When I first heard that people of Zimbabwean, Mozambican and Malawian descent had been attacked in Alexandra, I did what I always do when I hear such news. Not to be callous or anything, but I shrugged and wondered out loud why people always seem amazed when these things happen.
I have received a lot of flak when I have made my two favourite assertions:
Human beings are idiots. Human beings are racists.
One such human idiot castigated me for this declaration and pointed out Mahatma Gandhi as an example of a human being not afflicted by the natural love for people of his own race and some level of contempt for other races. I wasn’t particularly moved or impressed and but merely shrugged and left it to other irrational, racist idiots to send me a link pointing me to a Wikipedia entry that seems to support my assertion that bigotry is universal.
But of course there’s bound to be someone else who sends me a link proving just what a nitwit I am for believing that rubbish in Wikipedia. And, being the irrational idiots we all are, we’ll have a jolly ole e-fistfight over this and call each other by unsavoury names. Great, wholesome family fun will be had by all.
It goes without saying that I think that people who go around killing people because of where they were born have a name. Yeah: idiots. And there are lots of idiots around, even when they are not the skull-busting kind. Some are more obvious than others and I thought perhaps I would share with everyone just who I think is an idiot where this whole xenophobic idiocy is concerned.
Gloried bloggers with a know-it-all attitude
I thought it fitting that I should listen to Michael Jackson’s words of wisdom and start with the man in the mirror. Let’s list all my great qualifications for writing about xenophobia and ask ourselves the question: Is this particular blog helping the situation in any meaningful way?
I have a PC and, on account of possessing opposable thumbs, can work the keyboard. Despite my impressive ignorance on what informs xenophobic feelings, I have very strong views on the subject matter. Read as: I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow Trapido’s views to dominate proceedings around here. I believe that I harbour absolutely no xenophobic feelings whatsoever, which, I appreciate, makes me a one-in-a-billion individual. In fact, some of my best friends are amakwerekwere.
Society at large
This morning, the Eighty20 website, obviously piggybacking on the groundswell of acute love for all foreigners brought on by the bruisers of Alexandra, sent me this “fact”: “Two-thirds of South Africans agree with the statement ‘Most of the problems in South Africa are caused by illegal immigrants/foreigners.’ (FutureFact 2006).” Oh wow, who would ever have thought?
I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this statistic despite my natural scepticism for that haphazard gathering of only the “facts” that support one’s preconceived ideas commonly known as research. I guess someone sent some 20-year-old starving student out armed with a clipboard and the promise of R500 to ask 3 000 people what they thought to get this useful information. My only conclusion here is that the one-third of correspondents who said they didn’t agree with the statement were sophisticated enough not to have wanted to appear like xenophobic morons to the starving R500-a-day researcher.
I personally do not know any of the people in that one-third of the population who do not think that the level of immigration in South Africa is causing some kind of problem, unless of course those people are recent immigrants themselves. I have a friend who’s a naturalised South African, having been here for 17 years. He was born in Nigeria and even he has problems with the levels of immigration into the confines of these borders.
Because I can be such a crappy writer, especially on Monday mornings, I feel the need to specifically state the point I’m making here. South African society in general harbours collective negative feelings about immigrants. In my book, this phenomenon has a name: xenophobia. Oh yes, and this phenomenon has a surname too: idiocy. But more of that later — I’m not at the preachy part yet. I’m still fingering the idiots.
Millions of words have been written about the state’s failure to deal with the immigration “problem”. Hundreds of smart people have conducted extensive “research” and come to the conclusion that what we are seeing happening in Alexandra, Diepsloot, Thokoza, Tembisa and everywhere was inevitable. The struggle for meagre resources was always going to lead to the ugly scenes of the past week or so. The double-chinned, well-fed, high-calibre individuals (otherwise known by the misnomer of “leaders”) took the smart documents and shoved them in the “Eskom and Other Mundane Matters” file and concentrated on serious matters of governance such as squabbling over floor-crossing. Enough said there — we have a capable opposition to attend to this one. Or do we?
The opposition and other general parliamentary types
Some arbitrary double-chin called Vasco da Gama (I know) who claims to speak for some other obscure entity called the Johannesburg DA caucus had this to say (among other things): “It is also clear that people are angry that the government cannot control immigration.” Yes, genius, the crack squads of skull-busters in Alexandra have a valid excuse for their general idiocy. And it’s all the government’s fault.
It doesn’t end there. A document, compiled by the entity called the DA, has also made an appearance. Apparently the DA has solid proof that the angry mob’s initial gripe that started all of this — that is, that foreigners were stealing South Africans’ RDP houses — has merit. It seems that a Mozambican national was, in fact, assigned an RDP house in Section 7 of Alexandra. One can only conclude that this is proof that this government is not in control of this immigration situation and may, in fact, have caused it. This is the type of revelation that I like to call “well, duh”.
