Why sustainable solution to xenophobia may be difficult — Expert

Cyril Ramaphosa

Grant Masterson, an expert in pan-African governance, says the South African government may find it difficult to find a sustainable solution to the killings in the country as long as it continues to deny the prevalence of xenophobia among its people.

Masterson, a Senior Programme Manager, Governance, at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday.

He also urged the South African government to stop justifying the xenophobia among its people by blaming foreigners for the country’s woes.

The programme manager expressed doubt that the last would have been heard of xenophobic attacks in the country the moment the current wave of violence died down.

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.

It can involve perceptions of an ingroup toward an outgroup and can manifest itself in suspicion of the activities of others.

Xenophobia can also involve a desire to eliminate their presence to secure a presumed purity and may relate to a fear of losing national, ethnic or racial identity.

At least 10 people, including two foreigners, were killed in days of violence that erupted after mobs razed and vandalised several businesses and stores owned by immigrants.

The anti-foreigner attacks sparked diplomatic protests from several African governments, while some Nigerian citizens retaliated by looting South African-owned brands.

This is not the first time South Africa has experienced such horrors. Dozens of people were killed in anti-foreigner riots in 2008 and 2015.

However, the most recent outbreak of violence shines a particularly harsh light on the rabble-rousing of South African politicians, some of whom have blamed migrants for supposedly taking jobs from locals and committing crimes.

The recent outbreak of violence has led Nigeria to evacuate its citizens from the Southern African country with 187 arriving on Wednesday and many more expected to return.

Masterson said that it was unfortunate that the South African government refused to acknowledge that the attacks were xenophobic during this week’s parliamentary debate.

He added that with this pattern of thinking, xenophobia could only continue to flare up in the country.
Masterson described as unfortunate the breakdown in trust between the police and communities.

“Communities blame the police for not dealing with drug dealers, even accusing them of working with them, `so, why let the law take its course; we will deal with them ourselves’, some in the communities think.

“This type of attitude is often a symptom of a failure of policing and breakdown in trust between communities and police.

“The xenophobia occurred in the same week that South Africa’s ‘femicide’ crisis boiled over, with the rape and murder of a student in Cape Town.

“It was the same week we dodged a downgrade to junk status, economically.

“It was the same week that Julius Malema was charged for discharging a firearm at a political rally.

“It was the same week the World Economic Forum (WEF) was in town,” he said.

He said that the unrest in South Africa was fuelled by a mix of high rate of unemployment, competition for low-wage jobs, political leaders blaming foreigners for crime and drug trafficking.

The EISA senior programme manager also expressed concern over the deterioration in the relations between Nigeria and South Africa.

According to him, there are many Nigerian professionals in South Africa, with a lot of them in high demand for scarce skills, and many more in skilled positions across the banking sector, academia, healthcare and information technology industry.

Masterson explained that the attack on foreigners did not extend to the formal employment sector, saying that the violence was carried out primarily in vulnerable and drug-ridden communities with high unemployment rate.

“Foreigners in these circumstances become useful scapegoats for their hardships,” he said.