It all started……, Yes I guess some of us don’t know when and how it all started. Xenophobia! Xenophobia!! Xenophobia!!! and we probably don’t know how it all ensued. Maybe firstly I should clarify what the word “Xenophobia” means: it means the fear of foreigners or Strangers. So this basically means it is just a violence born and bred out of insecurity towards foreigners.It is important to recognise that xenophobia can exist without violence. And it’s not sufficient to simply recognise it when people start killing each other.
May 2008, Foreign nationals, mostly migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia, were dragged through the streets of Alexandra, barely a few kilometers from Johannesburg’s plush Sandton suburb, and “necklaced” – a throwback to the summary execution tactic used in the Apartheid days.
A rubber tyre, filled with petrol, is forced around a victim’s chest and arms, and set alight.
In an instant, the story of South Africa’s much-touted rainbow nation of black, white and brown people happily living together, fizzled away in an outburst of vengeance. It didn’t start or end in 2008. It had been building up.
Tens of thousands of people were displaced, forced to seek refuge in churches, mosques and even police stations. In the end, it took military intervention to quell the violence.
South Africa is a nation of multiple ethnicities, languages and nationalities. From the Zulu and Xhosa, to the Dutch and the British. Somali and Tutsi to Indian Tamil and Gujarati, Chinese and Zimbabwean.
However divided, unequal, and structurally flawed, South Africa is home to a very diverse population of people. A country with deep pockets, it remains attractive as a home for migrants, some of them seeking greener economic pastures, others safety and security.
The economy relies heavily on migrants, be it to make up for a massive skills shortage or as cheap labour in farms and mines. Despite the violence meted out to foreign nationals, tens of thousands continue to seek asylum there, as many as 60,000 to 80,000 per year.
Xenophobia in South Africa is not new. Some, like Michael Neocosmos, Director of Global Movements Research at the University of South Africa (UNISA), recall anti-migrant sentiment in the early nineties, when the new government was in the midst of planning new economic policies and politicians of all stripes began drumming up anti-immigrant sentiment.
A survey in 1997 showed that just six percent of South Africans were tolerant to immigration. In another survey cited by Danso and McDonald in 2001, 75 percent of South Africans held negative perceptions about black African foreigners.
In a most painful of ironies, many South Africans associate foreign black Africans with disease, genocide and dictatorships.
And build up it did. In 1998, three foreign-nationals were killed on a train, between Johannesburg and Pretoria. In 2000, a Sudanese refugee was thrown from a train on a similar route. The reasons were all the same: blaming foreigners for a lack of jobs, or economic opportunity. In 2007, a shop in the eastern Cape was set alight by a mob. The violence that escalated in 2008, was distinctive and decisive. It affected black, African foreign nationals; poor and disenfranchised South Africans; in the townships, but there is no evidence to suggest white Europeans were attacked, or those from the Indian subcontinent.
With so many economies battling recession for the better part of the past decade, the deadly triad of competition-survival-blame has seen fear of the foreigner rise across the globe.
But, contrary to popular belief, xenophobia in South Africa is not just a problem of the poor.
The violence of 2008 was still shocking
The violence was captured on video
and spread across social media. Resounding condemnation from the middle classes in South Africa and the international community followed. President Zuma himself condemned the incident, but there was still no acknowledgement that these incidents constituted ‘hate crimes’. When the riots broke out in Soweto in January 2015, it surprised no one.
However, business owners in the country are not likely to be found hurling petrol bombs, or rocks, at foreign owned shops. Often it is a mob, made up of the township mainstay of unemployed youth that form the front lines of service delivery protests, vigilante justice, and repeated attacks against foreign nationals.
The people expect a lot from the government, he said.
For others, like Cynthia Khanyile, a street vendor in Jabulani, the blame lies elsewhere.
“I hate foreigners. I really don’t like them. They take business away from us. We work hard, but then the foreigners come and take our business and our jobs,” she said.
It is the politics of survival.
.“What we have seen happening, ladies and gentlemen, is not xenophobia, it’s criminality,” Makhura told the crowd. “We have gone out to the community to talk, telling our community members that nobody in our communities must try to defend criminality.” As Makhura continued to condemn the violence, he also commended the police for moving migrants out of what he called “difficult areas”.
A day after Makhura addressed migrant traders, flanked by senior police officials, the City Press made a shocking allegation. “Cops told us to loot,” the headline said.
In fact, language goes to the heart of the problem, with South Africa conflating rights with nation-state citizenship, despite the promises of the Constitution, to protect all. When the South African government speaks of justice, rights or solutions, the emphasis on citizenship is marked. In so doing, Zuma’s administration, time and time again descend to the very games engendered to create outrage on the street.
In February, following January’s attacks, President Zuma spoke of a “need to support local entrepreneurs and eliminate possibilities for criminal elements to exploit local frustrations.”
Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost,” she was quoted as saying.
Minister Zulu later clarified her remarks, but the damage it seems, had already been done.
And when it comes to cases of violence against foreigners, the state is particularly obliged to protect the victims from individuals who perpetrate the violence. This time, however, legal redress is not being sought.
Foreign nationals are reluctant to seek legal redress because of the consequences court cases often inspire. After all, how does justice protect the returning migrant looking to reintegrate into a society already hostile to foreigners?
The best known case of xenophobic violence in 2008 is of “The Burning Man”, Mozambican national, Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, who was burned alive in the Ramaphosa settlement in full
view of the world’s media.
VOICES OF VICTIMS
Danicha was one of the traders in the crowd that was addressed by Sheikh and the leaders of the newly-established “Township Business Development-South Africa” group. He is confident that the route chosen by the leadership, the choice of negotiations with government and Soweto business leaders is the right option.
We have to try to work together,” he said. “Because there is nowhere else we can go.
I moved to South Africa from Cote d’Ivoire, in 1997 and in my experience, South Africa can be very good, and very bad. South Africa is still ahead of many African countries in terms of its economy, its democracy and also the application of the law.
“I don’t even have clothes … I lost all my things,” said Masrat Eliso an Ethiopian national, four days after his shop in Protea Glen, a suburb of Soweto, was looted.
It appeared to be business as usual, after days of attack but to the foreign nationals who returned to their stores in Soweto, there was a shared fear that they may soon be the subject of another attack.
Danicha returned to his shop in Mofolo, another suburb of Soweto, three weeks after the violence subsided.
He is one of a few hundred thousand Somali refugees in South Africa who have found some measure of success in operating small stores in townships around the country. He is also one among thousands of foreign nationals here who report multiple incidents of persecution.
But Danicha’s life in South Africa has been filled with hardship. And the scars, which run across the entire left side of his body, act as a stark reminder. In June 2014, he and a friend were running a small store in the Johannesburg suburb of Denver, selling groceries and basic cosmetics when their store was set upon by an angry mob.
“The first day, a group of people came to the shop. They wanted to loot us. We closed the doors but then they started stoning us,” he said. “Then, on the second day, they just came and threw a petrol bomb at the shop.
I was inside the shop.”Danicha was one of four people who sustained severe burns in Denver on that day.
Abdikadir Ibrahim Danicha “Everywhere I am burned,” he said. “I was in hospital for three months.”
After being treated at the Charlotte Maxeke public hospital, Danicha was then forced to rely on the Somali community in Johannesburg for assistance.
“A brother of mine helped me out by giving me a share in a shop in Soweto.”It is very difficult. Yet despite the ongoing violence, South Africa is home.
Very funny these Nationals see South Africa as home even in the midst of the violence and victimization. South Africa still bears the sustainability Africans are looking for…