Wading through the tons of articles on xenophobia, I am of the view that while some — such as Jacob Zuma, the ANC as a party, Cosatu, AfriForum and Patricia de Lille — are hitting the nail on the head, others are just taking gratuitous pot shots at the people of Alexandra without any insight into the problems giving rise to the attacks.

The bottom line is that xenophobia is unacceptable, but so too is ignoring its underlying causes.

Many “experts” and politicians are jumping on to the “clampdown on xenophobia” bandwagon without so much as a casual remark about those victims suffering from uncontrolled immigration run wild. Perhaps they’d best remember that these so-called members of a third force (or criminals, as they are so quick to judge them) are, in the main, simply the residents of towns and cities overrun by immigrants.

In addition, many of their grievances are related to issues that have nothing to do with immigrants at all — so best people go and find out why our brothers and sisters in these areas are up in arms before applying labels of expedience. An adamantine approach to the xenophobia issue will leave more than just the residents of Alexandra much poorer.

While people are quick to point out that African countries housed South Africans during apartheid, they are slow to recognise that most communities involved in this issue are those that suffered the most under that evil.

In addition, don’t fool yourself into believing that only those who have committed acts of violence are disenchanted with the situation. The residents are very sympathetic to the reasons that gave rise to the violence, as I discovered when I visited Alexandra this week.

Polokwane, lest we all quickly forget, was all about uplifting the poorest communities. Well, guys, labelling them as criminals is not in the spirit of that conference. It’s a slap in the face of these communities to hear that their desperation and frustration make them into criminals. It might have slipped many people’s minds, but many of those labelling them as criminals really have no room to speak.

An apology is due to the people of Alexandra and Diepsloot for the insensitive way that they have been treated by the press, experts and politicians. Everyone has apologised to our guests — now try to do the same for your fellow South Africans.

Having said that, I am highly encouraged by the way Jacob Zuma, for example, highlighted their plight. While addressing students at the University of Zululand, he stated: “We must understand that nation-building requires that we tackle the material differences between our people. We cannot have a united nation when a significant section of our society remains in poverty, or do not have access to quality education, or still live without basic services like water or housing. We cannot have a united nation when the bulk of the country’s wealth is retained in the hands of an extremely small minority.”

As Obama pointed out at Philadelphia, their problems must be considered our problems because in finding solutions for them benefits all South Africans. (Of course he was referring to the plight of black and white Americans.)

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille’s response to the outcry was: “Xenophobia is happening because we have no proper mechanisms to deal with refugees and illegal immigrants.” This is right on the money. It is pointless hammering the people of Alexandra when one of the major reasons for their anger has not even begun to be addressed. The ANC must also note that recognising the plight of the poor and the problems with immigration is not the same as doing something about it. It needs to put pressure on the government to start clarifying, implementing and adding to policy very quickly.

Cosatu, together with the ANC, the SACP, the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum in South Africa, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, the South African NGO Coalition, Disabled People of South Africa, the Treatment Action Campaign and the Anti-Privatisation Forum will be marching in protest to highlight both the situation in Zimbabwe and the soaring food prices that are hitting the poor particularly hard.

They have added xenophobia to the reasons for the march, which is primarily to focus on these communities as well as Zimbabwe.

In addition, AfriForum’s deputy CEO, Alana Bailey, wrote a very relevant piece on the reasons giving rise to these communities finding themselves fearful and frustrated.

The government would do well to read this piece. It sets out the problems that have been created by its failure to control the borders and implement stricter immigration control.

There are many more positive examples of people slamming xenophobia while calling for recognition of the problems being experienced by our poorer communities.

What I would like people to do is read the articles attacking xenophobia and check to see whether the same people have regard to the people of these communities. If they don’t, ask them why. Our poorer communities are meant to be the focus of our government post-Polokwane and it’s time people start acting like that is the case.

In addition, do not condone the branding or labelling of communities or individuals as criminals or a third force before checking to see whether the hat fits. It is far too expedient for my liking and suggests a laziness or refusal to investigate the causes of the problems.

Xenophobia, despite much of the nonsense you are reading, is not a crime. Acting on your fear or contempt for foreigners by committing acts of violence or even spreading hatred are crimes.

Let’s decriminalise the situation by removing the criminals and getting rid of the reasons which give rise to the unreasonable fear and hatred.


Michael Trapido

Michael Trapido

Mike Trapido is a criminal attorney and publicist having also worked as an editor and journalist. He was born in Johannesburg and attended HA Jack and Highlands North High Schools. He married Robyn...

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