South African Should Have a Warning: Please Come, But You Enter at Your Own Risk

Besides what I wrote on NewAfricanMen last week on the xenophobic violence that had flared up in South Africa as well as government and civil society responses to the events, I wrote two other pieces. One of the article was published in The Star of Wednesday April 22 2015.

In the same edition, the newspaper published an article by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. I recommend it. It touches on some of the things that I should have stressed, such as hurting people hurt other, that we need healing as a nation and restoing our humanity, and that South communities lesss potliical eduction and more empathy for the trauma they went through.

I have had a bit of feedback on the article in The Star. Some people totally disagree with me. Others are not entirely opposed, but see my point. And then others agree that xenophobic violence is firstly violence. All these views were also evident on a radio programme on SAFM, where I was on today, 28.4.2015. Rowena Baird’s producers had asked me last week after seeing article to come onto her show to talk about it. What a heated debate!

I should say I am glad the xenophobia-related violence is getting us talking. I hope we do some thinking too. In time, I believe, we will get beyond the violence.

Here is my article. Three sentences are different from the article published in The Star.


Promised land, South Africa (Photo, J Abrahams-IOL)

Promised land, South Africa (Photo, J Abrahams-IOL)


Excuse me. I have a question about the apology expressed by the South African government regarding the eruption of violent xenophobia since late March.

What for precisely is the South African government apologising?

I might as well go ahead and ask a few more questions that have troubled me since I heard the expressions of regret and promises to deal with the violence.

What is it that makes foreigners so special that the government has felt moved to communicate its pain and shame for the violence that some South Africans are doing to them?

How could the government be so disturbed by this particular form of violence when violence, abjection, hunger, loathing and fear permeate the everyday lives of South Africans?

Do you not wonder why there has been no such apology for the fact each year thousands of South Africans women and girls and boys are raped and sexually assaulted? And why has there been no expression of grief about the everyday violence of the abuse and sexual violence against babies and children?

I believe the South African government is not only being false but has no real sense of tragedy.

As someone said, when one person dies from preventable causes, that is a tragedy. Beyond that, we are talking statistics. And South African lives, not only those of foreigners, especially if they are poor, have long been mere statistics for the government.

The expression of apology, regret and shame that the South African government has issued with respect to the violent xenophobia is therefore as nauseating as the violence itself.

We need time to think, not public relations gimmicks that exploits pain to show the government in good light – which is what we are hearing from government.

How are these preposterous expressions of pain going to assist the families of those who were murdered, hurt and robbed in the violence, but also those who did the killing, burning, and looting, as well as rest of us who are affected in little unseen ways, when what we have always needed from political and business leaders are long-term, large-scale, evidence-based interventions to deal with the problem of violent xenophobia within the context of violence that affects South Africa?

I am afraid what a sober consideration of response to the xenophobic violence that has erupted in the country since the end of March reveals is the ludicrousness and deception that characterises South African government when it comes to violence.

Consider the fact that apologies have been issued to foreign governments by the president. But, again, why?

The African Union and ambassadors have been assured that all measured have been taken to deal with the violence. Really?

Government ministers have met with King Goodwill Zwelithini who has been accused of inciting the violence after being quoted saying foreigners should go back to their countries. The King may have said what he is claimed to have said, or have may have not. I have a suspicion that the violence has very little to do with him, and more to do with us as a country. What is this then if not a desperate search for scapegoats? We want someone to whom we can attribute the blame, anyone but the beautiful peaceful rainbow nation. Is it possible that any man can be so powerful as to rouse up peaceful people to attack others if they were not already disposed to express their frustration in a violent manner?

Something needs to be said about the insincerity of the governments of countries such as Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They are not too far behind South Africa with their own brand of hypocrisy. Some of these governments seem to have suddenly woken up to the fact that their people are stranded in a foreign country trying to eke out an existence. Everything is conveniently forgotten about what in the first place pushed their citizens to leave the warmth of the mother countries and love of their families, braving hard conditions to find a better life elsewhere.

But here is the most vital warning foreigners and African governments should heed regarding South Africa: South Africa is not the promised land. As a society, it is structurally violent. That means deep poverty and high levels of inequality are part of this society, and these factors have been shown to be related to frustrations which might turn violent.

In addition to the poverty and inequality, foreign nationals and African governments should note that the country is also known for homicides, rapes, other forms of sexual violence, sexism, racism, and of course xenophobia.

So here is the message that I think we need to post at the borders: Until such time that we have reduced levels of violence, we wish to let you know that anyone who comes to South Africa seeking to make a living, especially if that person is a poor young male or female of colour, has a relatively high likelihood of violence-related victimisation. So, please come, but you enter at your own risk.

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