When Genocide hides behind ‘Xenophobia’


Unless you live under a rock with no access to satellite TV and the internet (in which case you probably won’t be reading this anyway), you HAVE to have heard about the random, brutal killing, maiming and general terrorizing of foreigners by South Africans in Durban, Johannesburg, and basically anywhere lazy black South Africans can be found accross their national territory.

I have watched the video of Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini’s speech in which he incited South Africans against foreigners, and it brought tears to my eyes and rage to my heart.  It is one thing to face discrimination, and it is another to lose your life over it. What makes it worse is that majority of the immigrants in South Africa are regular, middle-class folks working hard to eke out a decent life for themselves. Unfortunately,I have personally come across the disdain and disrespect black Africans face in South Africa (I alluded to it in passing here , but for personal reasons, decided not to follow up with a more explicit story as I had initially planned), and all I can say is, I do not look forward to the day i have to try to set foot in South Africa again.

What has really set me off this afternoon, though, is reading a story sent to me on Facebook by a friend – this story was written by Lovelyn Chidinma Nwadeyi, a Nigerian living in South Africa, and has literally brought tears to my eyes. It lays bare the injustices African immigrants (and visitors) face in South Africa, and is a must-read for any one who has on opinion on the current situation there. I have copied and pasted the article below from the SAPeople website. It is long, but worth the read.

Growing up in South Africa, I was always reminded by those around me that I was different to everyone else. In primary school, I had a much darker complexion than I do now, and super white teeth – the telling marks of a foreigner that betray you even when you put on your best English accent. It is just too obvious.

I bear citizenship of both worlds. I speak fluent Xhosa, Igbo, Afrikaans and English. I can make sense of Tswana and Sotho. I enjoy a good braai, I love vetkoek and bunny-chow. I can’t get enough of Bokomo WeetBix, I love Ouma’s rusks and I can pull off my panstulas with any outfit on a lazy Saturday when I want to head to town. I am the first to break it down with the ngwaza and the dombolo at the sound of some decent house music or kwaito be it in Pick n Pay or at a party.

I can sokkie and I enjoy it (albeit with my two left feet). My darkest moments can be reversed by koeksisters and a cup of rooibos tea any day. I can jump between the high pitched and arguably annoying accents of some Constantia moms, the lank kif and apparently sophisticated English of my Hilton brothers and the heavy accents of my fellow Eastern Capers. I can attempt the fast paced, lyrical Afrikaans of my coloured brothers in the Cape and I can serve you the best butternut soup you have ever known.

I am as South African as you need me to be.

But my ability to navigate all these spaces did not just happen. Learning to blend into all these spaces was a matter of survival for me.

You see from the day I set foot in Queenstown and started primary school, it was always made very clear to me that I was an outsider. I only had white friends from my first few years in school, because the other black girls couldn’t understand why I was black but only spoke in English. They thought I thought I was better than them. So I spent most of my breaks humbly eating my peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, surrounded by those who had Melrose cheese and Provita Crackers with Bovril and/or marmite sandwiches in their lunchboxes. The rest of the time I spent alone, save the few brave souls of similar complexion who tried to befriend me.

What nobody knew was that for the first three years of my life in South Africa, my little brother and I barely saw my dad more than twice a month. What was he doing absent from the home, other than selling pillowcases, duvets and bedsheets, from door to door on foot through the streets, villages and side roads of the old Transkei and Ciskei? My father would leave the house on Monday mornings after him and my mom got us ready for school, and he would be gone for days and weeks, selling the few pillowcases and bedsheets he had from door to door. On foot. We were never sure when he would return. But when he did, we were always more grateful for his safety and aliveness than anything else.

From Queenstown to Cala, Umtata, Qumbu, Qoqodala, Whittlesea, Mount Fletcher, King Williamstown, Mdantsane, Bhisho, Indwe, Butterworth, Aliwal North and even as far as Matatiele and Kokstad. There are so many other places he went to that I do not even know.

That is how my parents put us through school, until they saved up enough money to open their own little shop where they then started selling sewing machines, cotton and then community phones. Then sweets and chips and take-aways; and then hair products and the list goes on and on. It was on this that I was able to go through primary school, high school, and university. My parents have no tertiary education; it was only in their late 40s that both of them decided to register for part-time studies at Walter Sisulu to get their Diplomas. Note: Diplomas.

