Africans are generally known to be xenophillic compared to Europeans and Asians. I learned this from Dr Cheikh Anta Diop’s book titled “The Cultural Unity of Black Africa” which I reviewed in the late 1980 or early 1990’s. The following quotation briefly captures what Dr Diop wrote in that book about his Two Cradle Theory: “The theory in brief is that the severe climate and environment of Europe and Asia caused biological and cultural changes in the original human type resulting in the loss of pigmentation biologically and the development of an individualistic, xenophobic, aggressive, nomadic culture among the white isolates, in contrast to the cooperative, xenophilic, peaceful, sedentary culture among the blacks who still inhabited the more benign climatic and environmental zones”.
There is a splitting of hairs as to how to characterize the attacks that have been visited upon people who come from outside the borders of what is called South Africa. Is it xenophobia or Afrophobia or pure criminality or a combination of the three? If it is xenophobia why were Africans the only targets in 2008 and not Europeans and Asians because there are plenty of illegal immigrants from Asia and Europe in this country? It should be noted that in the recent attacks Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were also reported to have been victims. Probably the answer lies in the fact that Asian and European illegal immigrants do not live in townships but are insulated among their people in the suburbs. These Asian and European foreigners don’t share the same economic space and living environment with the majority of poor Africans. This takes us to Dr Diop’s analysis on Race and Social Classes which is a whole chapter in his book titled “Civilisation or Barbarism” – I quoted this book in my recent article.
Is it possible that some Africans have adopted strange and foreign behaviour such as xenophobia because of the depoliticisation that has taken place ever since the ANC-UDF hegemonic rise to the South African political scene in the early 1980’s? I am referring to the 1980’s period without reference to the Apartheid era because we know the damage it caused which Robert Sobukwe addressed from 1959 and Steve Biko continued to preach in the late 1960’s which fell precipitously during the ANC-UDF hegemony in the 1980’s.
Let me again invoke Dr Diop on the African personality or cultural personality or cultural identity. He writes that three factors make up the collective personality of a people, namely, the historical factor, linguistic factor and psychological factor. He says all these factors undergo constant change, particularly the psychological aspects. The linguistic and historical aspects provide coordination of relationships. The historic factor is the cultural cement which unites the disparate elements of a people to make a whole.
Dr. Diop continues and states that historical consciousness is the most solid rampart of the cultural security of a people. Historical continuity is the effective cultural arm of a people against outside cultural aggression and that a people without an historical consciousness is just a population. He believed that loss of historical continuity can lead to stagnation and retrogression.
The question is did the ushering in of the “new” dispensation lead to mental liberation of everybody, particularly victims of apartheid and colonialism? Is there empirical evidence to that effect? Many Africans still cringe, in their own land, in the presence of white people twenty one years after the “new” dispensation. The working conditions of African workers in the farms are appalling. Many white people in South Africa still have Apartheid mentality of superiority (white supremacy). In the civil service such as in the Secret Service, for example, white officers still rule the roost. They are calling the shots. They bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and petty African men walk under its huge legs and peep about to find themselves dishonorable graves. That is why some former freedom fighters who are mentally liberated are quitting their jobs in disgust.
In my 17 April 2015 Business Day article on statues which drew about fifty arrogant and negative comments from white people, with only one African person supporting me, I wrote that European literature depicted Africans as sub-human. I mentioned that those books are still on the shelves of their libraries. It is this literature which first affected negatively the psychology of African people. What has the ANC government done to address the effects of the negative impact of this literature on the psychology of vulnerable African people? Not a single progressive text book has been prescribed in the education system in the past twenty one years as an antidote to the ubiquitous and pervasive racist scholarship.
Empirical evidence indicates that lack of historical consciousness renders a people divided, weak and vulnerable. As Dr. Diop says – a people without an historical consciousness is just a population. We know that members of a population have little or nothing in common; as a result they can kill each other like animals. Indeed loss of historical continuity leads to stagnation and retrogression.
The attacks on Azapo and PAC supporters by ANC and UDF members in the 1980’s are similar to the attacks that are visited upon fellow Africans thirty years later except that the former were turf wars and/or ideological wars and the present ones against fellow Africans are over a shared economic space. However, they are similar in that there was a fight over something. Just like the current attacks they also had elements of criminality. They were referred to as internecine warfare although they were, by and large, one-sided and it is not necessary to quibble about their depiction, whether they were political or criminal or a combination thereof. ANC and UDF perpetrators of violence against Azapo and PAC supporters and members manifested a particular psychological or mental state. This buttresses the fact that the psychological aspects or mental state of a people changes from time to time.
Let me point out the hypocrisy, double standards and selective morality of those in the ANC and UDF leadership, African leaders, former apartheid government officials, white liberals, western governments and their people who are vocal now, and rightly so, but kept mum at the time when Azapo and PAC supporters and members were being murdered and maimed by ANC and UDF supporters. I know that some whites do not really give two hoots about the lives of Africans – they are condemning the violence to assuage their consciences. One wonders what would happen to some of these mealy-mouthed white people when this violence engulfs them.
The big question is whether the psychology of some Africans (in the so called South Africa) could have temporarily undergone change to embrace strange and foreign behaviour like xenophobia as a defense mechanism considering that in the past, Europeans took advantage of their benevolence and hospitality coupled with the attendant depoliticisation of the masses by the ANC government?
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a fellow at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI) and a PAC member who spent almost 20 years in exile.