South Africa is in crisis. In a very short space of time, a dense fog of violence has engulfed the country, unleashing countless acts of gender-based violence and xenophobia that have unravelled the rainbow in our nation. At Wits Vuvuzela we have been moved to dedicate this issue to confronting these two ills.
The motives for targeting the place of worship are unclear but the patterns of violence follow the same vein of xenophobic attacks in the area.
“Some foreign nationals commit crimes, but most of the crimes are committed by South Africans.”
People are complex, with even more complex stories (more…)
Having to reckon with the levels and layers of violence in a society yet to heal makes me wonder who the real enemies are.
Leading South African photojournalists Alon Skuy and James Oatway are showing some of their work on xenophobia.
Being a young Zimbabwean-South African woman living in South Africa, like many I find myself having to explain what it means to belong to a particular space and negotiate my place in my own home land.
This week Africa Check busts estimations of foreigners in South Africa, providing the real figures and the real reason they should be accurate.
Reinventing Pan-Africanism in the Age of Xenophobia, a international symposium, was hosted by the WISER Institute last week.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura says he worries about the people of his province as “many of those [people] come from the rest of the continent”. Makhura was speaking at the discusson on pan-Africanism in the age of xenophobia, hosted at Wits University by Wiser, (the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) and the Ahmad Kathrada Foundation.
Makhura said the the dangers of xenophobia lie not only in the “absence of opportunities” but also in narrow “national interests”. Makhura said that if we want to build a great Africa we can no longer make “catching up” with Western civilization our intention; we must offer something new and unique to the rest of the world.
“If there is something Western capitalism teaches us, is that in fact you can even become more less of a human being as your material needs are met,” said Makhura.
Other speakers on the day included academics Neocosmos and Associate Professor Suren Pillay.
Michael Neocosmos, an academic, stressed that it remains problematic to associate xenophobia with poverty and that research shows that some 65% of South Africans feel that the country’s borders should be secured through electric fencing which is a good indication that xenophobic attitudes are prevalent throughout society.
He also mentioned that people live in subhuman conditions and the assumption is that poor people can’t think, this means that we exclude them from what we think humanity is.
“If we want to expand pan-Africanism it means we must expand knowledge,” Neocosmos said.
A week ago I had a conversation with a colleague of mine about xenophobia. She told me about a story she was covering where foreign nationals were protesting against the arrest of their friends.
More than 400 foreign nationals, including women and children, were forcibly taken out of the buildings in Johannesburg CBD at 2am. I then recalled the same thing happened the week before in Sunnyside, Pretoria. The similarities sent chills down my spine.
Our government has started a procedure called Operation Fiela, which in Tswana usually means “Sweep the Dirt”. According to SABC, the government started this operation to “target areas, buildings and spaces which are known to be frequented by criminals”.
Now, the problem is not what they may be trying to achieve, but the manner in which they are going about it.
See, I happen to be in a serious relationship with a beautiful young woman from Zimbabwe and I became scared for the safety of my partner. She came to South Africa because the political situation in Zimbabwe is not favourable to those who are from an opposition party. She said she also came here because “unlike in South Africa, there are very scarce opportunities for young bright graduates due to the declining economy”. Now in South Africa, she has experienced mild xenophobic attacks in the past and is scared for her safety considering the recent attacks.
I ask myself, where is our humanity? Where exactly is this rainbow nation that we always speak highly of?
We live in a country where, instead of being our protectors, the police are responsible for brutality towards innocent people. In 2012, there was a massacre in Marikana, North West. Police shot miners with live ammunition resulting in 34 deaths. The shooting has been compared to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 when police opened fire on protestors and killed 69 people.
Where are our protectors?
We had the police inflicting brutality on our nation’s people during the apartheid regime and it is still happening in this so-called democracy. I am not saying there aren’t any good cops, but our government has not created a safer police force. Our government has failed us.
We recently celebrated Freedom Day and I am asking myself what we are freed from, when we are still shackled by anger and mental slavery. Nelson Mandela probably did not have this vision for South Africa, this was not his aim when he spent 27 years in prison.
Our government has become an enemy to our fellow African brothers and sisters. The recent violent attacks against foreign nationals have given rise to the question: Is South Africa really a united country or are we an angry, pained and divided nation.
