Xenophobia – the new desensitising word.


I’ve been sitting reading a lot today about an attack on Zimbabwean people in a province of South Africa, where there has always been an ill ease of existence between the South African tribes, who let’s be honest, can barely get along with each other at the best of times, and our Zimbabwean brethren.

From what I can gather large scale attacks were aimed at Zimbabwean refugees who had taken up residence in the De Doorns area of the Cape Provence began on the weekend, and gained in frenzy, displacing some 2,400 Zimbabwean community from the elegant and picturesque setting in the infamous Cape wine area. As economic pressures take their toll on the African economy, local residents see the Zimbabwean settlers as “job stealers” and therefore a threat to their livelihood. In many ways, it is frustrating to watch these events unfold, as from a rational point of view it is possible to understand the underlying fears that drive these situations into melt down in such a way.

However, knowing the blood thirsty nature of the native South African’s, especially those of the Cape area, and having seen firsthand the brutality and viciousness of the tribal South African, it is of little wonder that we have not heard of deaths and extensive casualties from these disturbances. I was not surprised to learn that there had been no Police involvement in protecting the settlers, as it has been rumoured extensively that in the run up to the 2010 world cup, that the South African authorities are going to be clamping down on vagrant beggars and people found loitering around aimlessly, in such manner as refugees and job seekers might do.

With this type of aggressive targeting from the defence forces, how are Zimbabwean settlers, who incidentally should be protected under parliamentary law passed in South Africa, meant to survive? I have pondered to myself if such measures and out bursts of violence might not be state instigated quietly behind the scenes! It is not a massive jump to consider that as Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe itself, that the South African government may be using violent groups of thugs to target large groups of migrant workers that they view as a threat to stability and security for the 2010 World Cup. It will be interesting to watch going forward if this is just a warm up to more targeted and specific actions throughout the country. With well over 4 million Zimbabweans believed to be in South Africa, it is with deep concern that you begin to wonder what lies in store for our people as pressure mounts on the South African government to “clean up” ahead of the World Cup games around the country, and in the light of the dwindling job numbers as recession takes hold in South Africa.

If we look back through history, migration has always lead to tensions between settlers and locals, immigrants and residents. There is nothing unfamiliar about the situation in South Africa, for it has happened many times over in many places around the world. Circumstances in Zimbabwe have lead to a mass exodus from Zimbabwe into just about every country south of the equator. In some area’s the wealth of knowledge that comes with the Zimbabwean migrants has been recognised as a positive thing and welcomed those who have chosen to take refuge in such areas. However in other places, such as South Africa, our nations commitment to education and disciplined up brining has meant that Zimbabwean’s tend to take better jobs, more easily than the local work force, with envious results from the local population.

Envy and resentment is easily stirred and I have a tendency to believe that the South African authorities know this all too well. They are also far too familiar with the volatile nature of their population and it won’t take much of a spark to begin a genocide on the scale of Rwanda and Burundi. The trouble with South African situation is that much of the violence within the South African community is armed. There are large number of surplus weapons easily available on the black market and it is a well known fact that large proportions of the South African population have armed themselves. As migrants and immigrants on either work visa’s, refugee papers or illegally in the country, Zimbabwean’s are not entitled to arm themselves, and so expectantly look to the authorities to protect them. However, if as I suspect, as evidenced by the lack of police presence in De Doorns during this attack, we discover that the South African authorities are involved with the cause of the violence, where next can these people turn?

To flee back to Zimbabwe is returning to a fate less than attractive. To aim further afield is to leave loved ones behind as the costs associated with such trips are restrictive and often far out of reach of the average man or woman. For those left behind is the constant fear of reprisal or persecution at the hands of angry war mongers. No better words can really be found to describe these people. You may wonder why I use such expressively descriptive words for the South African people. Let me enlighten you as to my reasoning.

