South Africa should be deeply ashamed of the recent resurgence of attacks on foreign black Africans. By Baffour Ankomah
If you sense a tone of anger in this piece, please forgive me because I am angry! I am angry at the way black South Africans have treated fellow black Africans who have immigrated to South Africa since Apartheid was defeated in 1994. I am angry that black South Africans can kill other black Africans as if they were killing their goats. I am angry that they can do this with impunity!
I am angry that South African leaders who enjoyed the hospitality and solidarity of the entire continent during the struggle against Apartheid have done next to nothing to stop this nonsense.
I am angry that the current generation of South Africans considers African lives so cheap. I am angry at the sheer callousness and the lack of feeling that these South Africans have displayed when pumping bullets and hurling stones and rocks at the poor Africans who have become their victims. I am angry, oh Lord I am angry!
They call it xenophobia. I call it Afrophobia. It is a disease eating away the soul of black South Africans. But from where will a saviour come?
It is not xenophobia because, as Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the only South African political leader who has covered himself with grace in this sad episode, says, black South Africans don’t do it to the Chinese immigrants among them. Neither do they do it to the white or Indian immigrants. They do it to black Africans alone. Self-hate. What a shame!
Getting away with it
In all this, Gareth Newham, the head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), speaks for many when he says the Afrophobia “attacks have continued in South Africa partly because South Africans know they can get away with it, as the police rarely act against perpetrators”.
That is the crux of the matter. The young men who are pumping bullets into the heads of their African victims in Durban and elsewhere know that nothing will happen to them – and nothing has happened to them since the conflagration in 2008, and even in 2015 when Afrophobia flared up again.
There are decent people in South Africa, in fact the majority of them are decent people. The few bad eggs who have besmirched the good name of the majority are able to do it because the decent people do nothing to stop the nonsense. It is time the majority stood up and said enough is enough. We will no longer allow our good name to be dragged in the mud by mindless people.
The shame of it all is that because this is election season (South Africa goes to the polls on 8 May), even decent people like President Cyril Ramaphosa have fallen prey to the mindlessness that feeds the Afrophobia. The politicians want votes, so they have all joined in the madness. May God blow away their votes!
When President Ramaphosa stood at the podium at that election rally and said: “Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and set up businesses without licences and permits. We are going to bring this to an end. And those who are operating illegally, wherever they come from, must now know…” What was he pushing for? Votes? Or action by the Afrophobes?
Remarkably, hours later, when his citizens in Durban took up the chant and acted in the latest flare-up of Afrophobia, Ramaphosa was seen backpedalling and flip-flopping. “The attacks in Durban,” he said, “violate everything that our people fought for over many decades [and] I condemn them in the strongest terms.” Truly, a day in the life of a politician is a long time indeed.
With blood on the streets and shame on his face, Ramaphosa now says: “As South Africans, we owe our freedom to the solidarity and support given to our liberation struggle by people across our continent and around the world.
“Our economy and society benefit from our extensive trade and investment relations with partners on our continent. African development depends on the increased movement of people, goods and services between different countries for all of us to benefit. We will not allow criminals to set back these processes.”
So since when did Ramaphosa know this? If only he would not flip-flop because of votes. Throughout the post-Apartheid years, says the Institute for Strategic Studies (Pretoria), “local business interests, gangs, community leaders and political officials typically fomented xenophobic attacks [by] regularly blaming foreigners for their own failures to deliver services as well as economic and physical security.”
That reminds me of Great Britain where, at every election, immigrants become the scapegoat on whose back votes are won.
There is a famous deputy police chief in South Africa, Bongani Mkongi, who claimed two years ago that ‘foreign’ Africans were threatening to overrun the country. The video of his diatribe went viral and it still remains viral. In the video, Mkongi is heard saying it is unacceptable that foreign nationals had taken over a South African ‘city’ when South Africans had not done so anywhere in Africa.
Mkongi meant Johannesburg’s rundown Hillbrow suburb which he said had become 80% “foreign national” and if nothing was done about it, the whole country would become “80% foreign national” and the country’s president would eventually be a “foreign national”.
In the video, Mkongi insists that his remarks are not xenophobic, yet he thunders out: “We fought for this land from a white minority, we will not surrender it to foreign nationals.”
This is where history can help, but Africans don’t want to learn even their own history. Mkongi would have known how many South Africans lived in other African countries and at the full expense (board, lodging, education, stipend, everything) of these African countries during the fight “for this land”.
In my own class at the Institute of Journalism in Accra, Ghana (1978-80), were two black South Africans who were given all privileges by the Ghanaian government because they were South Africans whose people were fighting to free themselves from Apartheid.
The two South Africans paid no tuition fees like other foreigners, they lived free at the student hostel, they were given stipends every month by the Ghana government while even we, the Ghanaian students, got no such stipends.
All African governments extended such privileges to South Africans right across the continent. I will not talk about the political support – in funds, arms, military training, refuge, diplomacy – that all Africa gave to the struggle in South Africa. Some Africans indeed died when providing this support.
Today, a forgetful generation of South Africans are saying, like Mkongo, “We fought for this land, we will not surrender it to foreign nationals.” How can they not see beyond their feeding spoons?
But let’s thank God for Julius Malema. He is the only politician who says: “If you say you are not going to vote for EFF because we say you must love Africans, you can keep your vote. We don’t want votes from people who are xenophobic. Without the unity of Africa we will be exploited forever, by Europe, by America and now by China.”
And he says this in a country where a recent study found that 56% of South Africans did not trust other Africans; only 17% did. Around 40% of South Africans said they would stop foreign nationals from starting businesses or accessing services in the areas where they lived. About 20% supported the government removing all foreign nationals irrespective of their legal status. May God help them to see beyond their feeding spoons. Amen. NA