Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No abiding place for some of us on this earth

On the 6th of November 2009, BBC online carried a story of a pregnant Somali woman who had been temporarily spared death by stoning until she gave birth. The woman’s boyfriend, Abas Hussein Abdirahman, who had been found guilty of adultery ‘was killed in front of a crowd of some 300 people in the town of Merka.’ A leader of the executioners said the woman would be killed after she had given birth. Later, on the 18th of November 2009, another woman who had been found guilty of the same crime (adultery) was also stoned to death after giving birth. The woman was taken to public grounds where she was buried up to her waist and stoned.

When I read these chilling stories, I could not imagine what these two poor women went through, knowing that after giving birth, they would be stoned to death. Honestly, how does it feel, for a mother to know that they will be stoned to death as soon as they give birth? One would imagine that they probably wish they remained pregnant forever so that they would not face the gruesome killing that awaited them. This is one odd instance where a mother wishes she never had to give birth because of what awaits her after. They could not hide and were not allowed to leave their villages. Their fate was sealed. Death for them was as certain as the rise of the sun.

What these women went through before they were stoned to death is probably what some non-South African brothers and sisters are going through. After the World Cup in South Africa, Xenophobic attacks are a sure thing. Despite the signs being there everywhere, the authorities and a few naive people deny this. There is a genuine and sure hatred of foreigners in South Africa for various reasons (PS By the way, white non-South Africans are tourists while black non-South Africans are foreigners).

The dawn of a post-apartheid era in 1994 excited heightened expectations among the black populace in South Africa. Many people believed that their dreams for a better life would be realized. The ANC government promised ‘a better life for all.’ Those without homes would have homes built for them, the unemployed would become employed, those without land would receive land, the ill-treated would receive justice for their ill-treatment. It was an era that was saturated with promises for an improved living. However, as time wore on, the situation has in fact deteriorated for many. Life is now even harder. Many people have become even poorer and the many promises for a better life have availed to little if anything at all. What has compounded the situation is that the thousands of foreigners in the country seem to be living on cloud nine. They are either employed or are self employed. Either way, they seem to have a decent income. Their lives seem so much better that that of the ordinary black South Africans. They own businesses, drive better cars, some have better jobs and seem to be generally having it easier than South Africans (not knowing that foreigners have to sweat for these things). Without a doubt, this has excited the feeling that they are depriving South Africans of opportunities that otherwise would have belonged to South Africans. As such, driving them away seems a justified way of opening up opportunities for the indigenous populace.

Some of the foreigners have been palpably guilty of wrongs - areas that had less crime before the advent of foreigners are now ‘no go areas’ because of the prevalence of criminal activity. Stories abound of how Nigerians run drug dens in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other towns. There have been reports of how Zimbabweans are guilty of violent crimes in areas such as Hilbrow, Thembisa and Yeuoville. In other towns, foreigners have been accused of selling counterfeit products, fake money, masterminding frauds, human trafficking and other criminal activities. Marginalized South Africans are agitated.

Yesterday (09.03.2010), a traffic police officer bellowed at me, “Niyasisokolisa apha nina bantu baseAfrica! Buyelani kokwenu!!” (You are giving us problems you people from Africa! Go back to your countries!!). This happened after I showed him my foreign drivers’ licence during a routine traffic roadblock. One time, I was in a taxi from Rondebosch to town where the driver was a Somali man. Two passengers in the taxi were conversing in Xhosa – “Aba bantu asibafuni apha. Basithathela imisebenzi.” (We do not want these people here. They are taking our jobs away).

On the 8th of February this year, xenophobic attacks flared up in Siyathemba township in Balfour. Foreigners were attacked and had their property burnt. About 30 foreign nationals had to seek refuge at Balfour police station. In the Western Cape township of Dunoon, locals have already promised foreigners ‘blood and thunder’ after the World Cup. The situation is the same in other townships across the country. We foreigners know what awaits us after June/July 2010. How does one live with the knowledge of these impending attacks? A lot of us come from countries facing severe challenges of governance which have made life there impossible. In Nigeria for example, hundreds of people were literally massacred last week in clashes between Christians and Muslims. Everyone is aware of what is happening in countries such as Sudan, Eastern DRC, parts of Angola, Somalia, Zimbabwe, parts of Uganda and Rwanda and in honesty, where can these people seek refuge? The same fate awaits us in South Africa after the World Cup and what can one say except, [T]here is no abiding place for some of us on this earth. In America and Europe, they despise us for working with Al Qaeda. In Africa, we are accused of taking away opportunities for local nationals. In some of our countries, we are burnt alive, locked up in prisons without food, water or sanitation, mutilated and have our mothers and sisters raped for not supporting so and so. Where can we go?
Only the authorities and a few naive people deny that xenophobia is a reality in South Africa after the world cup. We foreigners are well aware of what awaits us after the world cup. We wonder, those of us who survived last time, will we survive this time around? If we had somewhere to run, we surely would but unfortunately, we have no abiding place on this earth :-(


  1. As a South African, geboor en getoor, (born and bred) I wonder if we PDI's (previously disadvantaged individuals)passed on the crutches of Apartheid to PDI's (presently desperate individuals)without the lessons of the experiences and environment. For, if we had passed the lessons on to PDI's (presently desperate individuals), there would be no need for that great crutch of BLAME. Having a Bogeyman meant that we could blame Bantu education for our lack of academic excellence in spite of other fellow pupils of Bantu education achieving academic excellence. Now that the Bogeyman of Apartheid has been liberated to walk along with us, we need a new Bogeyman to blame. Why, because after several lifetimes of dependency on the Bogeyman, we have become so addicted to him that it is in the blood of all PDIs. Why else would we, who received sanctuary in African countries, turn on the children of our previous hosts and kill and maim them when they come to seek sanctuary with us, particularly when they come bearing gifts of rare skills and competencies desperately needed by our land.

