#Article (Archive)

SA: New Threat to Foreigners Cause Panic

Jun 26, 2009, 6:15 AM

This is the headline of the lead story we carried yesterday in our 'News Around Africa' column. We have decided to adopt it for today's 'The Bite' because it is compelling and arresting, reminding the reader immediately of what had happened before and leaving him or her wondering why this is happening again in South Africa of all places! When xenophobic violence broke out last year, the world was aghast as people watched South Africans unleash unspeakable violence on fellow Africans. But some commentators argued then that the victims of that xenophobic violence were criminals who dealt in drugs and other related crimes. But the new threat to foreigners (Somali shopkeepers) in the Gugulethu Township in Cape Town reflects an underlying xenophobia, the resentment and fear of the outsider.

Local traders in Gutulethu and Khayelitsha are resentful of the rapid progress of their foreign counterparts whom they accuse of underhand business practices. But a study carried out by the City of Cape Town disproved this allegation, stating on the contrary that the foreigners were professionally "more efficient". So the allegation of unfair business practices is a smokescreen meant by the locals to chase out the foreigners so that they could have the business terrain all to themselves. It does not always work out that way. Such an attitude is an open invitation to violence in that the country of one's birth need not be the country of one's livelihood.

But it is gratifying to see that Guguletu police have already set up a meeting between the local and foreign traders to deal with the ugly situation that has the potential of erupting into full-scale violence. The police must make sure that the matter is dealt with once and for all.

South Africa, given its turbulent racial history, should serve as a beacon of tolerance, empathy and communion for all members of the human race. South Africans should not and must not be seen to show xenophobic resentment because their hard and long struggle was directed against racial discrimination. It would be anti-history if they are seen to be replacing one form of discrimination with another. 

And it is even more ironic that all of this is happening at a time when the quest for a united Africa is gaining greater momentum across the continent. But how can Africa unite when Africans are resentful of one another? How can it work when Africans are hostile to one another?

Africans have to learn to love themselves and see themselves as one people before they can begin to tackle in earnest the chronic economic problems that stifle the growth and development of the continent. As a first step, the African Union should consider making the continent visa-free for all Africans. That way, Africans can travel around without bothering about obtaining any visa. This free movement of people should also be extended to goods. If the sub-regional economic blocs can do it, the AU can also make it a continental reality.

We therefore urge our South African brothers and sisters to be more tolerant and accommodating of migrants who live among them.