By Anthony Gathambiri
A story is told of one community where a big river was flowing from a certain forest. In this river, dead bodies floated and flowed with the river. This community told their pastor that whenever they went to fetch water from the river, they saw floating dead bodies of people who had the same features as them. The pastor was overwhelmed by the increasing number of deaths so much so that his work was just burying the dead. He kept burying the dead but would never question the root cause of the deaths. Year after year they died and kept burying. One day, a new pastor came to replace him, and could not withstand the workload. He called the community together and told them ‘enough is enough, we have to know why many people died in order to stop losing more of our people.’ They travelled miles and miles away into the thick forest, and upon entering the forest, they found a boy who told them that all his family members have been killed by a man-eater. The boy said that the man-eater ate the soft part of the stomach and discarded the rest. He said that he was the only member in that community that was left. The other members had been eaten by this man-eater. They were mesmerised and started fearing for their lives. They camped with the boy as they sharpened their poisoned arrows. A few days later, behold the man-eater appeared charging from a distance. The men and women rained their poisoned arrows on it. After killing the man-eater, there were no more floating bodies.
In South Africa, Xenophobia is an ad-naseam phenomenon that will continue to make headlines year after year in the media, if our mitigation strategies don’t go a little deeper into searching for this man-eater. At the height of the recent xenophobic attacks, too many ‘finger-pointing rhetorics’ went into the public as we watched our sisters and brothers mercilessly butcher each other and ask them to go back to their home counties. A stitch in time saves nine. The man-eater is complex, and therefore a complete overhaul of our mitigation processes is inevitable if our efforts are to bear any fruit. Xenophobia like any other crisis can emerge anywhere in the world, because it’s a symptom of a structure that has gone awry. It is more legitimate, therefore, to blame corruption of those charged with delivering services, than the innocent migrants who are actually job providers, or if not are building the South African economy with their expertise and energies.
Due to the fact that xenophobia is an attitude and an activity, government organs or nongovernmental organisations interested in curbing xenophobia must contain spiralling levels of corruption. When we don’t tame corruption, the ‘man-eater’ is still breathing. Corruption and xenophobia are entangled; they are cousins if you like. Corruption robs-off resources and opportunities meant to improve the lives of disenfranchised members, and when this happens, migrants become the scape-goat. According to Muthuki (2013), the anger of the marginalised locals is legitimate, but ought to be directed to oppressive government and the wealthy elite. The tragedy and irony of the matter is that this anger is directed to the most vulnerable individuals that fled from their warring nations. In my opinion education of the masses is a necessary recipe that could liberate the mind from the claim that migrants are a threat to locals.
In order to tame the man-eater, South Africa must make sure that her resources are distributed equally. The problem we have is not foreigners, but economic inequality created by bad governance of visionless leaders. Xenophobia is a loud voice of the side-lined population crying and telling government, “look! we are homeless while others have homes, we are jobless while others have jobs, we are illiterate while others are literate, and we have no reliable hospitals while others have, we have no water and electricity while others have”. When the nation’s common cake is not cut equally we have a wide lacuna between haves and have-nots. A fix on policies that would enhance equal sharing of wealth is paramount. When a Zulu, a Somalian, a Mozambican, a Zimbabwean have enough water, electricity, jobs, education and opportunities for decent living, xenophobic attacks will be a thing of the past.
Xenophobia is like any other social evil that is socially constructed; no one is born disliking the other nationality. The disliking can be unlearned through education. A good education would enable learners to understand that a Nigerian, a Moroccan or a South African is their family member from the same Mother Africa. This education ought to be taken to education institutions, faith groups, and into local social groups so that the ideology that yields to violence can be killed. When educators teach a young generation to respect and appreciate their “family members” from another part of Africa, African integration will be possible.
Muthuki, J (2013).The Complexities of being Foreign Student in South Africa Tertiary Institution. Alternation Edition, (7) 109-127.
Gathambĩri Anthony Waiganjo was born in Nyeri County, Kenya. In 2008, he graduated cum laude with a bachelors of Arts degree in Philosophy, (Ubaniana University Roma). In 2013, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Theology (Saint Joseph’s, South Africa). In 2015, he graduated with a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the school of social sciences (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa). He is currently pursuing his Doctorate degree in Gender Studies from the same university. He is a writer, academic, reformer and social activist. Gathambĩri has written several articles on social justice, integrity of environment and gender empowerment. His hobbies includes writing, community engagement, and social development research.