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Xenophobia, Trigger of Wars, Roars in South Africa

Updated on March 12, 2017

Authors Note

This hub is an installment of the series 'Noteworthy Trend of Events in South Africa'.

Xenophobia, the trigger of wars, roars again

A group of angry people managed to send shock waves through South Africa when they demonstrated the horror of Xenophobia again.

Where were they in 2008, when forty-one foreign nationals and twenty-one South Africans had died in less than a month due to xenophobia?

On February 24th, 2017, the shops and houses of foreign nationals were again looted and set alight. Police had to use stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse angry citizens and foreigner nationals. At least 137 people were arrested in less than 24 hours.

South Africans are accusing legal and illegal foreign nationals of -

  • Stealing jobs and business opportunities that ‘belong’ to South Africans;
  • Receiving government houses when poor South Africans were first on the waiting list;
  • Being involved in human trafficking, the running of (illegal) brothels, and the selling of drugs and (stolen) guns.

Of course, these accusations are not sucked from South Africans' thumbs. During the past twenty odd years large numbers of immigrants from specific countries distinguished themselves as experts in specific crimes, or as favorites of specific employers, to such an extent that foreign nationals are now all being regarded as threats.

The Coalition of Civics against Xenophobia - a group of about two-hundred immigrants from various countries, as well as anti-xenophobic South Africans - took exception to the fact that all immigrants are being lumped together. “We came to South Africa to try and make a living,” said the leader of the group on March 9th, when the group marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to deliver a memorandum to the Presidency, which outlines demands for new and strengthened measures to prevent crime against foreigners and their businesses. They also demand an investigation against Johannesburg' Mayor for alleged anti-immigrant statements.

The Presidency, however, refused to accept the memorandum because the march was deemed illegal. The organizers denied that their march had not been granted permission. They now regard the behavior of the Presidency as a sign that the ANC, President Zuma and the entire government are xenophobic.

Group protesting about foreign nationals stealing their jobs and business opportunities
Group protesting about foreign nationals stealing their jobs and business opportunities | Source
The Coalition of Civics against Xenophobia at the Union Building
The Coalition of Civics against Xenophobia at the Union Building | Source

President Zuma denies xenophobia

These clashes between South Africans and foreign nationals are being regarded as the manifestation of xenophobia - the fear/hate of foreigners/strangers.

Between 2000 and March 2008 - a period of eight years - an estimated 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks. Then came the most serious outbreak in May 2008 when 62 people (42 foreign nationals and 21 South Africans) died in less than a month.

But President Zuma denied that Xenophobia has anything to do with all of this violence!

“I think we love using phrases in South Africa that at the time cause unnecessary perceptions about us. I think we are not [xenophobic]… the [current] violence is really about crime.” - President Zuma.

The President told South Africans that the issues of Europeans and Americans towards and against refugees from Muslim countries are in fact also a fear and hate of strangers cum foreigners, but they don't call it xenophobia.

“To attach this label, ‘xenophobic’, results in many instances of us not understanding this issue…. and the source of this issue,” said former President Thabo Mbeki (now Chancellor of the University of South Africa) to a gathering of high-level African leaders in Johannesburg. This was also his belief in 2007 when he was the president.

This time, however, he didn't manage to convince all the leaders at the gathering. He was confronted and compelled to pour oil on troubled waters by scheduling another meeting to continue discussions.

"[Then] I would like us to meet because it could be that you will teach me something I don’t know about my own people. I will [may] learn something that I don’t know about myself. Xenophobia, crime, racism is bad!” - Former President Thabo Mbeki

Repercussions of xenophobia in South Africa

A demonstration of protest staged at South Africa’s embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and an attack on South Africa’s MTN offices, as well as threats on social media from citizens of other African countries, aroused concern about South Africans living and working in other countries of Africa.

A civil society organisation in Nigeria - ‘The National Association of Liberation Tigers (NALT) - appealed to African leaders to urgently find solution to the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. “The attacks could destabilize the continent if left unchecked,” warned the organisation’s director of mobilizer and communications.

