Where lies the root cause?
Today in South Africa we find ourselves unsure about what’s going to happen next. Achieving democracy in 1994 gave us a sense that we all knew our way forward. Sadly, this has not been the case. Complaints started pouring in to the government but, unfortunately, little was done in many of areas which has led to major failures. People asked for basic needs: housing, jobs, better education and health care. The issue of unemployment has spiralled in the world and has hit us badly, adding to the unemployment figures which were already inherited from the struggle era. We began to see families that had no one working and as a result going hungry.
On the other hand many government officials became extremely rich, while non-governmental organisations that tried to highlight the problem often disappeared from public life. We were new into democracy, many countries in the world had already gone through the process. We looked stronger than we were to the outside world, but that was more image than reality. Nonetheless, inspired by our self-image, many of our brothers and sisters from other parts of Africa arrived in South Africa seeking refuge. As once it was a refuge for fugitives from war-torn Europe, Hillbrow and Yeoville in Johannesburg became a home for immigrants.
Within the squatter camps in the townships, where South Africa’s poorest lived, immigrants who could not afford high rent settled. They joined local people and shared in their daily struggles to survive. Somehow life became relatively normal. Xenophobia first broke out in the year 2000, spiking horribly in 2008, and returning with a vengeance this year.
Together with two colleagues the other day I visited a camp in Primrose, Germiston, where the immigrants were placed after the current wave of xenophobic violence. The pain of fellow Africans betrayed was not hidden. Speaking to some of the people who were at the camp, many were confused and did not know what to expect next.
I later spoke to my fellow South Africans in Soweto about xenophobia and all gave me this answer: we do not support xenophobia. A friend of mine wrote this message to me which, with her permission, I quote: “I am totally against xenophobia or any kind of discrimination or injustice. However, I feel that the media and country at large are addressing symptoms and not the virus. You, I and some South Africans are fortunate to have education, houses, jobs, etc., but the poorest of the poor are left out in the cold by a government who keeps on making empty promises. Their anger and frustration may be misdirected (through xenophobia) but their daily struggles are real, thus they will do anything to get attention.” These attacks have got out of control, certainly. So has a government that no longer seems to care about its people, let alone the foreigner.