After a series of violent attacks on foreigners, South Africans must reflect on their role on the continent. DW's Jane Nyingi thinks that any attack on African "foreigners" is an attack on the entire continent.
Are South Africans more Africans or less African than those on the rest of the continent? South Africa is a nation of multiple ethnicities, languages and nationalities. South Africa's status as one of the largest economies in Africa makes it attractive to migrants, some of them seeking greener economic pastures, others safety and security. Government figures state that around two million foreigners live in the country, the majority of them from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique and Somalia. Experts put the number much higher.
The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa reflect how some South Africans discriminate against fellow Africans. The country's economy relies heavily on migrants, be it to make up for a skills shortage or for cheap labor on farms and mines.
After the latest unrest resulted in over 35 shops belonging to immigrants being looted, burned and destroyed in Pretoria and Johannesburg, no African president commented on the incident. No African regional body, be it the African Union (AU), SADC or ECOWAS, released a statement condemning the attacks. This begs the question of whom they speak for.
It's common knowledge that like most African countries, South Africa is struggling with unemployment, poverty and equality. South Africa has one of the most diverse economies on the continent. It relies heavily on mining and raw material exports but also on manufacturing and service-oriented job opportunities. The recent decline in the mining sector has exacerbated the issue of unemployment. Failure by the South African government to address these problems has made its citizen direct their anger on soft targets.
Similar xenophobic attacks occurred in 2008 and again in 2015. This latest one is again one too many. The attacks are a reflection of the government's failure to meet the needs of its citizens to whom they only come to when its election time with their make empty promises.
In order to ward off unrest due to their own failures, politicians have adopted various tactics. One of them is to create divisions by, for instance, blaming foreigners and whipping up nationalistic feelings.
This diverts attention from government misrule and mismanagement. The masses, many of who are hungry, sick and illiterate, are taken in by the government's ploy. A hungry man is an angry man and since anger is emotional and overpowers reason, the smallest provocation can unfortunately result in violence.
But the violence has invariably been turned loose on "others," whether the difference is religion, race or nationality. In the end, it is the rich pitting the poor against the poor while wealthy "others" are able to avoid the tensions. A recent report found that foreigners are not a threat to jobs in the country and also contribute greatly to the economy.
All South Africans should try and avoid falling into this trap and stop characterizing foreigners in the country as criminals. South Africans should also remember the role other African countries played in the country's struggle for liberation from the shackles of apartheid.
Us Africans we need to stop fighting each other. This is the time to unite and work together and make Africa grow. Xenophobia has no place in Africa.