via SA has taken ‘us’ for granted long enough – The Zimbabwean 19 April 2015
I have been living in South Africa for seven years now and for the greater part of this time I have been made to feel like a burden, a parasite, a nuisance they have to live with by some South African brothers and sisters.
I say some because there are many who have treated me with respect as a teacher, brother and friend. My balance sheet probably has more of the latter but this probably has something to do with my profession and the circles I interact with. However, like everyone else I have had to interact with bank tellers, law enforcement officers, taxi drivers etc.
Unfortunately on several occasions just because I don’t have that famous green bar-coded id book or my language or accent is different I have been made to feel as if I am being done favour or I have to do something such as a little begging or the occasional bribe for the proverbial ‘cold drink’. I believe that this perception of migrants has been informing xenophobia especially when the supposed parasite flourishes but its about time we address these ignorant perception.
I have been resisting putting these thoughts on paper for a long time now but the recent events in Durban and the response by South African leaders has forced me to put pen to paper. The xenophobic milieu we find ourselves in is a complicated one which the following words cannot begin to comprehend. However I want to address South African psyche regarding foreign nationals especially the generalised believe that they are sucking the country dry and they are not contributing anything. Let me begin by illustrating this perception and move away from my personal experiences. At president Zuma’s address at the 22nd commemoration Chris Hani’s death in Ekurhuleni, I am sure he felt the need to use the gathering to weigh in on the recent xenophobic attacks. Amongst other things he said ‘it is true that there is a high number of foreign nationals who have entered the country and living in South Africa illegally, and government is attending to that problem and will ensure that nobody lives in the country illegally or is undocumented’. The crowd then clapped reassuring the president that he is striking the right cord. He then adds that, ‘however, many foreign nationals live in South Africa legally and contribute to the life and success of the country. Many are recruited to bring much-needed skills that are scarce in our country that we need to develop our country’. Of all the positive statements he makes about migrants including this one, the gathering is silent as if it does not agree with Zuma or it is indifferent to the contribution migrants from across the borders have come with.
This apparent denial or ignorance to the contributions migrants are making feeds into their perception as parasites. Perhaps King Zwelethini would not see immigrants as lice if he knew how his countries prosperity is tied to the rest of Africa and its people. The narrative of foreign national’s contribution to the prosperity of South Africa or towards ameliorating its social ills is silenced by the dominant nationalist debates that seek to cover up their own hegemonic project on South African people. It becomes easier for political movements to channel anger towards some external enemy which is portrayed as the real threat instead of focusing on their own failures to improve the socio-economic conditions of South Africans. It is therefore not a surprise that President Zuma, some members of his family, party and government have issued reckless statements that incite and fuel xenophobia, a crime against humanity according to international law. Remember practices have to start as an idea so our leaders have these ideas and they have spread them setting the scene for ordinary people to practice xenophobia. The role of King Zwelethini is this schema is clear for us to see. The repeated misguided and hate comments made by Edward Zuma that the government should stop unnecessarily accommodating foreign nationals probably reflects discussions he has with his father in their Nkandla compound.
With that observation, let me resuscitate and unpack the narrative that foreign national’s contribute immensely and are an invaluable asset in South Africa. There are thousands of teachers in South African schools contributing towards the improvement of the education system. Thousands more farm workers engage in hard labor in farms to contribute to the food security of South Africa. Hundreds more populate the corridors of all South African university departments as professors, lecturers and tutors. Doctors and other medical professionals from many parts of the world including Africa are contributing towards the improvement of health and wellness in the country. Foreign entrepreneurs have been setting up shops, reducing unemployment and supporting local industries. The list goes on as foreign nationals who are engineers, architects, IT specialists and so on continue to work in various fields to support the social fabric/infrastructure of this country, which has a long history of being built by foreign labourers. No wonder the first black trade unionist in South Africa was the Malawian Clements Kadalie.
We must also acknowledge that movement has not been one way towards South Africa. South African businesses have made great strides into the African continent especially the SADC countries. Shoprite, MTN, Pick n Pay, Woolworths, First Rand, Sanlam, Nandos, Multichoice, Tongaat Hulett and Standard Bank are some company’s yielding significant revenue from their satellite subsidiaries across Africa that channel money to the parent companies on the vibrant Joburg stock exchange. Billions in taxable profit is therefore finding its way back into South Africa to build roads, schools, hospitals and into people’s pockets as social grants.
These subjugated narratives have to come to the fore and it is the role of intellectuals at Universities like ours to assist in this regard by providing detailed evidence based research about how the fate of South Africa’s prosperity is interlinked with the rest of the continent. As some leaders agitate for the banishment of foreigners and other locals including government and ‘intellectuals’ ululate and legitimize the dastardly xenophobic attacks, they should also think of the possible costs of their actions to the South African economy, reactions of the victims and their countries of origin which are certainly far from passive ones. If Africa decides to respond to the on-going crimes against humanity like what they did during Apartheid by boycotting the ‘proudly South African’ products, the triple problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality will most likely multiply as economic giants like China and the West are more than ready to supply Africa’s growing markets. If this happens what will be the implications to these noble BRICs, Africa Renaissance projects, the latter ironically spearheaded by South Africa?
To sum up, the real issues facing South Africa and many post-colonial states are poverty, inequality, illiteracy, racism, unfair global trade practices and unemployment. Producing and reproducing the problem of xenophobia or Afrophobia and attempting to reproduce another Mfecane in a world now very sensitive against human rights violations will certainly not wash away the plethora of problems in South Africa but cement the existing structural problems. The removal of foreign nationals is not the panacea but rather it is the political will and pragmatism to make the right decision to empower the local people. This can be done without with pathologising and brutalising foreign nationals who are making significant contributions to the South African economy. The socio-economic challenges bedevilling South Africa demands that the leadership displays pragmatism, for example, emulating successful countries like the USA, the Emirates, Singapore which utilized the services of foreigners to develop their economies. South Africa like many other African countries should not focus its energy on re-traumatizing fellow victims, disempowering potential allies in economic development. It should not shy away from facing the deeply structural and historical challenges it faces and we are more than happy to assist as equal African brothers.