South Africa: Sudden xenophobia?

Ola Omorodion (Nigeria, AC 07-09)


This week, news media around the world has been filled with images of violent protests in (can you actually believe it?) South Africa. For the first few months in 2008, Africa has been in the limelight, but unfortunately, due to quite wrong reasons. The year began with the crisis in Kenya and ethnic cleansing which came close to genocide. The atrocities in Sudan still continue and just when the possibility of change presented itself in Zimbabwe (in form of the opposition winning the Presidential elections this year), Mugabe refused to back down and instead has been unleashing a wave of violence in the country.


Today, the world is watching in dismay at a country that has actually been thought to be one of the most stable countries in the continent. Police are unable to contain the riots that have taken place in the city of Johannesburg with the residents of shantytowns who have taken to chasing foreigners out of their neighbourhoods and hunting them down . They blame these immigrants as the cause of the increase in crime rates as well as the rise in unemployment. Their houses are being burnt down, women are being raped and at last count, 24 people are said to have been killed. Most attacks are said to be directed against Zimbabweans, who make up 3 million of South African’s 5 million immigrant population. But why these sudden attacks? South Africa is often hailed the Rainbow Nation, so why this sudden xenophobia? And isn’t it possible that the world media might be exaggerating a bit to much? And what do South Africans actually feel about this?


Luckily, I was able to get the opinions of two South Africans in A.C. And according to them, xenophobia isn’t anything new in their country. “They are normally illegal immigrant who come in through the borders, which unfortunately, are not properly secured.” says Bhumi Matioda, a 2nd year nearing the end of her I.B. exams. “They are normally fleeing from unrest and economic crisis in their various countries and are more than happy to be a source of cheap labour in the country and so take jobs away from people. They also sell very cheap goods and if they can’t do either, they normally turn to crime and increase the already high crime rate. A lot of people see them as a threat to their well being and these attacks are a result of common stereotypes and perceptions without evidence to back them up.” Yash Pillay, a first year had a similar response “People are a bit wary of immigrants. But I still think that these attacks are ridiculous. So what if they are illegally in the country? They are still human beings and don’t deserve such treatment.” She has been checking out news reports about the riots back home, several of them are government’s condemnation of the attacks. But according to Bhumi, this seems to be all they are doing.” They have to solve the root of the problem, which are the crisis that are bringing these people to South Africa. They have to politically get involved and stop these crises. They should also secure the borders and make entering the country a much stricter process. As it is anyone can easily enter South Africa from neighbouring countries. On the home front, they could do something on about the inflation and unemployment, which is what people are worried about.”


The government better be hasty with its reaction. The economy is already bearing the marks of the violence with investors being scared of and the rand’s value dropping. “At this point,” Bhumi warns, “The crisis could either be stopped quickly or it could continue to escalate and there would be more casualties.” There are already reports of attacks taking place in Durban. Let’s hope the government gets its act together and does quickly do something about it.


– United World College Student Magazine –


One thought on “South Africa: Sudden xenophobia?

  1. This article clearly demonstrates the most formidable nemesis Africa faces; negative-biased media. Media houses have long ventured into Africa in search of horror and anguish to fill in their news section. Tragic subsidiary events have been blown out of proportion while real issues wether positive or negative have been given a cold shoulder. Most media houses with access to first hand African events advocate for a free media not under political influence but fail to realise how the news they give is always leaning on one political side constantly. Exclusive coverage is always given to one side and no one gets to hear the otherside. What is interesting is that the side allowed to give its opinion is usually backed by the west, not usually, always. With that in mind African governments that are not western puppets are always portrayed as savagic, greedy, senseless and incapable. Who benefits from this? The west to the rescue once again to save Africa from its own self destruction and in doing so the grip of the west on africa gets firmer as resources are squeezed out to the last drop in the background…and yet many ask why problems of indevelopment still persist in the dark continent?
    Back to the article, it is good to point out facts from fiction. First of all, the events the writer mentioned as having heralded the new year for Africa are all false; there were riots in Kenya in December last year and they were more politically motivated other than ethnic and no ethnic cleansing whatsover took place-the situation was politically and peacefully resolved with the main parties stricking a power shairing deal. As for the Mugabe incident in Zimbabwe, that is a rather complex topic that would require its own article but here is a bit of truth, violence that occured in some parts of Zimbabwe was due to opposition hardliners wanting to use violence to express their frustartions resulting in curfews which were necessary for the already troubled nation to function as best as it can. Zimbabwe is an example of the mordern day consequencies of African leaders refusing to be western puppets. What happened there is remeniscent of Cuba when Fidel Castro nationalised all industries resulting in embargos by the US but lucky for him he had powerful allies(former USSR) to see him through which was not the case with Mugabe as he was left alone to only apper to the world as the most incapable leader in Africa despite his former clean sheet which included him bringing Zimbabwe out of the Apartheid and for a time making Zimbabwe one of the seventh richest countries in Africa indepedent of the west’s help.
    As for South Africa, yes the protests have been going on but the violence associated with them as wrtitten in the article is false. The protestors are not putting blame on immigrants but on the government for failing to handle the increase of immigrant influx. It is very clear the writer questioned South Africans who have not had first hand contact or been directly affected by the protests hence why the unclear naive comments. Some protesters have agreed that their frustration is actually really meant for the continuing shadow apertheid in South Africa-dwellers of the shanty towns feel they are still treated like second class citizens in terms of opportunity and with the arrival of the immigants, their concerns are still at bay. This is not a case of xenophobia towards the immigrants as they also share the same harsh financial limbo but a case of other troubles due to the after effects of the apertheid reaching their boiling point.
    The main argument is not the inaccuracy of this article but to show just how dire the effects of the media spreading the same steriotypical news over time can get . Being in the media is a power which if abused, the whole world gets abused tenfold. Use the power wisely.

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