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Policy Thoughts

30 April, 2015


Xenophobia, Immigration and Pan-Africanism


by Shamiso Marange


The ongoing xenophobic attacks by South Africans against African immigrants should be a wake-up call for Africans leaders. There is of course, no justification whatsoever for the hooliganism, violence and inhumane attacks being perpetrated against the foreigners in South Africa. Especially in this day and age in which open discourse, petitions and peaceful protests are among the instruments at the disposal of the citizens in a ‘democratic’ state like South Africa in expressing their plight and whatever displeasure they may feel at the influx of foreigners in their country.

The images of necklacing and stoning of foreigners to death that is being displayed by the South Africans are very disturbing and inexcusable. Furthermore, the manner in which the South African government is responding to the matter and their inability to put together long-term solutions that stop these attacks on foreigners is very worrisome.



Photo: UNHCR/Linh Dang

On one hand, the statements made by the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini that foreigners must leave because they are taking South African jobs, are politically incorrect and are a source for heightened nationalistic sentiment that instigates attacks on foreigners, but even so his words should not be taken lightly. Whether people care to admit it or not many South Africans, particularly those in the low-income earning bracket, feel this way. Actually, it is arguable that these nationalistic attitudes could be the probable reason why the South African leadership is being lethargic in offering condemnations of the violence.

On the other hand, the stance that is being taken by African leaders in relation to the xenophobic attacks is equally as irking as the Zulu King’s speech. President Lungu of Zambia and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, to mention a few, are insisting that South Africa should accommodate African immigrants because the continent made sacrifices for the country during the apartheid era. Other African leaders are threatening to cut off South African electricity supplies and boycott their goods and products.

This arm-twisting approach, that the Africans want to adopt is counter-productive and is not a solution to the immigration problem in South Africa. The Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, was founded on the basis that all African countries should unite toward their common enemy – colonialism and racism alongside ensuring that Africans felt at home in any nation they set foot in on the continent. After all, the African states are demarcated by artificial boarders.

However, by assisting South Africans during the apartheid era, it illustrates that Africans adopted and understood the pan-Africanist ideology, that they should unite, defend and lift each other up. The African leaders of the 1960s through to the 1980s, in spite of their own hardships, were willing to assist the freedom fighters, politicians, academics, musicians or artists that were in exile because that was the right thing to do.

Now for African leaders to take and use this argument as an excuse to impose their nationals on South Africans is illogical, and shows that they are adhering to the perpetual victim mentality which is in stark opposition to the pan-Africanist concept. South Africa is not dealing with several hundred African immigrants, instead they are giving sanctuary to millions of them.

African leaders need to be addressing the underlying causes that are making their nationals economic and political refugees and unwanted entities in other people’s countries. Immigrants from Africa are fleeing the undemocratic systems, the lack of good governance, the poverty and corruption in their own countries. They are seeking greener pastures, which in itself is not a wrong, but what economic value are they bringing to which ever nation they are settling in? What good are the immigrants if they are leeching off a poorly implemented immigration system and denying the South Africans opportunities within their own countries.

What many people seem to forget is that the only African and most contested member state of the BRICS is still a developing country. The South African government has its own socio-economic problems that they need to address, that include providing its citizens with decent housing and sanitation, quality education and health care and ensuring that the 24 percent of its population that is unemployed (according to the national census of 2011), is given preference in income-generating projects that can take them out of poverty. It is not the South African government’s duty to save the citizens from other African nations.

Xenophobic attacks on African immigrants are taking place not only in South Africa, but in Greece, in Israel and other isolated incidences in Europe have occurred although not on a grand scale. All these attacks are a wake-up call for Africans to get their houses in order. They should have some dignity and take responsibility and address the political and socio-economic situations of their people within their own countries. They should offer their citizens peaceful and safe environments to prosper and pursue their own happiness. If Africans could be seen as holiday-makers, academics and business people and not a liability, then they would be more than welcome to any nation they chose to go to.

Of course the argument is more complex than this, it is true that South Africans must stop the xenophobic attacks because their acts are barbaric and tarnish the image of a very beautiful country. But then again if African leaders made a more fervent effort to turn around their citizens' economic situations, reducing the need for their people to emigrate in search of greener pastures, then xenophobic attacks on African immigrants could become a thing of the past.


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