Xenophobia, a systematic abhor for foreigners, aliens and non-citizens, is not a new phenomenon in South Africa or any other place which has experienced resettlement to that degree. The reasons for this hate however is distinguishable from place to place and in the case of South Africa it has proven to be multi-faceted. What makes it more substantial in South Africa however, is the methodology, organized planning and subsequent execution of violent acts of hate against people considered to be non-natives. In most places, besides South Africa, xenophobia is usually carried out less extensively and in much more tranquil ways like denying job opportunities to foreigners or national stereotyping or racism.
In 2008, a bloodbath of migrants was seen in the country where over 50 foreign nationals were murdered, and thousands evacuated. Most of those targeted were Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Malawians, Nigerians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis. Another similar crackdown ensued in 2015, though less severe than seven years earlier. The third significant crackdown occurred last month when 5 people were allegedly killed and South Africa drew global attention and retaliation from other countries significantly represented in South Africa like Nigeria.
This time, almost similar to the two previous occasions was fueled by declining standards of living coupled by a weakening currency, potential credit downgrades, increasing unemployment, inequality and more exclusive accessibility to social amenities like healthcare and education. The radical youth, who are usually unemployed and instead resort to drug abuse and social delinquency, believe that the blame is profoundly on foreigners who come and burden all sectors of the society. South Africa is one of the largest emerging market and has a carrying capacity greater than most of its geographical peers or other countries in the Third World, but most believe that the country’s resources have been stretched enough. The country operates at a national debt above 2 trillion rand (about 40 000 rand per person) and it now ranks at a surprising position 113 on the Human Development Index.
The more educated and less radical in the country however are generally not against foreign nationals (or at least they are perceived not to be) and believe that the liability is sorely on corruption which has been rampant in the state during the short-lived era of the former president, Jacob Zuma. An Africa Check report has claimed that the country has lost 700 billion rand to corruption since its independence in 1994. This is enough money to service the Eskom debt which has dominated the media space in the last two years.
Both arguments have received significant logic backing. The former argument is backed by the fact that South Africans are taxpayers and deserve the best service from their government which should play a paternalistic role in taking care of mainly its citizens. The citizens should historically and ethically come first before the problems of other ailing nations are solved. Such protectionist and anti-globalization motives are driven by an increasingly capitalist society which feeds off Economist Adam Smith’s assertion that society benefits more when we all look at our own interests first. This is not just a South African phenomenon. It has been seen in more globally prominent issues like Brexit or the election of an ‘America first’ Donald Trump. The world, including South Africa, is generally going towards people protecting their own borders as they believe that opening up borders disadvantages the locals or the natives who are the ‘rightful heirs’ to the resources of their motherland.
The other argument, which I believe in, is less conservative and supports more open borders for South Africa and any other country seen as a refuge by other countries. Humanity shares a common purpose and all nations, no matter how small, contribute to the common goal of living. In the case of South Africa, Zimbabwe, is its biggest trading partner (South Africa exported goods worth 30.8 billion rand in 2018 to the country) and Nigeria, another country which has experienced xenophobia in South Africa helped the country significantly during the years of apartheid and white supremacy rule. The Pakistanis and Indians are very entrepreneurial and are proprietors of small and medium enterprises which drive the economy and provide employment. Migrants in South African should not be seen as ticks, feeding from an already vulnerable and bleeding state but should be rightfully seen as a vital component of the economy. They are not just lifeless human bodies; they have aspirations and dreams and prospects which South Africa should exploit.
In this light, are some of the radical citizens of South Africa right in their xenophobic attacks on foreigners? I think not. The real cause of problems of any kind in the country is corruption and fraud and not foreigners who struggle in their own right to put food on the table. Some further argue that foreigners bring drugs and counterfeit goods, but the real question should be who facilitates the corruption that results in these goods surpassing border and airport patrol. South Africa should solve its intrinsic problems, corruption and inequality, and not blame foreign nationals trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Xenophobia, alienation and nationalism is not justifiable under any conditions.