We want to point out once again that xenophobia and the attendant challenges is a cancer the South Africa authorities have to deal with in a decisive manner, and do so fast.
The on and off xenophobic attacks are a powder keg that South Africa is sitting on and as emotions boil over on either side — the attackers and the victims — the results could turn out to be too ghastly for imagination.
Our concerns stem from reports that sections of the South African community today plan to hold a protest march against immigrants in Pretoria’s central business district, and they have been given the green light by the authorities.
This is of course allowed in the country’s constitution and it is not our business to tell them how to handle protesters. Our concern is merely that we have witnessed loss of life from previous protests of this nature. We want to believe the South African authorities are better prepared to avoid a repeat.
There is a sense some South Africans want to copy what’s going on in Trumpland, including the populist approach posturing. But unlike America, we are all Africans. There should be better ways to address our people’s grievances.
Donald Trump wants to kick out an estimated 11 million undocumented migrants, some of whom have contributed immeasurably to the United States’ economic growth and development. A few bad apples have led radical measures for the majority.
We don’t want to believe that South Africa could be contemplating that route in light of a faltering economy, instead of attacking the root causes of black discontent.
Nigeria is fighting to make sure its citizens don’t fall victim to xenophobic attacks. Soon other African Union members might be forced to take a stand, leading to avoidable tensions.
Media reports indicate the Nigerian government has gone so far as to appeal to the AU to “intervene urgently” and put in place “decisive and definite measures” to protect its citizens and those from other parts of Africa.
On Saturday, properties belonging to foreigners in Pretoria — Nigerians and Zimbabweans — were vandalised and looted and some homes set on fire. The protesters accused foreigners, Nigerians in particular, of drug peddling, promoting prostitution and other vices.
One Nigerian national spoke out after the mêlée saying: “We didn’t do anything wrong. We don’t deserve what is happening to us. South Africans must watch out. There are also South Africans in Nigeria and we will do the same to them there.”
A threat made on Saturday became reality yesterday when Nigerians reportedly attacked and vandalised MTN’s (South Africa) headquarters in Abuja.
Reports say the Nigerian government summoned the South African envoy to explain the xenophobic attacks. We hope that this will tone down the simmering anger on both sides and enable constructive dialogue.
We also commend South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba for calling on people who want to demonstrate today to exercise restraint: “There will be no progressive and sustainable victory in xenophobic violence. Opportunistic individuals who partake in it erode the human face we have struggled very hard to acquire. While a more measured approach may not make me the most popular politician, I believe it is the right thing to do.”
But Minister Gigaba’s seeming threat to businesses employing illegal immigrants makes it more difficult to look at the issue holistically.
He cautioned: “Companies, businesses: Be warned. We are coming for you. We will charge them, there’s no doubt. The manager will be charged. Often-times, we focus on the undocumented employee and not the company.”
There are a number of variables at play, but South Africa can ill-afford to have a “them and us” approach. Why is it that xenophobia continues to be a black-on-black issue when we know that there are millions of white migrants, some of them illegal as well? Is this a reality that is so difficult to deal with given the power that the white race wields in the South African economy?
It would be a sad day indeed when a great African nation such as South Africa would be forced to choose who its neighbour is between white and black.