President Zuma undertook to compile a report about the challenges faced, including insights about thoughts and behaviors of the South African people.

At a news conference in Cape Town, the Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, told journalists that Government is committed to improving the management of migration.

Martie Coetser
Martie Coetser

The opinion of an owfma-sa

The opinion of a well-known African actor, whose name will remain anonymous, gave wings to my thoughts.

“People are killing each other for a lame reason like taking their jobs. You will find that always they are at the corners of the streets doing nothing. They have never even tried to do something for their life but they just want somebody to put blame on… Imagine if there is a music festival in Nigeria and the Nigerians say we don’t want anything to do with South Africans.”

Of course, also this actor is accused of 'lumping people together'. In reality most of those who are at the corners of the streets doing nothing would love to have a job, or a business of their own, having tried to obtain work in vain. Almost 30% of South Africans are unemployed. The province with the highest unemployment rate is the North West - a whopping 64.6%!

In the far past battles and wars between nations were the order of the day. Becoming a soldier, sometimes even before the age of eighteen, was compulsory. That a young man was sacrificing his freedom and risking his health and life for nation and homeland, were facts that would shape him into a proud and confident adult. Through sufferings he obtained wisdom, and also a healthy yearning for peace and happiness. He obtained gratitude for being alive and for having the power to protect the lives of others. By the end of his military service, the survivor was either ruined for life and ready to keep himself intoxicated with one or another addictive activity or substance, or totally fed-up with drama, violence and blood-shed and ready to live in peace and harmony for the rest of his life.

At present in South Africa, military service is a chosen job like the police force, and can accommodate only a limited number of young people who have a natural yearning for violence. Opportunities for those who prefer a less dramatic vocation are also limited. Consequently, thousands, if not millions, of young, energetic men (and women) in South Africa are unemployed, bored, and eager to participate in any exciting activity.

Unfortunately, marching in the streets, burning tires on the highway, throwing stones at ‘enemies’, or wreaking any havoc that might satisfy their hunger-bitten needs and wants, seem to be the only options for the majority of South Africa’s youth.

In the meantime government officials live and work in extreme luxury, and drive from one meeting to the other in the most expensive cars just to determine who should be suspended for the umpteenth case of incompetence and corruption that’s being exposed by the media.

Enough said! After all, I am only an owfma-sa – an ordinary white female middle-aged South African who should rather stick to knitting socks instead of reading news reports.

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    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Maria Jordan – As far as I can remember, my beautiful, magnificent editor – marcoujor – suggested I insert ‘Put a little love in your heart”, because I had no idea what song would go with a horrible topic like Xenophobia. Love you lots!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 7 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      "Put a little love in your heart" and forgive me for taking so long to visit, dear Martie.

      I found this nugget in my SPAM yesterday as well - hoping I have fixed the issue from my end.

      Love this version of a classic - what a perfect choice. Love, mar

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      MsDora – I am trying my best to rather appreciate the good than allowing the bad to pull me into the depths of despair. Heaven is nowhere on this planet, but very real in our hearts and hopes.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      mckbirdbks – I’ve noticed (on CCN and other international TV channels, and online news reports) how high profile people are being ground and ridiculed with blatant contempt and hate - and I’m not referring to the shows of comedians. There is a thin line between free speech and hate speech. Down here the line is not clear – its position depends on the color of your skin. If you’re black you may say something and it will be regarded as ‘free speech’, but if you’re white, and you say the very same thing, it will be regarded as ‘hate speech’. So sad! Ad nauseam sad!

      I don’t have anything good to say about China, where rhino horns and donkey skins are medicine and dogs and cats food. They seem to be stuck between homo erectus and homo sapiens.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 7 months ago from The Caribbean

      I learned the meaning of a new word - xenophobia, thanks to you. Thanks also for these updates which keep us abreast of the intense situation in SA. Please cultivate some inner peace however an whenever possible, to temper the daily stress.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 7 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Martie - Here is the U.S. we have allowed 'hate speech' over the radio airwaves for many years. Commentators would scream their lies on a daily basis, and were paid big money for doing so. Now, we are a country divided and full of hatred, and many are wondering why. The seed of hatred and discontent have bend planted and the growth seems to have spread throughout the world.