It took them four years, because they were busy trying to keep their kids in school, and keep selling their sweets and sewing machines while attempting to dignify their efforts with a degree.

My story is not unique – it is the story of most foreigners in South Africa. Very few foreigners come into SA with skills that make them employable here. Unless you are a medical doctor, an academic and maybe an engineer or well-established businessman before coming here, your chances of getting meaningful employment in SA are as limited as those of the United States letting Al-Qaeda members off the hook – almost impossible.

Most foreigners come to SA with the ability to braid hair, carve wood, or sell fruits, veggies, clothes, fizz pops, carpets and soap before they can find their feet here. Some are graduates…but what can another African degree do for you in SA? And any foreigner in SA will tell you that that is the truth. All of us started from below the bottom. Doing work that carries no dignity, no respect and very little financial gain. But when you have left or lost everything that you know and love and end up in a foreign land as unwelcoming in its laws and restrictions as South Africa, you have little choice available to you.

I can bet you that there is not up to 10% of South Africans who would be willing to do the menial and embarrassing work my parents and other foreigners did for as long as they did it, and for as little as they did it, were you to ask them today. So it annoys me, to the deepest part of my being when I see a South African open their mouth and cry “foul” against innocent foreigners. Let’s discuss this:

Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders.

Claustrophobia – the fear of small/tight/enclosed spaces.

Xenophobia – the fear of foreigners.

However individuals who are afraid of spiders do not go around killing spiders, rather they avoid spiders. Equally, individuals who are afraid of small and tight spaces do not go around trying to eliminate the existence of small spaces.

Thus xenophobia does not by definition imply the killing of foreigners. Yet, we continue to label this current wave of killings and murders in SA as xenophobic – and now the cooler term – “Afrophobic” attacks. Can we please just get real? What is happening in SA is a genocide, a genocide fuelled by a deep-seated hatred for which no single foreigner is responsible.

Before, you say this is too extreme, allow me to explain.

Genocide is the systematic/targeted killing of a specific tribe or race.

In South Africa’s case, this would be the senseless killings of non-South Africans, mostly those of African origin and some Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other non-African minorities.

I think the government, South African and international media are being too cowardly to call it what it is. They know what is going on in South Africa and yet they refuse to acknowledge it for fear of who knows what. Is it because their numbers are not high enough? Should we wait until a few good hundred thousand foreigners have been murdered before we speak the truth?

So now the value of human lives is being reduced to a debate on politically correct terms and phrases to protect certain interests. People are being butchered in the streets, and the country is worrying about bad PR. I hate that now, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everyone is now trying to say, “Oh no, it’s not all South Africans that are doing this, hey. Just a few of those people there.” South Africans are trying to distance themselves from what is happening in their own backyards as though it is of any consolation to those watching their family members being sizzled in rubber rings. As if that is what matters – true South African style.

This is not the first wave of attacks of this nature in South Africa. In fact, the 2008 attacks were much worse in terms of raw numbers of casualties suffered than these have been so far. The issue of xenophobia is not a new one in SA. However, the differentiator in 2015 is that this wave is backed by a strong ideology; that somehow these attacks can be and are justified.

An ideology that sees merit in the argument that foreigners are stealing the jobs of locals, that they are stealing their women, that these “makwerekwere” are the cause of most ills in South African society.

It is a shame how uninformed and how baseless these arguments are. Foreigners do not and CANNOT steal jobs in SA. Do you know how hard it is to get South African papers, just to get into the country – not to talk of getting a work permit and convincing any company to take on the cost of employing you as a foreigner? Unless you have some freaking scarce skills in the country – it just does not happen like that.

Secondly, just shut up and stop it. South Africans who embibe these arguments are lazy. There is a disgusting entitlement that is attached to this notion that jobs can be stolen. This implies that there are jobs waiting for you – of which there are none.

There are no freaking jobs waiting for anyone. Pick up a bucket and start washing cars. Put on your shoes and walk through your streets, sell tomatoes, eggs and tea – anything people eat, they will buy. Or pick up a book, hustle your way into university, work for a scholarship and get yourself an education. But stop this senselessness. Nobody is stealing your jobs.

