Xenophobia South Africa
Desperate people are fleeing out of both ends of Africa; the north and the south. In North Africa, refugees are searching for a better life in already-crowded Europe. Many have come from war-torn countries. As a result of desperation, many have endured terrible deaths at the hands of brutal agents bent on making a quick buck without regard for the savage fate to which they are committing their victims.
Politicians in European countries are searching for ways to accommodate a regulated, ‘manageable’ number of migrants. In this, they are discharging the first duty of any government, which is to secure the safety of their citizens. They are also attempting to stem the tide at source by targeted action on the African continent itself. They face a titanic battle between expediency and conscience, with the lives of thousands at stake… and also the reputations of their countries.
In the far south, South Africa has over the years accommodated several million economic and political migrants, some of whom no doubt also qualify as refugees. Past Government immigration policy had been one of benign understatement. Now for some migrants as well as ‘local’ people, especially for those deeply in poverty, a breaking-point has been reached.
While most of South Africa has gone about its business relatively unperturbed, pockets of vehement, violent conduct have broken out. Many migrants, especially those who are involved in commerce, have been generalised as corrupt, ruthless, exploitive, and perhaps even ‘colonialist’. Only now as mature reflection intrudes at last, is their economic contribution to society being recognised.
South Africans think so easily by classifying individual human beings into ‘groups’. We are besotted by ‘group-think’. One’s race, social class and family name come before one’s personal identity, character, service or other achievements. I do not blame any single sector of our population for this skewed thinking, which often leads to tremendous injustice, as the apartheid years showed. Group-thought and mindless generalising are alive and well. We all do it. Individual character, service and personal accountability are often glossed over.
Where their citizens have been terrorised or even killed, African Governments have responded vehemently. Some response from these countries is justified, understandable and worthy of recompense and an assumption of responsibility on the part of the South African Government. Yet, a considerable number of perpetrators of violence were tried and sentenced after the 2008 riots.
In the short term they were no doubt slow to react to the present eruption, and in the long term, poverty has remained addressed less effectively than it should have been. In that regard, we citizens who actually comprise ‘the state’ are also culpable. We have become numbed. It’s not only Government.
In a few cases, there is a distinct taint of politics inherent in some of the statements from Africa; also a measure of envious denigration and no doubt economic competition. I doubt whether any other state in Africa could have acted with any greater speed than our Government did. To prove the case, readers can choose from many recent examples of laxity on the part of other governments. Indulge yourself.
My wife and I are white South Africans, born in this country of parents also born here. I did not support apartheid, although I enjoyed its benefits. As educationists, my wife and I pursued education as career paths, and both of us served until it hurt, drawing salaries no greater than the comparable salary paid to any other ‘cultural group’ of the time.
Increasingly uneasy and later opposed to the prevailing political dispensation, I judged my white skin to be worth a million rand in indirect (or perhaps direct) benefits during my early years. I became a social activist while in a senior position in the education sphere. I researched racism with a D. Ed., and spoke against the policy and practice for many years. In the capacity of a college Vice Rector, such public speaking was controversial, but never threatening to me or otherwise heroic to do. Two of my public addresses were broken up by the advocates of apartheid; interesting experiences.
My wife and I of course rejected violence, and sought initially to make a contribution through NGO’S, but then decided to operate domestically outside politics. We became ‘father’ and ‘mother’ to four young Zulus (one was a week old) whose mother had died in my wife’s vehicle en route to hospital. The mother had lived with us for six months while ill. So, for thirty-five years we assisted a growing, extended Zulu family in building their houses, pursuing career paths and getting employment. We were all too busy to indulge ourselves with racist thoughts.
There was nothing particularly commendable about this. I’m sure many others in South Africa have done the same, or more. And, we were well rewarded. We paid our two-million rand virtual social debt, retained a measure of dignity, and were rewarded with several of our youngsters becoming teachers. Another qualified as a Catholic priest (he was ordained within the Catholic Church on 07 March 2015), and another as an electrician. There was also a financial administrator and several others are still training. We did it on state educationist/educator salaries and have been well rewarded, with very few disappointments. Old gogo (granny) was the mainstay of the family through their difficult years, as is quite usual these days; not us.
I am ‘white’ and, being born in Africa, I am an African. I am proud of it. And, I shall define myself as I wish. No-one else shall. I’m tired of being labelled indirectly as colonist, exploiter, or any other unpleasant implied epithet. I’m sure millions of other South Africans who have contributed to our economy and served in other ways greater than mine feel the same. Even the African immigrants who were born in other countries are now being praised for their economic contribution. Initially damned, many are now feeling affirmed.
As the xenophobic fracas settles and the country returns to normality, I hope the shock of the most recent xenophobic episode focuses our minds on a national scale. Above all, I hope that we as a nation can learn to look at such things as character as something worthwhile, rather than race or the banal trappings of wealth. The poor have been used as political fodder for long enough. And civil society is not blameless.
We in South Africa are a cultural kaleidoscope and a microcosm of the world. I hope that every citizen who has a bit more than average assets, no matter how little the reserve is, will occasionally use it well in the service of the needy. And the rich can always do more. In a world currently bent on suicide that will be a means to build a people worthy of the accolade ‘Rainbow Nation’.