The fast moving media world, in their uncritical and subjective reporting on incidents of violence that happened this April month in Durban, Joburg and Germiston, compels us to describe the working people of South Africa – the Azanian masses – as xenophobes.
News analysts and a range of alarmists jumped to the conclusion that this was a repeat phenomenon similar to the ethnic violence that erupted in 2008, and they went on to use the word xenophobia without examining the objective reality and hard facts to justify the use of the term. This is a reflex response in the media fraternity, anchored on their prejudices and racial bigotry, and their beliefs and interpretation of reality. In effect, it is a propaganda bias the public have come to live with from yellow journalism. Those who believe this blatant propaganda are duped.
It is common knowledge that the African people of the south have been very hospitable to stranded travellers and displaced persons, and have given accommodation and food to strangers. It is a good trait from time immemorial and it still defines our national identity and cultural behaviour. The Christian missionaries from various denominations in Europe found this welcoming behaviour very remarkable when they landed on these shores. Unfortunately, armed colonial forces used them as a Trojan horse to achieve conquest and white domination. Nevertheless the welcoming spirit of the people still prevails today despite the hardships they continue to go through.
Since 1886 when gold was discovered the mines enforced recruitment of cheap labour from the reservoirs of what is now the Southern African Development Council’s (SADC) fourteen countries, the indigenous people have worked together to create wealth in South Africa such that they accepted their conditions of poverty and dispossession as similar and their enemies as common. Their collective victory is a shared achievement.
They learnt to empathize with each other and came to bond with one another, because their common miseries were not of their own making. When the new political dispensation was ushered in after white domination was neutralised, they accepted to live with their former oppressors and exploiters in peace and harmony. It is not possible to imagine that such people could hate their fellow Africans after this magnanimous feat. There is no justification to mar the good name of the African people with the ugly paint of xenophobia.
Xenophobia is a pejorative term meaning abnormal fear of strangers and people from other countries. Analysts who have narrowed their field of judgement, using selective information and a narrow political outlook to interpret the criminal acts that happened in Durban, the thuggery of the tsotsi elements in Alex on 11 April, and other similar crimes in Primrose in Germiston, hurriedly drew an inference that xenophobia by the country’s citizens was at play.
George Bizos, a prominent human rights lawyer, has concluded that the Azanian masses hold “deep hatred of foreigners”. This indictment is supported by the likes of renowned columnist Allister Sparks, who concludes that the indigenous population’s lack of entrepreneurial spirit has led to them despising and wanting “to kill” immigrants. Some smart alecs have renamed xenophobia as Afrophobia, as if to lighten the blow.
Racial bigots view the indigenous people of Africa as tribal savages thirsting at the blood of innocent passersby. Tribalists, cultural nationalists and other reactionaries use this backdrop to get political attention onto themselves and in turn hold the progress of the working people at ransom.
A root cause analysis of the current criminal acts points to unscrupulous business persons, in collusion with demagogues among the political elites, using their power and influence to mislead vulnerable sections of their constituencies.
The Zuma administration is known to pander to the whims of tribal and ethnic constituencies. They endorsed the United Nations Security Council resolution to deploy NATO forces in the airspace of Libya, which ultimately led to regime change and the assassination of Muamar Gaddafi. In their electoral campaigns and grand strategies for maintaining political power, the African National Congress submerged progressive principles of nation building and sought unmitigated tribal and ethnic affinities. This led to consequences they will live to regret; with the paramount king Goodwill Zwelithini emboldened by this ethnicity to use emotive terminology and whip up his supporters against the lives and assets of immigrant Africans from the north of the continent. He claims to have made his incendiary statements in the presence of the Minister of Police.
The king subsequently won an out-staring match to retract his statement with the Minister of Home Affairs and the Premier of Kwa Zulu Natal province. It means the highly lauded hybrid constitution of the country is interpreted to confuse itself on the separation of powers between the circular state and traditional leadership. The king openly boasted to have had superior powers above that of elected politicians. This political schizophrenia poses grave dangers in the immediate future for the rest of South Africa’s broader constituencies.
The policing system is itself in shambles. A unit of the SAPS failed to maintain proper border policing and had to be recalled. The border duty was returned to the SANDF. It is the SAPS that sold a negative image of the country abroad. Mado Marcia, a Mozambican immigrant, was killed brutally after the police dragged him behind a van in the streets of Daveyton. Andries Tatane was shot in cold blood for leading a peaceful protest march in Ficksburg. Striking miners were massacred by the police in Marikana in August 2012. By calling on the SANDF to help maintain law and order, the police service has unwittingly admitted to their own failures. The failure is squarely that of their handlers in government.
The governing African National Congress holds the habit of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares. They manage the killers in the police service, and they wail with the mourners of the dead.
When criminal acts of looting convenience shop outlets owned by Somali business in Soweto in February/March 2015, the Minister of Small Business, Lindiwe Zulu, attended to complaints from local business railing against methods employed by their competitors. Black Business Council president, Ndaba Ntsele, claimed in television interviews that the Somalis had supernatural skills to dominate the market. The real issue that sparked the violence was the death of a youngster shot by a Somali shop-owner in the neighbourhood. Charlatans with an axe to grind whipped up emotions and used disgruntled community members to get their way with the competition. The police were reported in the media as sitting idly by when the shops were looted.
The tiny minority of xenophobes, like the skinheads in France and Germany, hide behind vulnerable youth from poor communities to set the country on fire. They do not represent the overwhelming majority of African people of the south.
The Azanian masses are law abiding and peace loving. They do not deserve to be tagged as xenophobic. They love Africa and they love humanity. Pure and simple.
By Jaki Seroke
The writer is a stalwart of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania. He chairs the board of the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI) and is a member of the national executive committee of the South African National Military Veterans Association.