Africans can never be foreigners in Africa – this is an obvious fact. Without getting too preachy and riled up about how borders between Africans were the white man’s idea, there are some serious internal fallacies that need to be dispelled. We need to talk about how employment opportunity in South Africa can’t, logically, be compromised by immigration alone. We need to talk about why xenophobic violence is limited to poorer or more populated areas. We need to be honest about the reasons why, politically, we’ve seen more efforts to displace foreign nationals in these areas than we’ve seen efforts to protect them and make enough arrests to guilty South Africans. The pervasiveness of xenophobia in this country doesn’t feel right and there’s great reason to believe that it is a highly orchestrated mechanism of keeping Africa impoverished and reliant on the West.
The better judgement of South African citizens on foreign nationals is under attack by poisoned news broadcasting and propaganda. This becomes particularly dangerous when the lives of international inhabitants of this country are placed at risk solely by the information our government allows to spread. We are continually and dangerously misled by the spread of archival footage that’s masqueraded as recent. We’re over-exposed to news and stories of violence from foreign nationals that have no truth to them. This is incredibly concerning. South African xenophobes have three commonly held misconceptions about foreign nationals: they’re flooding into our country and stealing our jobs, they’re mass distributing illegal drugs and trafficking syndicates into our communities, they’re unkempt, simply overcrowding and destroying our spaces. These stereotypes are not only problematic but they’re also ironically misplaced; all of the aforementioned occurrences are things that South Africans are contributing to on a much larger scale.
On top of neglecting accountability, locals even go as far as creating, and normalizing terrible slurs towards foreign nationals. But this hatred isn’t felt equally by all immigrants; in fact, white immigrants are almost never victims of xenophobia. Non-white immigrants living in closer proximity to whiteness are at a lower risk of xenophobic violence. Still, this crisis isn’t one of black-on-black violence but one of class politics and the white neo-capitalist agenda of dissipating African identity. Politicians are constantly the bastions of xenophobic thought. This isn’t surprising as we all know that politicians, especially in nations under invisible colonial rule, act as mouthpieces for those who are really in power. Political reach is far and wide; we’re led to believe that these are the people best suited to represent us and protect us. This hasn’t been the case for a very long time. Musioua Lekota, Herman Mashaba, Lindiwe Zulu, Nomvula Mokonyane, David Makhura, the newly IEC-accredited and outwardly xenophobic, African Basic Movement Party and Bheki Cele are a very select few of those driving xenophobic thought further into our national framework through politics.
The last audited and confirmed number of immigrants in South Africa was 2.2 million in 2011. Sure, the number may have grown but any figure larger than that is yet to be accredited, which means publications have since been exaggerating estimates, to accommodate their angle. Going by the accredited figure, this means that legal immigrants in this country make up only 4% of the national population. To say they’re “flooding” the nation, as mentioned by Lekota in 2018, is absurd. The root causes of unemployment in South Africa are far deeper than any 4% could escalate. To ignore the economic, educational and pure racial disenfranchisement black people have been under since overthrowing the apartheid government and shift the blame to foreign nationals would be a mistake. Illegal immigration isn’t an issue limited to just South Africa – many countries around the world face the same issue but none of have been named the xenophobic capital of the world. It remains a practical, administrative problem that should be solved with practical and administrative solutions; illegal immigration should never justify violence and killings.
When given some thought, it’s clear that xenophobia isn’t at all beneficial to our country. There’s something very telling about insurgent xenophobic violence happening to people in poorer and more populated spaces: it compromises the jobs and livelihoods of black people, it creates an incredibly unsafe environment in black spaces and leaves black people with limited access to basic resources like convenience stores, transport and clean living spaces. It was less than a month ago when Yoruban Afro-fusion musician, Burna Boy officially was added to the Afropunk Joburg 2019 lineup. In light of recent events, he brought huge international attention through his Twitter platform to South Africa’s xenophobic violence, particularly on people of his home country, Nigeria, and proceeded to announce his retraction from the Afropunk lineup. Following this announcement, Nigerian singer and actress Tiwa Savage tweeted her pulling out of the DSTV Delicious Festival set to happen on the 21st and 22nd of September this year. Many were outraged and upset about the decision but the message remains clear: South Africans can no longer continue to have it both ways. We can’t expect work and investment from the foreign nationals we do ‘like’ and continue killing the ones we’re indoctrinated not to.
A brain drain of foreign investment will, inevitably, destroy South Africa’s economy and put the livelihoods of all Africans at risk. Perpetuating xenophobic rhetoric and violence only puts us in the driver’s seat of our own destruction. We can only hope that more of these boycotts will emerge to place pressure on citizens and the government to put an end to the climatic decay brought on by xenophobia. We can only hope that the orchestrators of this division among Africans don’t emerge victorious at the tail-end of this zero sum game.