Is South Africa Xenophobic?

I’m often perplexed when the violent attacks of foreigners in South Africa are referred to as xenophobic attacks by some academics and journalist. There has been a clear indication that the attacks have only been directed towards black, African foreign nationals. Xenophobia is “the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange or dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.” So, although the observations still show xenophobic sentiments but  it is more correct to use the term afrophobia. This distinction is quite significant. This pattern of afrophobic violence have deeper psychological implications.  

The attacks in 2008 and 2015 have sentiments of Afrophobia fueled by a sense of hatred, dislike and fear of foreigners – that are Black. South Africa has often isolated itself from the “rest of Africa.” Somehow South Africa has removed itself from being part of the continent. Furthermore, the geographic placement at tip of the continent is considered to be Africa-Lite. This insidious narrow-mind thinking could be a hungover from the Apartheid era that enforced Black-on-Black self-hate. What we witnessing in South Africa is  African-on-African violence and essentially Black-on-Black violence.  However, the question remains why do black South Africans only attack foreign Africans but never foreign whites?

Maybe the African-on-African analogy is flawed to. The power of visibility plays a large part in attacks. For instance a Tanzanian person  who opens a Spaza Shop in a township is more visible than an Italian Pizzeria owner in the Suburb. The black man is more accessible and reachable. South Africa is 22 years into its democracy. However, black South African’s are largely still living in poverty, unemployment rate among the youth is high, tertiary education is expensive and the ruling party has not fulfilled all the promises it made in 1994 when it came into power. Understandably, as a result, there are some dissatisfied black South Africans who feel that they have not eaten the fruits of democracy. Even more understandable is why a black South African living under the poverty line will harvest a feeling of anger when a foreign national opens up a shop in their street. I can sympathize with their frustration 22 years into the democracy.  This is not a condonation of their sentiments of afrophobia or xenophobic attacks. Rather, an acknowledgement of the premise that has been set. Their actions are a response to the socio-political crisis in the country. Foreigners, have unfortunately been used as a scapegoat.

“Foreigners remain scrutinized in the – “us” vs “them” analogy.”

The tension towards foreign nationals has further been fueled  by the poor response from the South African government who have been very ambivalent. By having the foreigners as scapegoats to the South African social ills we are effectively deflecting attention from the root of the problem. Foreigners remain scrutinized in the – “us” vs “them” analogy. The most interesting aspect of this is the role South African leadership has played in subconsciously inciting the violence and how the immigration policy and the South African approach was further criminalizing foreign nationals.


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