28 November 2017

Liberia: South Africans' Hospitality Turns Xenophobic Stigma Around

The encounter in June 2014 when angry South Africans violently attacked other African nationals in major cities, including Johannesburg, remains fresh three years after the ugly incident that led to the loss of properties, including commercial goods and money. Africans mostly affected were Zimbabweans who for economic reasons migrated to South Africa.

These attacks were vehemently condemned by African leaders and the South African Government, and since the occurrence, it left stigma of xenophobia on the country. But my recent trip to South Africa for the Global Investigative Journalism Conference and the African Investigative Journalism Conference held from November 15 to 19, showed a sign contrary to the xenophobic sentiment held against South Africans.

In the Devonshire Hotel where some of us were lodged the workers were so excited to interact with us and to discuss issues relating to South African politics and economy. Janet, an employee of the New Town Shopping Mall, could not hold her emotions to express her excitement for seeing fellow Africans from other countries, chatting with her.

"You are our brothers and sisters, and we are delighted to see you visiting our country. I hope I could visit some of your countries in the future," she said. South Africa rivals Nigeria as the largest economy on the African Continent (World Bank report), and it has well-developed cities one of which is Johannesburg and others being Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth.

It has a modern transport system that one does not have to stop a taxi or bus by the hand as it is done in Liberia. There is an internet system using an application known as "Uber." This application allows an individual to contact a taxi and it will come directly to him/her using the Google map.

Without the application loaded on phones of some of the visiting guests to enable them to contact a taxi, Bridgette Manca, a young woman believed to be in her mid-twenties with a law degree said she could not wait to see her African brothers and sisters not using the service and therefore decided to do something about it. Bridgette used her private vehicle to drive to get the stranded guests from the WITS University Campus on that Friday afternoon.

Mapula Nkosi, a South African Blogger in a chat with me said she regretted not being a part of the conference to interact with her fellow Africans and to share ideas about how media work is moving in other African countries.

As this hospitable and generous deportment drew attention and discussions about xenophobia in South African began on the WITS Science Stadium, Umaru Fofana, BBC Correspondent from Sierra Leone said, "The xenophobic attacks came because jobs that South Africans should do were being given to aliens and foreigners, but as long as we have not come to take their jobs from them, they will be happy with us."

The unexpected reception from South Africans was not the only attractive encounter for the over 1,000 guests who attended the 10th Global Investigative Journalism Conference.

The magnificently built WITS University Campus sitting on the top of an overhead bridge leaves no room for debate about how developed Johannesburg and other cities are in South Africa. The city is kept clean with sanitation workers regularly touring every corner picking trash placed in garbage cans planted there, and no resident found it fun to drop trash on the street.

A report published by UNESCO about the world literacy rate per country indicates that South Africa has 93% literacy rate. Communication experts say the South African Government's decision to attach significance to education is in the right direction because the overwhelming development that has been made can only be protected when the minds of its citizenry are developed, otherwise everything will be destroyed and the years of effort in vain.

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