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 –