By Alois Rwiyegura
If South Africa fails to achieve an objective reading of what we simplistically call xenophobic attacks and take the correct actions, it will have to brace itself for a turbulent and unsafe future. Nobody would deny that the basis of these attacks on foreigners is the economic situation of the country. The high unemployment rate, corrosive corruption, lack of service delivery and ensuing poverty has thrown millions of people into desperation.
The unresolved anger from an unfair past and the frustration stemming from unfulfilled expectations of the present are at work here, and their depth can be measured through the unbelievable cruelty we witnessed all along the month of April.
I truly believe that the deeply negative and destructive energy displayed against foreigners (I mean black Africans) in many areas of the country has been diverted from the real target, like in an oneiric mode, towards a weak, defenceless and less protected social group, whose victimisation would not raise much concern, In other words, the easier target.
Airing one’s frustrations is highly therapeutic. If even speaking out doesn’t necessarily guarantee a solution, expressing oneself and having the feeling that somebody has listened, gives some relief and prevents the welling up of the social bile, that is detrimental, in the long run, to any society that doesn’t give vent to expression of social pressures.
It’s quite telling that the xenophobic attacks were preceded by acts of vandalism targeting statues representing the past of the country. The two moves were motivated by the same resentment towards people perceived as responsible for the current hardship. Among those regarded as culprits, only foreigners could be taken on with no consequences. The symbols of the past, that past that refuses stubbornly to pass, were also an easy target. The government, one of the culprits, was spared both the symbolic violence unleashed on the representation of the ancient order and the fatwas of the Zulu King against foreigners.
However deep their anger and desperation are, the hordes of achy desperados made a realistic choice: leave the government alone! The lingering memories of Andries Tatane’s fate and that of the Marikana miners serve as a deterrent. As the adage goes, “Il vaut mieux souffrir que mourir”, it’s better to suffer than to die.
While quailing before a government that is failing them and which is the real cause of their misery, they still had to evacuate the overflowing bile, without taking any risk. They engaged into peripheral irrational battles which, like a placebo, doesn’t really cure the disease, but leaves terrible side-effects.
The foreigners’ bashing and slaughtering, the looting of their belongings, all encouraged by the collective biased perception of foreigners, that “easier target” that the Zulu king likened to lice in a blanket, are not the cure for South Africa’s ills. The prescription of that kind of cure is the fruit of weak minds awkwardly seeking attention and incapable of liberating themselves from self-centredness, and unable to look beyond the borders of their immediate needs. Those who deemed the King’s call worth heeding were obviously emboldened by the impunity that generally surrounds any wrongdoing towards migrants.
“Errare humanum est … “. An unacceptable judgement mistake has been made here and its consequences are also affecting those who thought they would benefit from the anarchy. Lives have been lost, properties, trust, love and friendships destroyed. The country’s reputation is in tatters and those, countless on the African continent, who used to love and admire the “rainbow nation”, only see red, the colour of blood, when they look at the rainbow. The whole continent is now questioning the South African pretension to the leadership of the continent.
” … perseverare diabolicum est”. Any event is full of life lessons for those willing to look beyond the appearances and question their ego. The “xenophobic attacks” should be a turning point for South Africa, if the country is ready to ask the right questions, take the right actions and stop heighing every time the howling masses are out for foreigners’ blood and belongings.
Have the “makwerekweres” really done anything wrong to deserve the treatment they are constantly met with? Isn’t it a paradox that this is happening in a country with the “best Constitution” in the World? Isn’t the credibility of the state and the sense of security it should provide on the line? Isn’t the difference, through these events, being branded negative? The difference is the mother of diversity, and diversity, is the main component of the stunning beauty and the richness of the rightly named “rainbow nation”.
What would happen then if the difference and the “simunye” feeling are trampled on? Nobody knows, but what shouldn’t be overlooked is that many components of this society, if not all, might start thinking “I am next”. And in a context where the growing belief is that the state wouldn’t be able to protect them or fast enough to minimise the dangers, there is a risk that some communities might feel the need to ready themselves for the worst.
Who needs that? I truly believe South Africa deserves better than that.
Alois Rwiyegura is a foreigner living in Johannesburg. He is a psychologist, writer and freelance journalist.