It is true, South Africa is in the midst of yet another xenophobic frenzy. Periodically the locals get manipulated into thinking that some “foreigner” is “taking their jobs/women” (and a few other equally lame reasons) and are now out there murdering, assaulting, and looting and generally rampaging because somebody knew somebody else who heard a rumour from somebody else etc.
The reasoning is frivolous, the excuses are lame, and the perpetrators are violent, uncaring and seemingly at ease with the terror that they inflict. They do not have sympathy, empathy or any compunction about setting fire to somebody because they may or may not come from Mozambique or Chad or even the wrong side of Alexandra. The looting frenzy has ensured that they now have plenty of whatever it is that they stole, and they are probably sitting at home gloating about what a great job they have done of ridding the country of the so called “kwerakwera”.
This morning I read how they brutally attacked a Mozambican: Emmanuel Sithole, in Alexandra Township, and how he died in a hospital as a result of a doctor not being available. He reminds me of the Mozambican who was burnt alive in another wave of xenophobia in 2008: Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave. His terrible death surrounded by a baying mob of barbarians was shocking, and guess what? nobody was ever prosecuted for his death, and it is unlikely that anybody will be accountable for the death of Emmanuel Sithole. (update: I believe that arrests were made, and it turns out that this was not so much xenophobia, but outright criminalism. Irrespective, it was barbaric and uncalled for, and I sincerely hope that the rubbish that did this never see the light of the sun ever again).
I keep on being troubled by the ordinariness of these events, I can almost displace myself into another world where the conversation would go something like this:
“So what did you do today?”
“I went drinking with some pals, then we played some pool, and after that attacked a Mozambican.”
“Oh, and how did that go?”
“Well we left him to bleed to death.”
“That’s nice, I am sure he deserved it. What was he accused of?”
“He was a Mozambican.”
“Oh yes, one of those foreigners, that’s ok then. Would you like some potatoes with your meat?”
It is frightening that there is a small chance that the people who do these things actually go home and have “normal” lives (or whatever passes as normal). I keep on having flashbacks to the Nazis who ran the death camps, murdering a thousand Jews and then going home and playing with their children. Or of the man who arbitrarily decided to change the medium of instruction to Afrikaans in 1976, or the men who were the magistrates in the pass law courts. How do they sleep with themselves at night? how do they face their children after a hard days pillaging, looting and abusing?
This time around I am hoping that the world will do something about the South African governments apathetic stance to this violence. And what I am reading at the moment is that some governments are looking to see what punitive measures they can take against South Africa. Already some of the foreigners are being repatriated back to their home countries, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to how many illegals there are in South Africa with its porous borders.
As a nation though we should hang our collective head in shame, we should be looking inside ourselves and asking why are we like this? or is xenophobia a national sport like crime, nepotism, corruption and dishonesty? We should be hanging our head in shame because Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave did not see justice done, and neither will Emmanuel Sithole for that matter.
I am a foreigner living in England, and multiculturalism is the norm rather than the exception. I have met people from all over the world, and we are all pretty much the same when you look at it. Make no mistake though, this sort of thing can erupt here just as easily, but at this moment there are probably more important things to do.
I think that South Africa is going to become one of those pariah nations, very much the way it was when the National Party was calling the shots. And as investment leaves the shores the only ones who can be blamed are the South Africans who did this, and a government that is more interested in buying jet aircraft for the people in charge and renaming streets and buildings because they can.
I never considered myself a South African, even though I have the passport, served in its army, and paid large amounts of tax to prop it up. The Afrikaners ensured that I would never be viewed as anything but a “donderse ingelsman wat ons vroue en kinders vermoor het.” I don’t hold any allegiance to the place, and frankly I could not give a damn for it. But I know one thing, for somebody who does not hold an allegiance to it, I do feel ashamed of what its people are capable of.
I worked with many South African Blacks, and I know that a lot of them are not bloodthirsty savages. They are ordinary people who struggle from day to day, they smile and laugh and have dreams and aspirations. Just like those who are now sitting in a place of refuge, their lives destroyed, their children traumatised, and their hopes and dreams dashed to the ground.
I can only shake my head in sadness.