      Funny, China seems the most reasonable nation on the planet.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Nadine, I've heard that from many, and wish I could do something about it. Turning a bad reputation into a good one, and vice versa, takes years. Let's just pray that everything will turn out for the best of all.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Dear Ruby, the USA, too, finds itself currently in the mos awkward position. Something's going to snap!

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Shyron - I honestly wish I knew where all of this is going to end :(

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 7 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Years ago I was told that there would come a time when the world could be compared to what happened when we shake a closed fizzy drink bottle and then we take to lid off. Explosive chaos. We employ two people from Malawi once a week. They have been with us for over 6 years. We have experienced that local Xhosa people do not want to work. Instead they want free housing that was promised to them.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 7 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This sounds very familiar. With our new administration, immigrants are not welcome in America anymore. It seems like fear and mistrust has taken over all over the world. The wealth belongs to the powerful, while the little man struggles. I seriously doubt that any young man would prefer to hang out on the streets, they want jobs, and it's up to the elected officials to keep their promise of equality for all. The Muslim people here are being harassed and deported. Let's hope that people will start to realize that all people want the same things, a home, a job and to live in peace. Thanks Martie...

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 7 months ago from Texas

      Dear Martie, feelings of hopelessness and the fear of someone else taking what little belongs to them knowing there is no one to protect or care for anyone but themselves. It is all so sad and senseless where do we all go from here?

      I wish you peace and many Blessings.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Nell Rose - Exactly! And then they multiply with no comprehension of space and limited opportunities to make a living. All the solutions provided by my brain will be regarded as a violation of human rights.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Flourish - Indeed, 'me first and to hell with others' is one of the most basic human characteristics. Even altruism is selfish, as we only feed our own need to take care of others by being altruistic. Finding and punishing a culprit is also a basic human characteristic. The one who is seriously trying to find the core of all of this, will sooner or later end up at the feet of the Creator where he will come to only one conclusion: Good and Evil in humans exist and will exist until Death kills it, and because of this, Good and Bad will forever be all over in one or another manifestation.

      We might as well plant roses and enjoy their fragrance all through the day!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 months ago from England

      It just makes me want to yell stop! all over the news, people trying to go to other countries to work, troubles, fighting killing and so on, for goodness sake! another interesting/sad piece Martie.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Billybuc - People hate the things they fear, and they fear the things they hate. Being saddled with this load of negative emotions and finding no way to replace them with contentment, happiness and peace, infuriates them to the point of madness. Fear and Hate are twins, and Anger is their child.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 7 months ago from South Africa

      Sally, the more news I post, the more I realize that it is not only trend of events in South Africa, but in the entire world. What is then really the difference between countries? Could it be that is some the sh@t has already hit the fan, while in others it is about to happen? I'm wrecking my brain to determine the difference!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 7 months ago from USA

      It's so easy to blame and dehumanize others, especially when their cultural practices or language are different. We also see this in the US, and it has spiked, I believe, because our current so-called President deems it appropriate. But many of us are immigrants or born of immigrants (even Donald Trump!). And we are more alike than we are different. There are so many jobs here that Americans won't do, and immigrants fill those jobs and perform a vital service in so doing. I don't know where this is going, Martie. I hear about nationalism and xenophobia in France, England and other countries and it seems like people have a me first, grab all you can mentality.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And the madness continues! It is so illogical, and obviously born from fear, and we see it daily here in the U.S., and I just want to scream at the madness of it all!!!!!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 7 months ago from Norfolk

      It seems you are not alone Martie. This seems to be happening the world over as people move to escape the horrors of the things which are happening in their own countries. It is so easy to blame others when all it takes is a little ingenuity and the will to go out to work and earn a living.