“Foreigners must go back to where they came from…” Demonstrators in the South African city of Johannesburg
“We strongly condemn the acts of violence that have been reported in different provinces in South Africa, including attacks against foreigners and the destruction of their property.” United Nations Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric
“No amount of anger and frustration and grievance can justify such acts of wanton destruction and criminality.” President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa
“Xenophobia, racism, sexism, in fact all fundamentalism, all acts of intolerance belong to one family and if you are to deal with one member of the family, you have got to be consistent in dealing with all members of that family,” Ebrahim Rasool
We have been enlightened culturally over the past few years concerning the remnants of extremist racism in the United States. This becomes more and more clear each week as I research and write for More than Meets the Eye. I have decided to look harder at the subject due to the trifecta of extremist shootings in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio recently. I have wondered if we were the only country where this kind of hatred towards “those different from us” existed, or if it is a human-wide epidemic.
The problem of merely following the national news is that one could easily conclude that only the US has these kinds of human sicknesses. It is with sadness in my heart that I report that racism, gender inequality and human xenophobia are common sicknesses that we all share as human-beings and that we do not have any kind of sole possession on this kind of aberrant behavior in the West.
This week we will address the little-reported problem of what local leaders in Africa refer to as, “Afrophobia.” It is a violent form of xenophobia which is currently bearing its nasty teeth in several African countries, appearing to have started in South Africa. It is a devastating phenomenon that causes Africans to fear and kill Africans, because they are of a different nationality, tribe or ethnicity. These events that I will describe below remind me of the fact that we are all a part of one race, the human one. Until our human race is transformed by something greater than us, we will discover that there will be no peace between anyone of us …at all.
The initial bout of attacks against foreign owned companies in Johannesburg started sometime at the end of August 2019, after South African lorry drivers staged a nationwide strike to protest against the widespread employment of foreign drivers. The country has become a magnet for migrants from other parts of Africa because it has one of the continent’s biggest and most developed economies. But the problems seem to stem from the difficult reality that there is also high unemployment, around 29%, in South Africa and some people believe foreigners are taking their jobs.
While local media reports suggest that 800,000 Nigerians live in South Africa, official South African records say the number is about 30,000. It is not clear if the official data includes undocumented migrants. About four million immigrants live in South Africa according to official UN data, although some vigorously contest the accuracy of this figure. South Africa’s overall population is just over 50 million. About 70% of foreigners in South Africa come from neighboring Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. The remaining 30% is made up of people from Malawi, Nigeria, UK, Namibia, eSwatini, previously known as Swaziland, India and other countries.
South Africa (SA) is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner. Already the Zimbabwe Cross Borders Transport Association has warned that it will stop all South African cross-border transport, including SA-registered trucks, buses and flights, from crossing borders to any African nation. The Beitbridge Border Post, for instance, is the gateway for South African traffic into Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and even further, thus underlining the importance of keeping it open. Currently, the South African violence against foreigners makes keeping that crossing open very difficult.
There have been outbreaks of violence and looting in several of South Africa’s largest cities, such as Johannesburg and Durban. Foreign shops and businesses are being looted and burned to the ground. Up until Saturday, September 7th, the government insisted that it was just criminal activity and had nothing to do with foreigners in South Africa. The demonstrations and violent rhetoric continued to say otherwise and finally, the government of Cyril Ramaphosa had to come clean in order to solve a completely different problem than they had hoped.
Because of South Africa’s resistance to call it what it is, there has grown a bitter animosity between Africa’s two superpowers – Nigeria and South Africa. The proliferation of false information and misunderstandings are only serving to add fuel to the flames of anger. With the heightening of tensions over the past few weeks, an influential Nigerian student body organization began to demand that all South African-owned businesses leave the West African state. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) – which represents university students at campuses across the country – has picketed branches of South African telecoms giant MTN, and those of supermarket chain, Shoprite, turning away staff and customers. The students making these demands fail to consider the fact that requiring South African companies to leave immediately would only worsen the already strained Nigerian economical problems, leaving thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Nigerians without employment.