Let us heal as a nation, find love in diversity. I, as a black bisexual woman in love with a foreign national woman, would like to take pride in South Africa’s healing as a nation. This goes beyond just having tolerance but means accepting our fellow Africans. Let us show the spirit of ubuntu and be a true rainbow nation that cultivates diversity. We all come in beautiful forms and, essentially, we are all human.
Perhaps one day as a country we will achieve a state of acceptance as described by writer Eckhart Tolle: “Acceptance looks like a passive state, but it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.”
What motivated you to write an open letter to Jacob Zuma?
It was the news that arrived from our Mozambican compatriots who were subjected to the persecutions in Durban and in other cities. I, my brothers and my family had, in that week, created a cultural foundation. And we thought that we couldn’t stay indifferent to what was happening.
As a Mozambican and a writer, what do you think should/can be done in order to remedy the situation?
I think that it does not only depend on the actions of government. That action is decisive and above all, governments can’t find scapegoats as an excuse for not taking on their responsibilities towards those who are the poorest, from one side or the other side of the border. But other things also need to be done.
South Africans have a stereotypical image of Mozambicans. They are simply “work force”. They aren’t people who produce thought, sentiments and art. That would be the responsibility of Mozambique: to make known the richness of culture and diversity of Mozambicans. So that the South Africans can know them better. We can only like what we know. And even while we are neighbours, we still don’t know a lot about each other.
In your letter you mention that feelings of solidarity and the remembrance of a shared history should be recreated. Why and how do you think this should be done?
After my letter had been published I found out that among the youth that commented with me about this issue, many were completely unaware of how much Mozambique supported, with much sacrifice, the fight against apartheid. It’s sad how history is lost so quickly. The past to stay alive needs to be recreated.
What do you think of Zuma’s response to your open letter?
It was a surprise. I never imagined that a president would respond to a simple writer be him foreigner or national. I am sure that he wasn’t exactly talking to me. But he wanted to speak to others and explain the internal reasons that create xenophobic feelings. Over this part of the letter I would prefer not to comment.
Do you think enough has been done by the South African government to prevent the persecutions of Mozambicans?
Like I said in the letter, our view in Mozambique is that what was done was little and late. Also, I think that those who encourage these phenomenons of violence can’t be left unpunished.
Do you think that the long term and short term measures that Zuma mentioned on implementing in his letter will help to resolve the issues that triggered the attacks?
There is no country in the world where the large social crisis don’t search for a culprit that is always the “other”, being that other from another religion, race or nationality.
What governments should do is to work so as to protect all citizens that live legally in their country, so that they live without fear and with the right to have hope and belief in their future.
SAM Philane, a Mozambican national, was chased from his home in Primrose by a xenophobic mob last week. Now’s he’s living in a displacement camp. But he’s not angry, he just wants to go back to his home in the East Rand.
After hearing that the xenophobic mobs were starting to form in the Primrose area of Germiston, Sam called his girlfriend, Angelina Chiabo, asking her to gather up their valuables for safe keeping. But by the time he got home it was too late, their house had been looted. All they had left was one suit case and a box full of their documents and family pictures.
Thousands of foreign nationals have been displaced since the xenophobic attacks started in Durban three weeks ago. As more attacks have been reported across the country, foreigners have been fleeing for camps in fear for their lives. Many of them have had their possessions stolen or burnt, including their passports and immigration papers. The loss of their document makes them even more vulnerable to attacks from police and civilians.
A home away from home
Their temporary home is a small tent with two foam beds neatly made up and clothes stacked on top of a suit case. Philane, a Mozambican national, is adamant that this is only temporary. He has been in South Africa since 2000 and he sees himself as a dual citizen.
“I am not angry,” he said. Nor is he making any arrangements to leave this country. He seemed more concerned about his community, asking what is going to happen to the perpetrators, some of whom he knows personally. He wanted to know if leaders have discussed re-integration plans that will allow both perpetrators and victims back into the community.
Philane believes that the attacks are a result of frustration. He said like everybody else, he goes where the work is but there are not enough jobs for everyone.
He believes that locals struggle to find job because they “want to get paid the same salaries as the people who are educated, while they don’t even have matric.”
Philane adds that South Africans forget that some of their countrymen are also in Mozambique where they too are working as foreigners.
“We all follow the work,”