Xenophobic Attacks In South Africa, An Act Of Terrorism – Daniel Gondyi

xenophobic attacks south africa

April 18, 2015 – Xenophobic Attacks In South Africa, An Act Of Terrorism By Daniel Gondyi

I have heard responses such as the call to boycott South African produce and services in Nigeria; count me out of that as I have used an MTN line since 2005 and will not budge because some people in South Africa have lost their sense of shared humanity. I hear that in Zambia radios are boycotting South African music – a shame. The Nigerian House of Representatives has threatened to frustrate “South African interests in Nigeria” if the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians persist. I guess what they mean is that the violence is not reached the desired threshold yet? Whatever the case, we gain nothing from proxy punishments and Nigeria also has “interests” in other countries that others can hurt. The only way to conquer the putrid hatred oozing out of South Africa right now is to love them as a people, hate the terror that some of them are perpetrating and seek redress and restitution.

I have visited South Africa twice and had the opportunity of meeting many remarkable people; but I should tell you that I did not particularly feel loved in South Africa. Personally, gauging the reaction of the other to my being is something I look out for and I have had interesting reactions in the places I have visited. One experience I from my stay in Cape Town in early 2014 was that while waiting for the light to turn green at the zebra crossing in Rondebosch, I spotted two elderly beggars in front of the Woolworth food store across the road. They were making quite a scene harassing passers-by and so on. I had steeled myself in advance of their pleas, but by the time I crossed the road and passed in front of them, none of the beggars lifted up his bowl to beg from me. They looked at me in a way that I felt not wanted.

In March 2015 when the debate about the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes started in the beautiful University of Cape Town, I held my peace. However, I feel strongly that we cannot expunge the history of colonialism by removing statues and renaming buildings and streets and so on. To re-echo the words of Godfrey Mahachi, the director of Zimbabwe’s National Museums and Monuments in 2012 about Cecil Rhodes’ grave in Zimbabwe, a landmark such as the statue was “an important reminder of the country’s colonialist past which could not be airbrushed out.” Since nothing we do today can in anyway alter the history of what colonialism did to us, it is best that we move forward and reconcile ourselves to the truths of history; our sad realities cannot be wished, washed or airbrushed away.

The thoughts on the Cecil Rhodes statue in UCT are by no means a digression. In an effort to rid themselves of the statue which to many students and members of the UCT community represented whiteness, they employed hate. A lot of hatred was in circulation in South Africa but no one batted an eyelid because as yet no blood was spilled. It was considered “alright” that a bucket of human excreta could be dumped on a bronze statue that has sat dead since 1934, it was also considered “alright” to engage hateful speech to vent out frustration against “whiteness”. If it was “alright” to hate the burden of whiteness that Rhodes represented in 2015 and to topple it, by what logic is it wrong to hate whatever burdens these poor migrants are thought to represent and to destroy them, also in 2015?

Only a few days after the UCT statue was removed, violence broke out in Kwazulu Natal and now it is spreading. These Others are not so far away from the perpetrators of the violence – they are immigrants many of whom are from Zimbabwe and other countries that share with South Africa the history of racial abuse and domination – the legacy of Rhodes. Other victims – black as the perpetrators – hail from elsewhere in Africa. This round of violence or “xenophobia” as it has been called was said to have been instigated by the unapologetic Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini who advised African migrants to “go home” as they were no longer welcome in South Africa; but he could not have conceived this carnage alone, clearly his like minds across South Africa share these feelings. Make no mistake that the few who are now out on the streets looting, killing and burning are the only ones who hate migrants.

Is it linguistically right to describe what is going on in South Africa as a phobia? If a phobia truly means “a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it” – then how could it have led to the over 70 deaths now recorded in South Africa? Even when we extend our frame of reference to “xenophobia” – it is only “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange”. No one said anything about killing or violence and no one said that only black Africans are foreign in South Africa. Why is it that when Al-Shabaab kill human beings as they did recently in Garrissa, Kenya we call that an act of terror, but then when a South Africans do the same thing we want to excuse it away as xenophobia or Afrophobia? Clearly what is going on in South Africa is terrorism, no different from what ISIS or Boko Haram are doing. There might be slight variation such as that the violence in South Africa is sanctioned by their traditional institution and condoned by the formal or that it is being perpetrated by “ordinary” folks who have not travelled to Yemen or Pakistan for ‘Radicalisation 101’ classes. But they have been radicalized by their hatred first for white South Africans and now for black Africans and we don’t know who they would hate unless we teach them love.

I have heard responses such as the call to boycott South African produce and services in Nigeria; count me out of that as I have used an MTN line since 2005 and will not budge because some people in South Africa have lost their sense of shared humanity. I hear that in Zambia radios are boycotting South African music – a shame. The Nigerian House of Representatives has threatened to frustrate “South African interests in Nigeria” if the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians persist. I guess what they mean is that the violence is not reached the desired threshold yet? Whatever the case, we gain nothing from proxy punishments and Nigeria also has “interests” in other countries that others can hurt. The only way to conquer the putrid hatred oozing out of South Africa right now is to love them as a people, hate the terror that some of them are perpetrating and seek redress and restitution.

The only ones who could read this level of hatred and violence as a “phobia” would be those who have a phobia for the truth.

Nengak Daniel Gondyi is a social researcher interested in issues of nationality, identity and citizenship. He holds a Masters degree in International Migration and Ethnic Relations from Malmo University in Sweden. He wrote in from Lagos, Nigeria via nengak.daniel@cleen.org