While other nationalities, like Asians, are simply treated with indifference, the majority of victims of xenophobia are black Africans. So strong is the acrimony in South Africa (and Botswana) between African locals and African foreigners that the former have even coined the derogatory term makwerekwere in reference to their African counterparts. This term criminalises anybody African who migrates to South Africa.
Surprisingly, an African-American is not a kwerekwere when they visit South Africa. Once they open their mouth to speak, they are offered a front row seat.
The South African Institute of Race Relations in their May 2008 publication, cited nine reasons which led to the xenophobic violence:
failure to maintain the rule of law, collapse of proper border control, corruption, low employment levels, uneducated citizens, slowing economic growth, poor foreign policy, poor service delivery and poor race relations.
But having read this and many other reports, my questions remain unanswered: why is a white foreigner not a kwerekwere? And why is a black American not a kwerekwere? Remember the term kwerekwere goes beyond disrespect – it actually carries the same demeaning weight as kaffir or bhunu.
I listened to a morning show on Radio 2000 in South Africa a few days ago, and was left puzzled to hear the three DJs ecstatically acclaiming that a certain think-tank had rated South Africa as the third friendliest country in the world. Have they no idea of the reality?
In public places, especially on public transport, foreigners, especially Zimbabweans whose physical outlook is not quite distinguishable from locals, hesitate to answer their phones for fear of exposing themselves. The DJs obviously have no idea how unsafe we feel in their “friendly” country.
My humble observation is that the government of South Africa does not place much value on, and has little respect for, other African countries. The people are not exposed to anything positive from other African countries. The government of the day perpetuates a Eurocentric view. Remember, a below average European or American carries a conviction that Africans live in caves and eat with baboons.
Similarly, the South African government never informs its citizens about anything which they can learn and benefit from Africa – only from Europe and America. What an average black South African knows about other fellow black Africans is that they are beggars and have come to their country to eat from the same bowl with them. Naturally, tensions boil and then political leaders appear on TV pleading with citizens to co-habit with the “less-fortunate”. There are no deliberate efforts in South Africa to re-orient people after such a long spell of apartheid propaganda.
To many South Africans, Africa is some space out there, characterized by wars and poverty. It is common in South Africa to refer to a black foreigner as one coming from Africa. It does not dawn on them that they too are Africans – because the media has projected South Africa as an extension of Europe and the government has done nothing to correct the deliberate misconception.
When I was in primary school in Zimbabwe, as early as grade 4 or 5, we already knew all countries in Africa by heart, their geography, capital cities and presidents as well as main economic activity. This is not common in South Africa.
I believe the government is holding its citizens hostage by boxing them in an era of globalization and interdependence, insulating them from the rest of the continent. This neglect, advertently or otherwise, has institutionalized xenophobia. – [email protected]; Twitter ephias.ruhode, or contact via his facebook pagePost published in: Opinions & Analysis