But I think I may have another more important question. Is this revelation helping the situation or making it worse? Let me ask the question differently. If I’m part of a mob that has clearly lost its goddamned mind and we are in hot pursuit of a random illegal immigrant and someone with a loudhailer interrupts us to share this news with us, are we likely to put down our pangas and form a human chain of peace with our Mozambican brothers?
Not to be outdone, ANC president Jacob Zuma found space in his condemnation speech to protest over the theme song the skull-bashers were using as they went about cracking skulls. Zuma seems to think it is a pretty serious matter that the idiots were humming Umshini Wami as they went about in the grips of their madness: “That is a serious matter, for that song belongs to the ANC, it doesn’t belong to unknown people.” By show of hands, who thinks it’s important what song the murderers were singing?
The nation is forever indebted to the astute journalist who gave us this scoop, assigning the “Attackers using my song” title to the article and then proceeding to write a story specifically quoting Zuma as saying the song belonged to the ANC. That point naturally leads us to the media.
Just like the glorified bloggers (see above), I cannot help but wonder whether the media, in general, are helping this situation.
On Friday morning, Talk Radio 702’s ordinarily sensible John Robbie went on air and in his usual excitable voice embarked on a 60-second rant about how Jacob Zuma had been silent on the matter and how he hadn’t condemned the attacks in the strongest possible terms. He went on and on about how Zuma was just a populist who wouldn’t be brave enough to speak strongly on the matter.
And now this idiotic, over-glorified blogger, stuck in the traffic, was confused. He was pretty sure he had seen Zuma doing just this on the news. In fact, he thought he had just driven past a newspaper poster screaming “Zuma: Stop the attacks”, or something to that effect.
Then this nonplussed blogger was relieved when someone called in a few seconds later and made this correction. To his credit, Robbie humbly accepted that he may have had it wrong. But then cognitive dissonance kicked in and grabbed Robbie by the nuts: he went on another rant about how it really didn’t matter that Zuma had made these statements, especially from hundreds of kilometers away in KwaZulu-Natal, and how he should have been there on the coalface of it all and how … well, Zuma is still just a populist anyway, he concluded. The blogger wondered again if this rant was helping the situation or whether the plight of the immigrants had ever been the real reason for the veins-bulging-in-the-neck harangue in the first place.
On the same Friday morning, the Times led with a story about Zuma condemning the attacks — but with a sidebar about how Mbeki was still quiet on the matter. This generally ignorant and now seriously confused blogger was quite concerned about his sanity at this point. He was pretty certain he had read somewhere (perhaps reading is not a compulsory requirement before one writes articles?) how Mbeki had condemned the attacks. Sure enough, 10 seconds into his Googling, he found two references containing Mbeki’s condemnation.
And this is ignoring the fact that condemnation seems to be the cure to all of our societal ills in this country. When our “leaders” do not condemn stuff, we get really upset. Our president could take two minutes between the 17th and 18th holes of his golf game to condemn the burning of innocent people and do bugger-all about it and we’ll all let out a collective sigh of relief. “Phew! Well, he condemned it in the strongest possible terms.” These are the great analytical angles emanating from our newsrooms; compiling a Great Condemners’ list.
Now here comes the obligatory preachy bit. It may seem that I am treating this serious matter in the same fast-food, flippant manner with which I treat everything else. And perhaps I am guilty as charged. But I just cannot help myself. All I ever see is the absurdity that is inherent in any situation. I’m just another human idiot and I’m just tweaked that way.
I just think that history will judge our root-cause analysis skills very harshly here. We’re busy fiddling while Alexandra burns — literally. But for as long as immigration is seen as a “problem” that the government must tackle only where immigration pertains to people of Zimbabwean, Mozambican, Nigeria and Congolese extraction, to name a few, we’re just a bunch of irrational, idiotic racists. The whole lot of us.
Most of us who are here were immigrants at some point or the other. What is the cut-off date for being a legitimate South African? Let’s not hide behind technicalities about who is here legally and who is not. Quite frankly, that’s a sideshow. Deep down in places that people don’t talk about in polite company, people just hate that people cross these presumably very legitimate borders and try to make a life for themselves. Even if not a single crime in South Africa were attributable to a Zimbabwean, people would find other excuses. But we never deal with these issues honestly, do we?
I wish people would just say what’s on their minds; that they wish that the Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Somalis would just go home — ignoring the fact that people tend not to find any reason why the Eastern European, Indian, Chinese, British or any other kind of immigrants should leave. Then some of us would start wondering if this was pure xenophobia or xenophobic racism or racist xenophobia. From people of all colours. And then we would have a jolly good time engaging in South Africa’s favourite pastime: bickering about it. I cannot even begin to imagine how fascinating the exercise of figuring out who came from where and when would be.
I bet it would only be a matter of time before someone told Vasco “The People Are Angry” da Gama that he got here on a ship on Christmas Day of 1497 and that he must also voertsek from here. And then we’d have an excuse to bicker about that one for weeks on end until it ceased being topical and joined Aids, poverty, unemployment, racists pissing in people’s food and whiteys with acute passion for FBJ membership as former flavour-of-the-month excuses for us being generally disagreeable with each other.