It is common place for news agencies and reporters to use buzz words or highly enlightened wording that removes the impact of a situation and desensitises the general public to the horrors of what is really transpiring on the ground. Take for instance the buzz word associated with the attacks on Zimbabweans in South Africa. Any report you read talks of Xenophobia, which when defined describes a fear of an unknown people of those that are different from one’s self. In a way it makes it sound like someone who suffers from any type of phobia, from a fear of spiders or snakes to fear of the outdoors or closed up spaces. The full horror of a “Xenophobic” attack is removed through the use of the buzz word, and people are able to deal with the news issue without blinking their eye.

Now let me take you through the realities of a Xenophobic attack, the nature of what we read about when we hear of Zimbabwean’s being targeted by South African hooligans. In South Africa it is common place for gangs of young men to traverse an area armed with machetes, shambok’s (a long leather whip), old tyres and thick tree branches. When these gangs come across a group that they deem warrant a good beating, they plough into the middle of the squat, yard, area, wherever it maybe, and lash out mercilessly at whomever is within reach. In most instances the majority of the group will disperse with prompt efficiency, needless to say it does not take much encouragement to flee a persecutors thrashing. It is now and then however that one or two might fail to make the necessary escape from the clutches of the mob, and are set upon until huge welts of skin are removed as the shamboks rain down mercilessly on the human flesh writhing on the ground.

As the group work themselves into a frenzy heaven help anyone who might fight back or say the wrong thing to the wild mob. In instances such as these heavy vengeance is levied against the perpetrator, used as an example of what happens to those whom might choose to stick up for themselves. Caught and beaten, the victim would then have his thigh muscles cut above and below the knee to the bone. This is done to prevent the victim fleeing as a tyre is tied around their neck, all taking place in indescribable pain and emotional suffering. The victim is doused in petrol, and taunted and victimised as the group reaches the apex of its frenzy, setting light to the poor individual who has been chosen to receive the burning necklaces that Johannesburg made famous in its townships in the 1980’s.

This horror is not just handed out to one or two unlucky members of the masses that are targets by the ethnic violence. This is common place, four, five sometimes many more turning up at corners throughout the township, a vivid and emotive form of terrorism that spreads fear among the targeted group, quelling them into a quivering supplication for fear of similar reprisals. This is the Xenophobia that the news reporters speak so freely about, without adequate feeling or respect for those who have suffered such humiliation and torture at the hands of these murder squads. This is why I choose to use such powerful words when describing the violence that meets anyone whom would stand in the way of an angry South African mob. It is true that when the mobs riot in South Africa, the police fear to go anywhere near the trouble.

So who I ask, who do our people turn to? Zimbabwean’s in South Africa are caught between a rock and a hard place. Living in fear of persecution, escaped from a life of poverty and persecution my people are faced with a difficult existence. It’s a shame really. When independence came to Zimbabwe in 1980, so many believed that they would have a better life and be entitled to enjoy the riches of the land that they called home. Yet even today they are prevented from enjoying the land of their forefathers. Zimbabwean’s have had a raw deal in many ways, under years of subjugation by the white man, and now at the hands of greed and corruption within their own ranks. I wonder if there will ever be any easy answer for our nation. How we all long for the day we can return to a free and fair Zimbabwe, but the truth is that such a dream is a long way off, and much suffering stands between us and that dream. How much blood will flow before the world stands up and takes notice of the wrongs that befall African people on the African Continent?

My heart bleeds for the victims of this latest round of abuse in South Africa, and if I was able I’d be suggesting to Zimbabweans residing in the boarders of South Africa to lie low and safe until such time as the World Cup has come and gone and you no longer pose a threat to the authorities under pressure to keep law and order during the games. It is not an easy road that you have chosen to walk, and you walk in the valley of the shadow of evil more so than any others of us. Guard your safety and protect your life, for tomorrow is another day, another hour that we might meet in unity and fight our corner to free our home land. Right now it is time to be selfish, for your life is worth more than a meaningless death. It is up to the rest of us to highlight the plight of those trapped in a society that neither wants nor tolerates our brothers and sisters. It is our job to write, and speak out and inform the world about the wrongs of against society in these ways. Let us stand our ground on behalf of our brethren and unite in one call. Change.

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2 comments on “Xenophobia – the new desensitising word.

  1. Kay says:

    powerfull words !!

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