Immigration is as old as human society itself. It’s in our nature to move forward, whether to seek out better opportunities or to leave behind persecution. After all South Africa has been through, particularly over the last 60 years, one would think that we’d have a little bit more compassion than most for those trying to escape persecution in their own country. But here we are, venting our rage and greed and jealousy at those who barely have anything themselves. In doing so, we’re steadily undoing the miracle that is our young country.
If anything good at all can be taken from the violence in Gauteng (and I spent ages looking long and hard for it), it must be the increased awareness of the government’s total ineptitude at dealing with illegal immigrants flooding into the country. Compared to countries like the US, England and Australia, South Africa’s immigration laws are ineffective to say the least. And with four countries bordering ours, it’s not surprising that our relatively prosperous economy looks like the more appealing option for many. I think if I were Mozambican or Zimbabwean and my life and livelihood was in jeopardy, I’d try South Africa out myself.
At the same time, BBC journalist Caroline Hawley’s words ring so true to me when she says that immigrants have become a scapegoat for South Africa’s social problems. When I saw the burning mess that is Ramaphosa township splashed all over the front page of today’s New York Times, I kept thinking how this is a classic case of the abused becoming the abuser. When you’re hurt, in pain and feel victimised, you lash out. For those in South Africa who live in absolute poverty, their anger has been neatly channelled into xenophobic rage. But somewhere, at some point, the cycle has to stop and the victim mentality has to end. How long it will take these perpetrators to realise that by harming others, they’re only harming themselves?
After fourteen years of democracy, our country is behaving like a spoiled teenager that doesn’t know what to do with all its angst. I’ve read so many comments of, “The government needs to DO something.” Yes, the government is at fault. But to not take any responsibility ourselves for our country, to let it degenerate into a violent angry mess, is to forego the personal power that is our absolute birthright as human beings.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”. Ghandi could not have known how relevant his words would be so many years after they were first spoken.