We are all African!
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is a South African journalist and speaking in her column about the country of her birth. She had lived in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
As attacks on fellow Africans continue here in South Africa, locals are voicing their upset by marching on the streets and collecting blankets and food for the displaced victims. Xenophobia is a difficult issue – neighbouring countries supported us during the Apartheid days and now must see how their citizens are being beaten to death by faceless angry mobs.
After 11 years in Germany looking at my German roots and working in the European business realm, I returned home at the end of 2014 to South Africa – the land of my birth.
We are not strangers to violence in South Africa – our democracy was hard-fought and if we had not agreed to sit down as a collective community and negotiate a settlement, we would not be the democratic country we are today. Watching TV since this current wave of xenophobia, or afrophobia as it has been titled, showed that a small segment of disgruntled unemployed folk initially attacked shop owners in Johannesburg and robbed them.
Dismayed, the Asian and African shop owners told camera crews that they knew their attackers and had served them for in some cases, years! Police officials said, at the time, that they believed it was common thievery. Unemployment in this country is cited as high as 40% and frustration is growing as jobs are scarce and the pay is little.
Soon the violence began to emerge in Durban, along similar lines but the dissatisfaction increased and soon we saw large groups ransacking established shops in downtown Durban and making off with armfuls of stolen goods. Crime in South Africa is inexorably linked with a cruel violent streak and African foreigners were beaten brutally or killed. Some fought back and this incited further unrest.
As a white African, I have interpreted the violence as locals who are fed-up with outsiders making money while they remain poor. I see it as jealousy and angry frustration with their lives. As in Germany, African foreigners are often quite happy to do the menial, low-paying jobs that locals won’t do or take a risk to try to make money to provide for their families, while locals prefer to wait for the sure thing. (I packed bread in a German factory for seven months – my colleagues were foreigners and East Germans. As „Zeitarbeiter“ we earned very little – much the same as foreign Africans here.)
I understand that not having money and being angry about it will cause a person to react in a way that they wouldn’t if they were satisfied with life. Job creation is vital to remedy this situation – I think it is the duty of the big businesses and government to step up to plate and help. It can only be of benefit for us all.
Speaking to several of my black and Indian African friends, I have heard another opinion. They live where foreign shop owners have set up their shops and cite cultural differences which upset them – they feel their fellow Africans are rude and do not want to assimilate here – they feel they should ‘go back home!’
This sounds very much like what I heard in Germany from locals about Turks, Russians or Polish folk – “they don’t speak the language and should go back home!”
The current wave of xenophobia in Germany against Africans trying to get to Europe via boat and being left to drown instead – shows that we as humans, perhaps need to put ourselves in the position of the ‘foreigner’ – what would we do to make the lives of our children better? Do they not deserve to have a safe home, to earn money and make the future of their children secure?
Whatever our religion or beliefs, the answer is simple – yes, foreigners deserve the right to live as humans and to improve their lives, just as we do.
Je suis Africain. Nkosi sikel’Afrika! (God bless Africa.)