Xenophobia, one of the recent attributes of the rainbow nation, aka Republic of South Africa, is defined as “the intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries”. While the Constitution of South Africa is known to be one of the most progressive and tolerant in the world, the recent happenings are a taint on that beautiful country’s record. At the point of writing this article, at least five people had been killed and hundreds others injured. Dozens of buses from neighbouring countries had been sent to evacuate their citizens trapped in the mayhem and senseless violence called xenophobia.
There have been questions as to whether the South African violence against nationals of other African countries (blacks) is really xenophobia or something else. The question that draws us to ask this question is that while there has been black-against-black violence, there has not been (as reports may have demonstrated), black-against-white or white-against-black mass violence lately.
Many immigrants into South Africa are coming northward on the continent. These are people who are leaving their countries in search of greener pastures or are escaping from unhealthy political environments of countries such as that of the African Union and Sadc’s President Robert Mugabe. In the case of Malawi, many of our people trek South for a diversity of reasons. We have always gone to South Africa, and there are not enough jobs around in this country to share among of all us who must work.
The majority of our people end up in the informal settlement—call it illegal or ghettos—thus being neighbours of other South Africans who have moved from other areas to make a living in the towns or cities. These people are living on the margins of society. Lacking education and skills, the frustration and desperation are rife. Frustrated and desperate poor South Africans have someone or something as the target to vent their anger on.
I have heard statements to the effect that the community colleges and village polytechnics that are coming up will reduce the need for Malawians to move down to South Africa. No doubt that these polytechnics and community colleges are important for the development of this country; no doubt that many young people who will be trained in these community colleges will be self employed, but more skills may also results in more need to emigrate. While we have only two qualified tailors and welders in a village in Malawi, we will end up with a thousand tailors. I do not know whether these thousand tailors will stay in Malawi because they were trained in a community college?
There is a difference in how Africans deal with a crisis and how Europeans deal with theirs. In Africa, you are beaten up and killed; you send buses to evacuate the immigrant. In Europe, people say: We will not be intimidated and go home. We will stay and stare in your face.