A pattern of Afrophobic violence, incorrectly named “xenophobia”, can be predicted on the basis of the frequency of an outbreak – every three years or so. But the time between these vicious Afrophobic attacks is getting shorter and deeper in terms of effect. There is a desperate need for long-lasting solutions. But these are possible only if the problem is correctly diagnosed.
The sources of the violence against black “foreigners” in South Africa are twofold. The first is the failure to end the apartheid structure of society: anti-black racism continues to plague the black majority because the 1994 compromises have changed into permanent commitment. The post-1994 state continues the programme of its apartheid predecessors. The state frames and perpetrates self-hate among blacks through violence – as in Operation Fiela, the arbitrary locking up of Africans because they happen to be here and not because of a crime they may have committed.
The attacks are almost always triggered by deepening economic hardships suffered by the poor. The state has created a scapegoat for its failure to transform society. The black African is projected as the source of economic difficulties. Unfounded notions of job theft are manufactured within the logic promoted by the state through action.
The situation is exacerbated by how white-owned businesses – from farms and factories to the services sector, such as restaurants – have recreated the colonial border in their hiring practices. These employers, protected by law, hire “outsiders” at starvation rates, creating a scenario seen by the South African unemployed as the favouring of “foreigners”; animosity develops.
This means the South African government and the business sectors are the authors of Afrophobic violence.
The second source is continued colonialism and neocolonialsm in Africa. Colonialism expresses itself as the borders separating Africans. These have been internalised, seen as natural and policed at a high cost by Africans themselves.
The borders create narrow exclusionary identities and estrangement of Africans from each other. Neocolonialism ensures life is a permanent crisis for the majority as African rulers pillage along with their Western masters. Neocolonialism has created permanent economic crises for the poor, hence the constant outflow of Africans from their own countries – at times at great risk as they go to other parts of the world with relative economic stability.
To break the cycle of violence, a comprehensive response is required. It must mobilise the logic of anti-racism to end the white supremacy that has haunted South Africa since 1652, and it must speed up the decolonisation of Africa, ending neocolonial misrule, to usher Africa into a new era of self-governance for the people.
My proposals are:
• First, South Africa has to end the apartheid economic and social reality that casts blacks out and forces them into a marginal existence and makes them economic refugees in their own country.
Here, land redistribution is key, along with massive job creation through the reconstruction, development and transformation of the economy to ensure wealth is equitably redistributed and the means of production is not only nationalised but socialised, so that people benefit directly and the state is not elevated to a benevolent father that soon behaves like a dictator.
• Second, there must be a systematic collapsing of the colonial border. It was not created by Africans; it doesn’t serve Africa. An almost immediate collapse of the border between South Africa and its immediate neighbours should be considered. Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland are culturally, linguistically and economically part of South Africa. The colonial border that separates us continues to make us strangers when we speak the same languages and share cultures and family bonds.
The migrant-labour system that built modern South Africa was sourced from these nations. A longer-term collapsing of the border in the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC) region must be aimed at. A period of 10 years should be agreed on.
• Third, one identification document should be considered for all SADC citizens. It would place us all in a single grid to facilitate identification, the reasonable monitoring of the people’s movements and curb criminals from abusing the system.
This policy move’s objective is to facilitate integration of Africans and decriminalise our people who are seen as criminal because of the status of their “documentation”, not because they have committed a crime.
• Fourth, the economic integration of Africa is required, starting with SADC. South Africa must take the lead as it has a moral and economic obligation to Africa. The relative economic advantage of South Africa should be leveraged as a catalyst for the whole region’s economic revival. Africans flock to South Africa because their home economies are in crisis and dependent on imperialist “benevolence”, keeping them trapped in the neocolonial grip.
South Africa must not shy away from leading and should designate not less than 20% of its national budget to the SADC. And credit facilities should be opened to our sister countries. It make no sense that Zimbabwe is cash-strapped but South Africa allows cash to lie fallow in private capital and state-linked financial institutions’ hands.
• Finally, in the immediate future, a policy of 50% indigenisation for all business practices that come into the local space must be implemented. This means that any outsider who comes to do business in a township must go into partnership with local business people. This will ensure integration of businesses into the community and in this way they stop being seen as outsiders exploiting the locals. This policy must apply also to the malls that are destroying township economies without giving anything back to the community.
The violence can be stopped and the current crisis turned into an opportunity to imagine real solutions for Africa. Some proposals are not new, but they have not been taken seriously enough or given the kind of urgency and resources necessary to realise them. They must now be debated with urgency by wider society and be lobbied for by all.
Andile Mngxitama is an associate of the Sankara Policy and Political School