Why black South Africans are attacking foreign Africans but not foreign whites

18 04 2015

The attacks on migrant shop owners in Durban this
week reminds us the position of foreigner in South
Africa is a complex one. After decades of isolation
from the rest of the African continent, and the
world, during apartheid, South Africa finally
opened up to the rest of world in 1994. Under apartheid, South Africa’s immigration
mirrored the narrow mindedness and prejudice of
the National Party. Several laws made visiting or
living in South Africa unpalatable to many.
Particularly those of non-European descent. At the dawn of the “new South Africa” in 1994, the
country became home to many outsiders playing a
key role in offering protection and refuge to people
who had suffered unfavorable conditions in their
home countries.
At the heart of South Africa’s complex problem with
xenophobia is the loaded meaning of the term
“foreigner.” Pejoratively, the term “foreigner” in
South Africa usually refers to African and Asian
non-nationals. “Other” foreigners—particularly those from the
Americas and Europe go unnoticed—they are often
lumped up with “tourists,” or even better, referred
to as “expats.” It is this reason why the South African government
says its hesitant to call the recent attacks on foreign
nationals as xenophobic. Is it “Afrophobia” or xenophobia? Many South Africans look at the attacks on
enterprising African immigrants from Somalia, the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique,
Nigeria and Malawi—often running shops, stalls
and other businesses in the informal economy—
and resolve that the current attacks on foreigners are more afrophobic, than xenophobic. Many ask: “Why is it that a Somali man can run a
shop in a township, get raided and beaten up,
while a white immigrant in town continues to run a
restaurant full of patrons?” It is this delineation that breeds ground for denial. While this sentiment may be correct—that the
violent expression of xenophobia in South Africa is
meted out mainly against African immigrants – it is
unhelpful to resolve the crisis that has left many
foreign nationals homeless, tortured and
dispossessed. While we can ascribe the attacks to sentiments of
Afrophobia, we must be willing to agree that the
attacks are fuelled by a sense of hatred, dislike and
fear of foreigners – and that is xenophobia. And
given the fact that foreign nationals from Pakistan
and Bangladesh have been profiled in this wave of attacks, it will soon no longer be enough for South
Africans to cry “Afrophobia.” A hangover from the past, fueled by present South Africa’s xenophobia reflects the country’s
history of isolation. As a country at the Southern
most tip of Africa, South Africans are fond of
referring to their continental counterparts as
“Africans” or “people from Africa.” Many business
ventures, news publications and events—aimed at local audiences—routinely speak about “going to
Africa.” Of course this narrow-mindedness, suffered by
both black and white South Africans, is a by-
product of apartheid. For black people, apartheid
was an insidious tool used to induce self-hate and
tribalize people of the same race. For white South
Africans, apartheid was a false rubber-stamp of the white race as superior. It is these two conceptions that gave rise to the
myth that South Africa is not part of the African
continent, but a different place that just happens to
be on the tip of the continent. Long after the scourge of apartheid, it is also clear
that we’re fueling this prejudice in the present. It remains to be seen whether South Africans will
break away from these shackles, and rid
themselves of this horrid prejudice anchored in our
past, but seemingly fuelled by our present.




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