26 February, 2010

Prevailing Xenophobia in SA

Yesterday evening, Journalist, Luvuyo Mjekula, was interviewed on radio 2000 about a series of Xenophobia articles he has published. These articles relate stories about how foreigners, especially Zimbabweans, are subjected to intolerance by South Africans because of their nationality.

On this subject, it seems random taxi-drives have become my main revelation arena as far as xenophobia is concerned. In the past two months; not once or twice, but four times, I have witnessed the same detestable verbal abuse of non-South African commuters in taxis. I remain deeply saddened by these incidences because they delve deep into the realities of not only the hardships of the victimised foreign inhabitants in our societies, but also the mental rationale of the average South African.

Foreigners, more precisely, black African foreigners are still not being welcomed in our societies.


On two occasions, the xenophobic incidences occurred whilst i was on a taxi drive to Ashburton, 18 kilometres from Pietermaritzburg central. A serene countryside suburb, with farms and large estates, Ashburton is home to the comfortable and the esteemed in the city. However, a growing Diaspora of non-South Africans resides in squatters in the vast vicinity of the suburb. Some of them work in the neighbouring farms. Many work in the city however, the only resort amounting to catching taxis in the mornings and afternoons to and from work, as Ashburton is quite a stretch.

The most vivid recollection of these subtle xenophobic attacks was when a Zimbabwean guy sat next to me in the taxi. I knew he was Zimbabwean because when he jumped in, he was on the phone speaking Shona. I learnt a bit of the language whilst I was still at UKZN, so I easily recognised it. I uttered a casual ‘Ndeipi shamwari’ [what's up friend]to him and we chatted a bit. His name was Kudzai. After listening in our conversation, the taxi driver’s assistant bluntly uttered in Zulu, ‘laba bazothatha imisebenzi nezintombi zethu’ [these oaks are here to take our jobs and our girls]. I didn’t take much notice of this remark as I know how some South African men feel towards cross-national dating, as it seemed readily assumed that Kudzai was asking me out. But, the real problem started when Kudzai couldn’t utter ‘emaklabishini’ [the place of the cabbages]; the name of the stop where he would disembark. The driver was rude to him, saying he shouldn’t go places he doesn’t know, that he was a fool, stupid and a Kwerekwere [foreigner]. Distressed, Kudzai tried to explain the exact location, but the driver and his assistant were so adamant as to give him the time of day. In his defence, I stepped in and pinpointed the stop to the driver. Only then was it accepted. I was sad, angry and felt sorry for this guy. Kudzai did not need to say it, he was hurt and helpless. However, more depressing, was how he seemed to just let it go. It seemed as if he was used to this ill-treatment, like a phenomenon that was the blueprint of his everyday life in South Africa.

In another incident, a Nigerian mother was harrased because her baby was crying in the taxi. The driver went as far as to say that the baby probably was crying in Nigerian tongues!


Judging from his interaction with the various sources of his stories, Luvuyo concludes that service delivery to South African citizens is the fundamental problem and should be made a priority by government. Of course this is an indisputable fact. Isn’t this expectation legalised by the good deal of tax South Africans pay government every year. Some South Africans despise foreigners because they feel that they are only here to take their jobs, their lovers and are slowly taking charge of the country and economy [a lengthy subject to discuss yet in another article].
My concern however, is the mere existence of the antagonistic treatment which South Africans give foreigners. I mean, can we not learn to coexist and be tolerant of each other? Besides, our very government was given refuge in other African countries during the gruelling apartheid regime. I am not saying though, that this gives foreigners emancipated reasoning to misuse the consequences of this obligation. Definitely not! South Africans need to understand that we need to show the same kind of sympathy we were shown to our continental peers –not foes. We need to know that not all foreigners are here on illegal grounds, are drug smugglers, job snatchers or voodoo practitioners. Aren’t we all as Africans striving for a better life? The same reason most South African’s are pursuing life overseas is definitely the same reasons why our fellow Africans are descending down south. South Africa is also a safe refuge for them, away from the turmoils in their countries. So before we utter hateful words, lets remember- we are all African.

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