Our nation’s ugly moment of xenophobia is almost incomprehensible

It feels like a pall has descended over the nation. The violence against other Africans living in our midst has been gut-wrenching, horrible and almost too much to comprehend. 

The Sunday Times story about the death of Emmanuel Sithole rang out like funeral bell in the tense silence of the past few weeks. The account of his death, short and almost terse, finally broke us.

In the wake of that moment we have had arrests, marches and even an imbizo held by a reluctant King Goodwill Zwelithini, who most agree sparked the latest flare up of violence with his comments that foreigners should go home. 

At the time of writing, Zwelithini had not yet spoken at the event, but his uncle Mangosuthu Buthelezi was delivering a long rant mostly aimed at Mondli Makhanya’s excellent article on both Buthelezi and the king’s unsavoury history leading up to these attacks.

We have also had some soul-searching as a nation, the images of Sithole’s murder having shocked us into it. But thanks to how hopelessly stratified our society is, those of us in the middle class can make some dangerous assumptions about what is happening in spaces in our country where resources and work opportunities are scarce and one’s future more bleak than we could even comprehend. 

So it was that I stumbled across a friend’s status update on Facebook that began:

“Yesterday a man threw excrement on a statue … Today men threw rocks on the head of a foreigner … If others don’t want to make the link I’ll make it explicit … Our foreign neighbors in this country are being torn to pieces literally because of a wave of racial unrest sparked by one foolish political science student.”

I was taken aback and told him the connection was a fallacious and dangerous one to make. He’s a humble guy, open to other viewpoints, and heard me out, admitting that he had not been following the news too closely and apologised for his mistake. A day later I saw another status update: someone announcing a prayer meeting about the “statues, race and the xenophobia attacks”. Huh?

So in case anyone else is wondering, no. These two moments in our country, while both headline-grabbing, share little else in common. 

I was also initially taken aback by the initial poo protest. But it quickly developed into a very sophisticated movement motivating for real change that demanded our attention – and quite legitimately so. It was very exciting in terms of activism and grassroots mobilisation for change, and comparable to youth driven movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. And of course, it was not violent but quite carefully and thoroughly argued, debated and motivated for through various channels by the students themselves, and other youth. 

The xenophobic violence was not sparked by the statue protests. It’s been happening for years, and first exploded in 2008 as most of us recall. There were no “statue protests” in the lead up then. Xenophobic sentiments have been simmering ever since, with outbursts here and there and it exploded again after Zwelithini’s statements, saying foreigners should go home. 

The protests around transformation are a necessary point in our history: 1994 was a compromised settlement made with a hostile white regime where things like symbols of the past were kept. Now a new generation of young South Africans are pursuing a different consensus and conversation and it us up to us to listen and understand and think about where we want to go as a country.

So don’t jump to easy or lazy conclusions. Our country is in a difficult space right now with some exciting and necessary things happening in terms of transformation, and some very ugly things happening in terms of violence. We need some serious pulling together and dialogue to get through all of this.

Advertisting

Eastern Cape MEC orders graft investigation after two workers killed...

The killings of two council workers at the Amathole district municipality appear to be linked to tender fraud and corruption

Strike-off case pulls in judge

Judge Mushtak Parker is implicated in an application to strike off his former partners. He is also involved in the fight between the Western Cape high court’s judge president and his deputy

One strike and you’re out – registrar tells unions

A municipal workers’ union is the first to be sanctioned for not following the new rule when deciding whether to go on strike
Advertising

Press Releases

Dr Mathew Moyo’s journey to academic victory

The NWU's chief director for library and information services was appointed as a board member of the National Council for Library and Information Services.

UKZN pays tribute to Joseph Shabalala, Doctor of Music (honoris causa)

The university joins the global community in mourning the passing of legendary musician and founding member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dr Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala.

South Africa to be almost R 14-billion wealthier when SAB Zenzele BB-BBEE scheme winds down in April 2020

It’s the biggest BB-BEE FMCG payout in South Africa’s history, with a new scheme to be launched

UKZN vice-chancellor calls for perspective and creative engagement on the way forward

In addition to overcoming the deadlock between UKZN and students, a way must be found to reconcile the university's financial obligations and students' long-term needs.

Survey shows South Africans’ approval of president but not of political parties

According to the survey, 62% of South Africans think Cyril Ramaphosa is doing his job well, while 39% say no political party represents their views.

Introducing the Samsung Galaxy S20: Change the way you experience the world

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series features unprecedented AI camera technologies built for the future of communications

Andrew Makenete joins Africa Agri Tech as an event ambassador

Makenete has a wealth of experience in the agricultural sector

Is your company prepared for the coronavirus?

Companies should consider the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic when evaluating whether they are prepared for the coronavirus, says ContinuitySA.