The world is holding its breath as Donald Trump makes his way to the White House, in what some could describe as the dawn of a new era in politics, fraught with hatred, fear, anger and an intolerance for the “other”.
When Trump takes over the presidency of the United States on January 20 next year, he will move to erect barriers around what we have come to know as the global village, this fragile world.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump made it clear that he would build a wall on the border with Mexico to keep away the undesired elements from that country who flock into the US daily.
Even though he has softened his stance on the matter since winning the election, the message that the “other” are not welcome still hangs in the air.
It was his attack on foreigners, particularly illegal immigrants, that endeared him to those who voted him into office. It has sent the world into a tailspin as he prepares to become the 45th president of what has hitherto been considered the leader of the Free World.
A gap in the US-Mexico border fence outside Jacumba in California. (Mike Blake, Reuters)
Xenophobia is not an isolated phenomenon of the Trump era. It is a growing problem all over the world brought about as people, choking on economic stagnation and seeking to escape the tyranny of their leaders, look for a better life elsewhere.
Many have crossed rough seas between North Africa and Europe, desperate for the stability the countries they are heading for could afford them, in the hope of creating a better future for themselves and their families. Many have drowned in the process.
So, too, have others joined the exodus from the Middle East to Europe to seek sanctuary from conflict, particularly from Syria.
The influx of people in need into peaceful countries has not gone down well with nationalists at home, as evidenced by the anti-immigration backlash we see today.
It is this anti-immigration rhetoric that Trump has come to represent, fuelled by a hatred for the “other” in a world in which many countries are mired in internal strife under poor economic conditions.
South Africa, the biggest economy in Africa, has had to deal with its own influx of foreigners, legal and illegal, in its 22 years of democracy.
It has hosted displaced people seeking better opportunities on a continent devastated by war, disease and the tyranny of African leaders, whose interest in the welfare of their people is second to their own.
That Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba should have found it easy to speak so loudly about illegal foreigners and tell them to leave his city is only because of the right-wing frenzy whipped up by Trump, which seems to make it perfectly fine to call out the “other” who are seen as a nuisance in a society.
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The world today is about the movement of people. This is why we speak of globalisation and the global village.
Technology has put us in a place where the world is now a small space, inhabited by people whose lives can no longer be dictated by the borders that confine them to spaces allocated as their home countries.
Trump may see his presidency as another episode of The Apprentice, where he believes he can get rid of whomever he does not like at a whim. But the building of walls along boundaries with neighbouring countries, or the summary deportation of illegal foreigners as Mashaba would have it, can only bring strife to a world that is moving away from neoconservative politics.
It is most unfortunate that many are feeding on Trump’s jaundiced view of the world and believe they now have licence to live out their bigotry, without any care for the consequences.
Trump may well play the racist, immigration card. But the reality is that, when he takes over as president, he will realise that kicking people out of his country may not be as simple as firing contestants in The Apprentice.
Many in the US, particularly in the African-American community, have no form of identification. That does not mean they are not Americans and it most certainly does not mean they live in their country illegally.
While many do not have the correct documents because of poverty, there is another ominous reason why Americans would rather not force people to register their identities.
From the experiences of World War II, Americans learnt that the easiest way Jews were identified and sent for execution during the Holocaust was through data from the population register.
Through the so-called legal means of identity, it is easy for prejudiced bigots to point out those they do not like and subject them to the hardships of not belonging.
When an authority of one of Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities, such as Mashaba, calls out those who don’t belong, it follows that citizens will join this xenophobic frenzy of hatred. This in a country that has become notorious for its Afrophobic behaviour, yet with a well-documented history of suffering for being different.
In her book, Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains, Luli Callinicos writes: “On the day the results of the 1948 whites-only election were announced, Oliver Tambo was walking towards his office in Charter House … He was immaculately dressed in suit and tie. Suddenly, a white man accosted him, his face twisted with hatred.
“He worked his mouth, and then — without word — spat in Tambo’s face. Tambo walked away … For Tambo, this assault was a symbolic demonstration of the New Order.”
Could this be the new order Mashaba envisages now that he is in power, this time against foreigners, “the other”?
South Africans must never forget that the many who fought in the struggle for liberation from exile were first illegal immigrants in the countries to which they escaped when seeking sanctuary in exile. It was a necessary means to get out of the clutches of the apartheid regime.
Trump and Mashaba may have reached their comfort zones in life, free from want and need, but the vast majority of people are still looking for that place in the sun where they, too, will be free people, content with what the world has to offer them.
Until that day comes, people will continue to move around the globe, seeking that special place where they can hopefully find true meaning for their lives.
Bheki Makhubu is editor of The Nation in Swaziland.