Unfortunately, this looks a lot like a South African replay of 2015. The attacks on foreigners – mainly Zimbabweans, Somalis, Malawians, Mozambicans and Nigerians – started in Durban more than two weeks after comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini suggested that African migrants in South Africa were criminals who should go back to their countries and stop stealing jobs and opportunities from locals. Where have we heard that before?
To make matters worse, South African police arrested more than 650 foreign nationals, including traders who had their goods seized, in Johannesburg earlier this month. A court ordered that 489 of them be deported within 30 days, because they were not legally in South Africa. Some had resided there for 20 years.
To throw even more fuel onto the fire, South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world today. “The causes are poverty and has its roots in apartheid,” says Sharon Ekambaram, who runs the refugee and migrant rights program for Lawyers for Human Rights. That would be an interesting statement to unpack.
South Africa is already experiencing great tension from its downward spiraling economy. People are desperate; they are hungry and they are being marginalized by a government that they all believed would bring them relief and prosperity.
To clarify, it should be noted that there are parts of South Africa where violent crime rates are consistent with war zones internationally. There are 1,144 police station precincts across the country and 20% of all the murders were recorded at just 30 stations, according to the South African police service.
Last year, half of all murders were recorded at only 13% of stations. According to ISS’ Crime Hub, several precincts have a murder rate estimated at more than 100 per 100,000. That’s higher than in most of the war zones considered above. In Philippi East, a township of Cape Town, the rate was estimated at 323.4 per 100,000. It was 214.52 in Madeira in the Eastern Cape province and 177.3 at Pietermaritzburg’s central city station in KwaZulu-Natal. Those murder rates are higher than in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, known war zones globally.
Fear is an emotion that all humans experience. However, not all of us respond to our fears by burning down a neighbor’s store or by gunning down a score of people in a Walmart parking lot! What brings us as humans to the point of such desperation that this kind of violent behavior takes over? Where is the breaking point of mankind? It would be disingenuous and dishonest to point our fingers at others while completely refusing to believe that any of us are above that kind of behavior. The truth is that we are all hopeless without a Greater Solution than ourselves.
Meanwhile, we will build bigger prisons and larger walls. We will ban guns and knives of all kinds. Soon we will ban anything that humans might be able to use to hurt one another. We will prohibit language that offends. We will continue to ban, ban, ban until one day we will see that we have backed ourselves into a corner. We will realize that we have been climbing up rungs to a higher form of human consciousness only to find that the ladder we have been using is leaning against the wrong wall and that now, even with all our good intentions we are farther from where we want to be than ever before.
The broken human condition will never change by stopping doing things. The change will only occur by embracing genuine transformation that comes from a Source that is much higher than us. Albert Einstein once wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” “Trying to fix our human problems is a lot like trying to push a bus while we are sitting on it.” Leslie Newbegin.
- Learn to honestly address your own fears. Admit that you hold within you the capacity for your own xenophobic behavior.
- Determine to face those phobias, then turn them into strengths. How? If your neighbors are from another country, take some time to learn about their country and culture. Read a book or watch a movie about them.
- Engage the subjects of your phobia with love and compassion. Invite them into your home. (Yes, that is what I said.) You will never overcome your discomfort and fear without engaging them fully. “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of, ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” – Marissa Mayer
Turn “overcoming your fears” into a life-style. Love relentlessly. Invite foreigners into your home. Give without expecting anything in return. When we live life in this way, we will begin to become part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Last week in my blog I wrote an article entitled, “Peace at all Cost?” Basically, I was questioning the US/Taliban peace negotiation process. We have been hearing daily that progress is being made and that soon the US and the Taliban will sign a peace accord. We have also been told that the Taliban were continuing to kill Afghanis and foreigners, including US soldiers. I have been having serious reservations about how much we should trust a process which allows for the killing of one’s own people while at the same time making and concluding negotiations of peace with them.
It appears that President Trump’s administration woke up on Monday, threw some cold water on its face and said, “Wait a minute!” I am all for the peace process. It must happen, but when your enemy continues to kill you while you are suing for peace with him, the situation is clearly less than bonafide. It looks like the process is going back to square one as President Trump has in his own fashion decreed the peace process “dead.”
Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, speaking at Bagram Air Base: “We’re certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory. That’s not going to happen.”
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org