Violence

South Africa is a Violent Country. That’s the Context of the Xenophobic Violence

I was mad. Sad too. And I was confused. My mind could not keep still.

As you all know, South Africa is in the hellish grip of terribly violent xenophobia. Black poor people are attacking other poor black people. It is dreadful.

The government of South Africa has promised to put a stop to the violence. This is what has driven me to near madness; this is what is confusing.

And then I saw the photograph by Jame Oatway on the front page of the Sunday Times newspaper. It’s of a Mozambican man, Emmanuel Sithole, about to be killed.

Man about to be killed in Alexander township, South Africa, during the xenophobic violence. Photograph by James Oatway, published in the Sunday Times

Man about to be killed in Alexander township, South Africa, during the xenophobic violence. Photograph by James Oatway, published in the Sunday Times

It’s sickening. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t fully explain the utter inhumanity of it to my son.

Yet, to be brutally honest, it is nothing new. This is what I have lived through. I grew up in a place where men stabbed each other every weekend. It could have been me.

On other occasions they stabbed women, not only with knives but with their penises. We learned that bana ba a hlajoa.

This is not unknown to me. I grew up in a rough place where one to defend oneself. I carried a knife. I stabbed an older boy. He was bullied me when I arrived at the new primary school. He died. But it was years later. I had left the township.

This image is therefore a graphic reminder of the gratuitousness and banality of the violence that black poor women and men live with in this reputedly beautiful country. Of the cheapness that some of us have introjected. Many young black poor males are stabbed by mainly other young black poor males to death each day of the in the country. Many poor young black females are raped and killed by males every day in this place.

But I can’t get over these two questions that have pressed on my skull since I saw the picture. They are not callous, just pragmatic. It is especially the South African government whose expression of apology and pain I find farcical and just plain rubbish.

First question: if the South African government has so far failed to prevent and bring down the horrific levels and incidents of violence in townships and informal settlements, why would anyone believe they are capable of stopping violent xenophobia, that is to say, unless they will keep foreigners in camps away from interacting with the black poor?

Second question: if poor African (as well as other dark skinned from non-African countries) men and women know that South Africa is a violent country, how do they think they will be immune from the violence?

Here is something that all the words and promises and outrage seem to underplay. South Africa is a violent country. That’s the cause of the xenophobic violence. No one is immune, certainly not if you are poor, black and happen to be close by for me to express my frustration and anger at this inhumane existence.

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2 thoughts on “South Africa is a Violent Country. That’s the Context of the Xenophobic Violence

  1. I hope the photographer and those with him have access to counselling. In Europe and the US its young white men – often school going age – who get hold of guns and kill what is often a random selection of those around them. I think it was Michael Kimmel who wrote something called suicide by mass murder to think about the ways in which it is masculinity is central to this but that we normalise it, make sense of the killing by eliding gender. I wonder about this in the recent violence in SA, again it is perpetrated by men, but that’s not what gets talked about. The focus is on the race, ethnicity of those defined as ‘foreign’ or on the poverty/class of those who kill instead of the patriarchy that underpins the inhumane behaviours of some men. Once again gender gets lost, diminished, naturalised in the debate.

  2. Pingback: What keeps us from including in the 16 Days Campaign the gendered nature of men’s violence against other men? | African Men and Masculinities

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