Opinionista Kenneth Diole 26 February 2017

Xenophobia is more economic than social

The spazza shops of foreign nationals create a façade of economic empowerment, and the desperate situation where our youth find themselves addicted to dangerous substances and selling their bodies to get by, fuels the popular rhetoric, that it is foreign nationals who do this to their kids, thus further fuelling the resentment and attacks.

Since 2007 we have seen xenophobic acts continually come to the fore, more so in times of economic and financial distress. We have argued as a nation that xenophobia, and in recent cases, Afrophobia, is the fear of foreign nationals, in particular, African nationals. However, we have failed to critically analyse where this “supposed” fear comes from.

In most of the xenophobic attacks that have occurred in South Africa in the past two years, the majority were in rural townships, where the native residents argued that foreign nationals steal their jobs, prostitute their children and sell drugs. This is the recurring rhetoric every time xenophobic attacks happen.

However, I argue that beyond this seasoned narrative, we are dealing with a multi-tier crisis; the first level being that people in townships are more often than not, most affected by a stagnate economy. Unemployment is rife in our townships, there are no jobs or job opportunities, lack of investments in skills development, and poorly administered municipalities alongside deterring public spaces are not aiding the situation at large. In these situations, the people become frustrated. They look for the easiest target to unleash their frustration on, and foreign nationals are the easiest scapegoats. Their spazza shops create a façade of economic empowerment on their behalf instead of the native citizens, and the desperate situation where our youth find themselves addicted to dangerous substances and selling their bodies to get by, fuels the popular rhetoric, that it is foreign nationals who do this to their kids, and thus further fuelling the resentment and attacks.

Secondly, South Africa has an endemic culture of violence, it is seen in the 2014 murder statistics, where South Africa’s murder rates were at 32.2 out of every 100,000 people, while the global average was 6 per every 100,000 people. In the same year, we saw over 14,000 public services strikes, where the majority were violent. This thus goes to show, that violence, which is legacy of our previous dispensation, is still worryingly embedded in our communities. We continually note that every time we stigmatise something, like foreigners “stealing” our jobs or selling drugs, the solution is then corroborated with violence.

Thus, it is imperative to note that solving and creating a peaceful communities starts with creating a conducive environment for people to get and create jobs, particularly among the youth. One in three young people in South Africa today is neither employed, in training or in any form of learning. This is not surprising when looking at the majority of the people who attended the anti-immigrant march in Pretoria, xenophobia is therefore not only a social issue but an economic one too: if we can train and create jobs for our youth, we will see a decline of such attacks.

In addition to jobs, it is high time that leaders are held responsible for their utterances. Their rhetoric, even if not directly inciting violence, has been open to that kind of interpretation, this evident by the attacks from last year in KwaZulu-Natal after the King’s speech and more recently by the Mayor of Johannesburg. Our leaders need to understand the importance of unifying communities, especially under such hostile environments, by condemning any rhetoric and acts that lead to such disastrous outcomes. They need to educate the people about our shared histories of pain, disenfranchisement, joblessness and more importantly, the need for collective action to empower all those who inhabit this beautiful land. DM

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