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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

South Africa’s xenophobia syndrome

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Clearly, the impression painted by violent attacks directed at foreigners living in the country is disturbing and goes on to show that the rainbow nation is still beset with great challenges. South Africa has a brutal history of intolerance and last week’s events is said to have relived such history. 

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The attacks were triggered by various factors. According to some reports, King Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu nation, had said that they were requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. These remarks were said to have been given while he was addressing community members in the province against a backdrop of rising tensions between foreigners and locals.


It is also believed that these remarks received support from one of President Jacob Zuma’s sons who himself was born in exile in Swaziland. The police minister implicitly endorsed the king’s remarks when he said that the king had only been referring to undocumented foreigners and that it was true that most crimes were committed by illegal immigrants. And a few days later, African foreigners were fleeing their homes seeking refuge at police stations and other places of safety. They were under onslaught from their South African neighbours.


Admittedly, the burden of xenophobia in all parts of the world has become unbearable. The victims of the syndrome have suffered a lot from various forms of violence. In South Africa, the case is not any different amid a rich history of fighting racism, prejudice and tribalism. There is no denying the violence of its past or the fact that eradicating poverty, unemployment and racism still remains a challenge in a country coming out of an era of racial hatred spanning decades.


There is a need to maintain here, however, that the new world order has created highly unequal societies where competition over scarce resource has become inevitable. But this does not fully explain any nation’s tendency to vilify and violently attack and loot homes and businesses of other nations’ peoples. Consequently, such growing level of inequality does not justify South Africans vilifying and violently attacking their African brothers and sisters.


No one in South Africa can deny today that they have a crisis. It is a political and leadership crisis. What the country needs is a powerful political response from all sane South Africans. They have to confront xenophobia squarely. South Africa’s democracy has matured faster than was originally thought and its dismantling of such challenges as soon as possible will be a great achievement.


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