  2. I have also heard that there will be a spate of xenophobic violence after the World Cup. This is really worrying. I have also heard that organizations who work in these situations are preparing for such a situation. I wonder whether anticipating violence breeds violence? That is, by generating an expectation for violence there is unintended encouragement of violence?

  3. I think one of the main problems that South Africa is facing is a misunderstanding of the Xenophobic problem. First of all we seem to incorrectly assume that xenophobia is something which began post 1994 with the mass influx of African nationals from other countries. This is incorrect and it is imperative that we understand the longer history of Xenophobia in SA in order to deal better with the current scourge. First of all, when one speaks of xenophobia one is not simply speaking of a dislike or fear of foreign nationals but a dislike or fear of anyone considered a stranger even if that person is a citizen of the same country. In South Africa, xenophobia has been most commonly directed at immigrants more commonly known as migrant labour. Anyone who knows South African history will remember the brutal conflict which raged across many parts of the country during the late 80's and early 90's. This conflict was so vicious that in the space of a few years it was able to claim significantly more lives than the anti-apartheid struggle had through decades of conflict. Whilst this was a very complex conflict one of the main dimensions was the fear, hatred and violence between groups representing the urbanized blacks and those who were considered migrants from rural areas and former Bantustans. Many of the people who migrated to the cities from the rural areas were considered uneducated, unsophisticated, dirty and criminal. Hostels began to spring up all over South Africa's townships where these migrants would live in very squalid conditions and often there was a high rate of crime in these hostel communities. Derogatory words such as Qaba and Amagoduka (country bumpkins) were often used to describe the migrants. It is very important to remember that one of the root causes of the conflict was the fact that migrant labour from rural areas refused stand in solidarity with the urbanized trade unions when they went on strike against the big mining corporates. It is even more important to remember that this is one of the root causes of the current xenophobic violence. Thus history seems to be repeating itself, instead of speaking of amaqaba and amagoduka, we now speak of amakwiri kwiri. We no longer blame hostel residence for crime (even though crime continues unabated in many hostels) we now blame Nigerians. Whilst in the late 80's migrant labour from rural Natal were blamed for not partaking in industrial action, today we blame Zimbabweans for undercutting South African salaries and stealing jobs. And thus here we are again back to where we never left because we fail to understand the real problem in this country is a totally botched process of migration which is only repeating itself.

  4. It is sad indeed that we black people have the victim mentality and are always working against each other. A little cooperation would take this race and the continent forward.

  5. But why, why, why should the people and resources of this country be burdened by these strangers? We owe them NOTHING.
    The Nigerians are here just for drug smuggling.Why should they be tollerated when they're only out to undermine society??
    The Mozambicans are well- known for the most horrendous murders and farm attacks.
    The Zimbabweans have chosen their leaders and elect them time after time - so they must live with them. Why come here to specialise in hijackings?
    Socalled zenophobia won't end while these people just come and misbehave here.
    Ordinary South Africans are not so stupid to believe these oh so poor strangers are angels.... for they simply are not. On this point of protecting these people the ANC leadership are out of sinc with what people on voetsoolvlak know and experience.

  6. @Henri People from African nations often add very positive economic gains to South Africa. Many Africans do graduate studies at our universities and then leave with skills that we should be welcoming to our economy.

    Even African poorer immigrants add a great deal to South Africa - I am working off an old memory here but someone mentioned that for each small business started by an immigrant around 5 people benefit in terms of financial support. These guys add to South Africa rather than detracting from it!

    Also, our Constitution doesn't protect only citizens. It protects ALL PEOPLE within our borders.

    Open borders have historically been linked to economic growth and development for the host country.

    Unfortunately people see immigration as zero-sum which it is most certainly not.

  7. Henri you need to understand the nature of international crime before making prejudice statements. the crimes which you speak of are international crimes that effect the entire globe. South Africa, like both Mozambique and Nigeria is a country in transition, which is a very sensitive stage. Thus the fragility we are experiencing makes us very vulnerable to problems such as organized crime. poor border control, a history of political violence, a lack of economic opportunities in peripheral border communities and the fact that we are struggling with problems of transition have more to do with crime in SA than the influx of Nigerians. I suggest you educate yourself on issues facing other societies in transition such as Russia, and Latin America. In most of these places the collapse of authoritarian government and the opening of borders has led to an increase in crime because the new societies struggle to make the transition. It is because you don't understand your own country or its history that makes assume all of South Africa's problems begin with Nigerians and will simply disappear if "they" are expelled.

  8. Hi Nkanyiso, I am really impressed by your articles. I wish everyone in South Africa would read them and address these issues. Keep up the good work.

  9. Hi Andre the people to mandate the government to provide such services, i.e. the voters. In business, this is accountability to your shareholders.
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