No country, South Africa included, is an island

Hildegarde The Arena
THE madness of the xenophobic and/or afrophobic attacks in South Africa is incomprehensible. It gives an impression that South Africa is an island that can do without its African brothers and sisters, which in itself is pure day-dreaming. It also gives the impression that in this day and age of globalisation, only the elite and whites who own the means of production and the South African economy per se are the only foreigners that are welcome in South Africa.

Black South Africans – those who have incited the barbaric attacks and killings of foreign nationals through hate speech, the perpetrators of the insidious violence and the media whitewash of the events – have indirectly deemed the rest of Africa their number 1 enemy, so we believe.

Barely 21 years after the first democratic elections were held on April 27 1994, South Africa feels that it wants nothing to do with the brothers and sisters that helped it fight and get to that stage, a stage they arrived long after the rest of Africa had attained independence.

These same brothers and sisters who are being forced out also built the white capital (as migrant workers), that makes South Africa the second largest economy on the continent, opening opportunities for it to sit on a number of elite global economic clubs. Nonetheless, it is capital that black South Africans still have to call their own.

It is also a misnomer that on April 27, South Africa will be celebrating the 21st anniversary of their Freedom Day.

What is there to celebrate? That South Africa is at long last free from foreigners from Africa, but can accommodate other foreign nationals some of whom are just as unskilled, but happen to be members of an “appropriate” racial grouping – white?

Is this the Freedom Charter that the founders of the African National Congress and other progressive political organisations believed in?

Is South Africa also sliding back into its past – the evil apartheid era, because the current xenophobic attacks are a mirror image of that, where intolerance of the black race and its views were abhorrent?

It is time that South Africa takes a serious reflection of how it has treated the rest of Africa. It has angered ordinary African citizens who have been on the receiving end as their countries accommodated freedom fighters from the region, South Africans included.

Countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and others had to share their national cake with liberation movements from the Southern African region, because independence and national sovereignty were a shared value.

If these nationalities were to ask to be paid reparations by the liberation movements they hosted, how would those who are needlessly taking their lives respond, especially when they accuse these foreigners of taking their jobs?

There is an unwritten notion that South Africa has angered ordinary African nationals whose only crime has been to seek better opportunities. Foreign nationals are found in every country, but do you resort to violence on the basis that they pose a threat to your prospects of getting jobs?

Statistics on employment and the state of service delivery across the African continent are not rosy, but it is only in South Africa where a privileged king (Goodwill Zwelithini), and the son of a head of state and government (Edward Zuma), come out guns blazing that foreigners must be kicked out of their country.

How sad and also pathetic! There is a limit to free speech and how far we can blame the institutionalised apartheid system, since xenophobia is now equally being institutionalised.

And, here is how South Africa has really enraged Africa. Xenophobia is a major talking point all over the continent at the expense of important developmental issues.

Go on social media sites and other conventional news channels – it is the topic. Why? Everyone, from the highest to the lowest levels in society has relatives and/or friends in South Africa. If they do not have, they know someone who went to seek greener pastures there, and they have every reason to be worried.

When the 2008 attacks killed more than 60 foreign nationals, African governments never reacted the way they have done in the past fortnight – initiating voluntary evacuation of their nationals.

Zimbabwe is currently doing that and the harrowing stories coming from the affected people are a pointer to the fact that a lot more is taking place on the ground than the images that we view.

For this writer, Malawi was the biggest surprise. It was among the first countries to respond to the calls for help from its nationals.

According to media reports, one of the returnees thanked President Peter Mutharika for coming to their rescue, and pleaded with him to assist more people trapped in South Africa: “We are very grateful to government and President Mutharika for remembering us,” said the returnees’ representative. “But we still have brothers and sisters who are trapped and stranded there and we plead with you to urgently come to their rescue.”

Cash-strapped governments have to evacuate their citizens and the exercise is becoming more costly by the day. Apart from embassy staff, most governments have had to send additional personnel, as they also wonder how these returnees would be absorbed into the economy.

Earlier this week, the Malawi government spokesperson Kondwani Nankhumwa said: “The government of Malawi is in the process of hiring 60 more buses to ferry the willing Malawians back home” to evacuate 3 200 Malawians back home.

He also said the exercise was costing them a lot, considering that it was something they had not budgeted for: “Government has already sent 10 immigration officers to help in the repatriation process…,” adding that the budget for repatriation had risen from an initial $65 000 to $422 000.

The more reason why Africa is angry, for not all foreign nationals are undocumented and not all of them are criminals.

A majority of them has contributed positively to South Africa’s growth and development. Most of them are entrepreneurs in their own right, employing many South Africans and people from other nationalities.

Meanwhile, calls for an urgent meeting of either Sadc and/or the African Union are getting louder with observers arguing that since South African President Jacob Zuma is the chairperson of the Troika on the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, this is an issue that should be treated with utmost urgency.

President Mugabe as Sadc and African Union chair on Saturday summed up the emotions floating around at Zimbabwe’s 35th Independence celebrations when he expressed a “sense of shock and disgust as we abhor the incident that happened in Durban where some five or six Africans were burned to death deliberately by some members of the South African Zulu community.

“We understand it was a protest against the influx into South Africa of or by citizens from neighbouring countries. The act of treating other Africans in that horrible way cannot be condoned by anyone…we say on our own behalf and behalf of Sadc, as indeed on behalf of the African Union, that (that) must never happen again, never happen again in South Africa or any other country.”

How ironic that the other time President Mugabe spoke so forcefully was on September 2 2002, at an Earth Summit in Durban at the height of the land reform programme when he told then British Prime Minister Tony Blair: “We say this as Zimbabweans: we have fought for our land, we have fought for our sovereignty; small as we are, we have won our independence and we are prepared to shed our blood in sustenance and maintenance and protection of that independence.

“We do not mind having and bearing sanctions banning us from Europe; we are not Europeans; we have not asked for any square inch of that territory. So, Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe.”

When you hear someone who has lived in your country saying, never again will I go to that country, then it is time to ask what has gone wrong.

Africa desires peaceful co-existence, diversity and sustainable development. This can only be achieved when Africans as a people are proud to assert themselves and work together, without necessarily making apologies. We have not yet arrived. We can still go back to the drawing boards and fix the issues marred by these barbaric attacks on each other.