money back home.

This phenomenon is all too evident too: go to any Spur and you’ll notice that most waitresses are Zimbabwean or foreign. This, I can imagine, is a difficult pill to swallow for black South Africans bearing the brunt of the 34% unemployment rate of its country.

South African black people are the whites of Africa

Maybe the fact that immigrants are being treated like “house niggers”, being glorified and promoted by the white boss and this seemingly mutualistic relationship is being lorded over South Africans’ heads.

This is something South Africans cannot stand because that should be them and not the black and darker Africans from wherever. Because, if this issue really was xenophobic in nature, South Africans would have targeted their bricks at the white people that came, saw, conquered and never left.

It seems that the rest of Africa needs a revolution to liberate itself from South Africans. Black South Africans are the white people of Africa. This elated positive self regards, all because of its proximity to whiteness. They are unaware of the fact that there are only 1.2 million black foreigners in the country and over 4.5 million white settlers. Cote d’Ivoire has over 2.2 million foreign nationals in a country with less than half of South Africa’s overall population, and it’s also four times smaller than South Africa.

Yet, we have yet to hear of attacks on foreigners from the nation. South Africans really think that killing foreigners is going to give them land. It will only free up some land in their townships, some jobs in the city centre and suburbs in which white people will have to hire you for for a miserable salary in your own country.

Jacqueline Tizora is a Zimbabwean born and South African-raised biomedical student.

Featured image by Qiniso Mbili