I got my first job when I was 11-years-old. I worked on the school bus in my town. I collected money for the bus driver, wrote out receipts and kept order on the bus. I didn’t get paid much, but it helped me learn first that nothing comes easy, I learnt to be responsible and accountable to someone else. Secondly it helped me pay for little extramural expenses I did at school which were not the priority for my parents at the time (and rightly so). In ‘varsity, even though I had a tuition bursary, I worked two part-time jobs and one contract job for the entire three years at Stellenbosch so I could pay for my good, clothes and some additional materials etc. Yes my parents supported me as best they could, but naturally, part of growing up is that you don’t bother your parents for every Rand you need.

So people see me and my family now, several years later driving a decent car and living in an average house and they say, “Ningama kwekwere, asinifuni apha. Niqaphele, aningobalapha.

“You are foreigners, we do not want you here. You better watch out, you are not of this place,” – unaware of and unwilling to hear of the years of struggle and hustle that came with the decent car and the average house. [Which, by the way, you can never fully own as SA law now restricts ownership of property by foreigners – but that is another discussion.]

And what has been the government’s response to the worsening unemployment and crime situation in the cities and suburbs that incites this violence and dissatisfaction amongst its people? To tighten immigration laws, border controls and any little room the foreigner may have had to just maybe survive in the menacing streets of Johannesburg. As if that is where the problem began.

Is it not the way our economy is structured? That there is limited room for unskilled labour in the workforce? That those who are not vocationally trained must then settle for employment outside of their existing areas of knowledge such as artisans, plumbers and electricians – whereas these skills are equally needed in a developing economy? That we have this thing called BEE which in practice just ensures that the Black bourgeoisie get wealthier by hook or by crook while still protecting and cushioning the impact of democracy on old, white money and big business?

Is it really the little Ethiopian man with his spaza shop that is threatening your progress na Bhuthi? Is it really the Nigerian woman who braids hair and sells Fanta that is stealing your job and place in your own land na Sisi? I can’t deal.

If none of these arguments have merit for you, then think of the fact that during apartheid, Nigeria spent thousands of dollars on the ANC protecting and moving its members across borders; Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda all housed, supported and/or trained struggle heros with open arms and with no strings attached. How dare South Africans forget how much Africans did for them during apartheid. How dare you!

South Africans, go and learn your history. When you have read your history, then please teach the correct version to your children. Let them know that Africa helped put SA where it is now. Let them know that all blacks are not Xhosa or Zulu, but that that is irrelevant to the amount of dignity you accord to another human being. Teach your children that they must work for everything they want to have except your love as a parent. Teach your children that they are nothing without their neighbour – stop being selective about who Ubuntu applies to and does not. Teach them the truth about you.

The greatest enemy of the black man has always been himself. Not the colonialists. Not the apartheid architects. Only himself.

And as long as you refuse to take responsibility for where you are now, you will remain there. Kill us foreigners or not, it actually makes very little difference to your fortunes in life, people of Mzansi.

Lovelyn Nwadeyi
20 April 2015″

I hope this madness ends quickly, and pray God keeps my loved ones and all innocent persons in Durban, Jo’burg and all of SA safe.


10 responses »

    • I was teary while writing it you, Nora. If you read the article on Sithole’s murder, you ask yourself how a community can stand by and watch innocent people get mowed down like animals. I am praying hard for South Africans. Thanks for reading!

  1. Wow. Amazing. This is terrible. I never knew about xenophobia in SA until these recent killings. And I actually thought it was due to a very few crazy radicals and most SA people didn’t feel that disdain for other Africans. I know better now, especially from the response of their president and government.

    • Xenophobic behavior is sadly becoming commonplace in SA, which is why we need to speak out before it becomes acceptable. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Very Insightful and touching.

    I have learnt a lot from this story. It’s rather unfortunate.

    Poverty mindset the root is fear.

    it’s rather unfortunate African’s vs African’s. Permit me to quote the Bible Jesus Christ asked what do you have in your hands.. Fishes and Bread.. Another the parable of the talent.
    M&Spencer started off by selling in a stall in the market. I have and still meet a lot of people who sell stalls in the market.

