We are not xenophobic, we are Afrophobic

(Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

(Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Nobody expected South Africa’s politicians to court danger and make populist migration policies part of their election campaigns.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) pandered to existing Afrophobic tensions when it released its immigration policy late last year. The party is hoping to keep Gauteng and win votes from people living in parts of South Africa where the Afrophobic attacks take place.

The ANC is no different.
In January, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to clamp down on illegal immigrants who set up spaza shops in townships, even though his party actually denounced Johannesburg’s DA mayor Herman Mashaba as a populist for taking this same position in 2017.

Ramaphosa keeps promising the poor that foreign investment will save the economy and that he is working tirelessly to welcome foreign investment into the country, but aren’t foreign-owned spaza shops exactly that?

Citizens of other African countries have become scapegoats for the ANC’s inadequacies, and the DA’s immigration policy is a cheap and dangerous jab at the ruling party’s shortcomings.

In idiosyncratic ANC fashion, the party allows South Africans to take their frustrations of unemployment and poverty out on migrants. With migrants as the scapegoats, the ANC doesn’t have to be held accountable for stealing from its own people and for failing to address service delivery problems.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), on the other hand, seems to have taken a bold approach by outright condemning Afrophobic attacks. But the EFF, along with the ANC and DA, are using the violence to further their political agendas with no real resolution to the problem in sight. None have stopped to think about what is at stake for the Malawian, Mozambican and Zimbabwean migrants affected.

In a 2016 article, I wrote that I thought the violence was a symptom of a much bigger problem: the South African education system, which has failed its scholars by not teaching them that the country today is not a product of European invasion, but a product of African unity. I realise now that the poor education system has also limited South Africans’ interests in, and therefore knowledge of, current African affairs.

The recent Afrophobic attacks by South Africans are different from previous ones in that they followed Cyclone Idai, which ravaged Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe; countries where the majority of African foreigners in South Africa are from.

When South Africans chased foreigners out of the country, there was no regard for the fact that these people had possibly already lost all that they had back home.

So, for politicians to merely condemn the protests is not enough. South Africans carried out the attacks either not knowing about the devastation that followed the cyclone or because they simply do not care, both of which are symptoms of a failed education system.

If the education system taught people that the ANC had large Umkhonto weSizwe bases in most neighbouring countries, South Africans would not be taking issue with foreigners setting up a spaza shop that doubles as a house at night.

South Africans do not care because they do not know much about what goes on beyond the borders of their townships, which is understandable because the majority of South Africans live in a country where services are only delivered to the suburbs that the white minority, the black middle class and the elite inhabit. But this fact does not excuse the Afrophobic attacks.

Perpetrators of the violence cite foreigners’ criminal activities as the reason for the unrest. But there should be no difference in how crime is tackled; the nationality of the perpetrator does not matter.

Furthermore, African foreigners make up less than 5% of the population, so crimes committed by them do not even put a dent in the crime statistics. South Africa has a crime problem that has little to do with migration, but everything to do with the country’s unjust and corrupt justice system, unemployment and poverty. And Afrophobic violence is also a crime.

Motivated by populist rhetoric, punted by the two biggest parties in the country, South Africans are being given an invitation to kill and steal from vulnerable foreign nationals.

With the growing migrant population, it is high time that we had ministers of dual (South African and Southern African) citizenship who will represent the people under attack and propose feasible solutions, and not just issue statements.

Parliamentarians should also refrain from confusing xenophobia with Afrophobia; the country does not dislike foreigners but it despises fellow Africans. Not to make this distinction disregards those who lost their lives in the attacks and were targeted solely because they were black and born in another African country.

Poverty and unemployment need to be addressed and justice systems need to work for South Africans to feel they can trust the government to work for them. It’s been only 25 years and the ANC seems to have forgotten that nobody flees their own country by choice.

Jacqueline Tizora is a Zimbabwean-born and South African-bred black radical feminist with a keen interest in African feminist thought and affairs. She is about to start a research master’s degree in political communication science at the University of Amsterdam

Jacqueline Tizora

Jacqueline Tizora

Jacqueline Tizora is a Zimbabwean-born and South African-bred black radical feminist with a keen interest in African feminist thought and affairs. She is about to start a research master’s degree in political communication science at the University of Amsterdam Read more from Jacqueline Tizora

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