    • It is indeed unfortunate, E. Poverty does breed an inexplicable paranoia, such that an illiterate villager can hold an immigrant medical student responsible for his joblessness. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I say agin you should write a book, there is something I fear to say sometimes for dread of the backlash but now I think I must.
    What is wrong with us Africans? I need to know really?! The countries that are doing well in Africa except Nigeria are full of Indians and whites, someone tell me what is really wrong with us Aficans!!!

  4. Whilst the killings of foreign national is shameful.Many South African are appalled by this occurence and have in fact been involved Inititives aimed at combating the brutal killing.I found this article to be be rather inadequate,extremely critical (understandly so) in its potrayal of South Africa..as extremely hostile.Secondly it showed a lack of understanding of the socio dynamics of the South african landscape..whilst ignoring the facts that these killings were incited by a few misdirected individuals .

    What Ndaweyi does not understand is that the framing of the attacks in the media have beein geared towards potraying the attacks as xenophobic when really it is poor on poor attcaks.It is no secret that resources are limited in SA many unskilled south africans have to scramble for menial jobs as petrol attendent shop attendents,waitresses,spaza owners etc.There is a lot of discontent amongst those living just below the breadline.Foreigners have been able to infiltrete these space so much that they make up a large percentage of the work force.Added to that the nepotism practiced when one foreign employee is able to get a job at a restaurant for example,means that his brothers,his cousins his sisters husbands cousin will replace the whole south african staff accepting low rates much to the benefit of the employer..I have never heard of foreign academics or those in the professional spaces being subjected to this kind of brutality.Why?? simply because they are not scrambling for jobs I have a lot of african friends working successfully as professors,engineers..

    The debate that africa opened its doors to the anc in South africa’s time of need is one that is getting too old..Yes Africa extended their hand to SA but its not like the whole of south africa packed their bags and went to settle in these countries which was largly due to the restrictions on black people under the apartheid goverment.Those that received aid from other african countries by way of arms and funds were the MK the military wing of the ANC there were numerous other parties organisations and ordinary south african citizens that were left behind and fighting on the ground.

    The tendency of the rest of africa to use the “we opened our doors for you during your time of need” Whilst true is misinformed as even then it was select african countries that provided refuge to the ANC..and if that is the argument that will persist when dealing with these attacks then maybe foreign national should rather go camp at Zuma’s homstead in Nkandla.as the rest of south africans have no idea which side of t
    he equator Uganda is.

    I often feel that foreign africans live in some kind of bubble and are unaware of the acute poverty that exists In South Africa.To them south africa presents some form of promised land.Its no wonder because upon coming into South Africa they occupy urban spaces in the city and formly effluent surburbian areas and remain largly unaware of the struggles of the black people living in the township and slum areas.They are oblivious to the politics and only engage with them as far as immigration papers are concerned.Women that commute daily to sell sweets at side walks,to braid hair at street corners,men that sell meilies in order to put their children and their childrens to school..so much for the “lazy” south african.

    Stories of suffering are not unique to the rest of Africa.Much of this countries wealth is concentrated amongst the white minority.BEE as an initiative is aimed at addressing the huge finencial gap between the white minority and the rest of the black population

    • Thanks for your comment, Samu! It is true that à lot of South Africans have risen up and spoken against Xenophobia, and are actively involved in repairing the damage of past attacks.

      On another note, i understand where Ndaweyi was coming from. As even you have conceded, the problem goes à lot deeper than a few misguided individuals – it points to a socioeconomic imbalance that basically, renders the situation akin to a powder keg stored next to a box of activated fireworks – an explosion waiting to happen.

      Inasmuch as even the perpetrators are victims in their own right, i don’t think poverty is an excuse. What then will you say about Nigeria, where the social disconnect is equally (and i daresay, even more) enormous? Where people trek hundreds of km everyday to roast corn on the outskirts of highbrow neighbourhoods where à regular 500m2 plot of land sells at more than they, their nuclear and extended family will ever make in their combined lifetime?

      When a poor man thinks that the only way out is to KILL his foreign neighbour, no matter what nationality he is, then the problem is not limited to poverty – there is an élément of the mentality that also needs to be re-oriented. I applaud the work that BEE and BB-BEE i doing, and only hope that in the years to come it’ll bear fruit such that Xenophobic attacks will be relegated to sad PAST incidents in SA history.

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