South African Xenophobic attacks: Product of a generation without roots

(Zecharias Zelalem)

For those of you who haven’t followed the reports emerging from South Africa in recent days, locals have been going on rampages, attacking foreigners in the streets as well as burning and looting their homes and businesses in mob attacks which are reminiscent of the Saudi Arabian November 2013 crackdown on migrants which resulted in the murders and rapes of mostly Ethiopian undocumented migrants. This time round in South Africa, the mob violence also appears to be inspired by nothing more than pure xenophobic hatred.

According to sources both domestic and global, the attackers appear to belong exclusively to the country’s majority black population. And according to these same reports, the targets of these attacks are mostly shop owners or migrants from other African countries, including Congo DR, Malawi, Tanzania, Eritrea with small businesses run by Ethiopians and Somalians bearing the brunt of the property damage. The casualty figures are extremely hard to verify, with the death toll estimated to be at around five people so far, and the wounded up to a hundred. Attackers have used clubs, machetes, rifles while yet to be verified witness and video accounts speak of people being set alight on fire. As of my posting this piece, there are no reports of western nationals or western owned businesses caught up in the violence, which is the reason that the world’s biggest media outlets are yet to let out more than a murmur of concern. The media coverage is similar to the coverage that followed the Garissa attacks, the horrific murder of 147 Kenyans by Al Shabab, the story that battled with Pizza Hut coupons and Kim Kardashian’s derriere for space on your mainstream newspaper’s D section. Under reported, ignored and unheard go the still ongoing cries of African migrants in South Africa.Photo - South African xenophobic attacks

HERE’S THE THING: In 2015, South Africa’s majority Black population have a million reasons to be angry. No exaggeration. The farce of freedom granted to them upon Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in the early nineties has materially and logistically changed nothing for them whatsoever, despite all the hullabaloo and the air of optimism surrounding the downfall of the openly apartheid governments, which ruled South Africa for over half a century. The minority white population, which throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, systematically pried the resources of the land away from the land’s original dwellers and claimed the country as their own, refused to relinquish their stronghold of the economic and agricultural sectors of the country, and the Black descendants of the victims of apartheid policy displacement and land grabbing remain for the most part, stuck in their promptly built shanty towns and slums plagued with endless crime, poverty, murder and poor sanitation with nowhere else to go, refugees in their own country as the white South African descendants of Dutch and British colonizers inhabit the ritzy glowing neighbourhoods of Johannesburg and Pretoria, whilst nearly 90% of arable farming land in the country continues to fatten their coffers, as it did during the apartheid era.

Nelson Mandela successfully completing the struggle and bringing peace and freedom to the Black South African has got to be one of the biggest lies ever sold to the world.

A little bit after the death of Mandela in 2013, ex Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam, or a man claiming to be him, gave an interview to an Australia based Ethiopian radio station. The man said that the legacy of Mandela’s struggle will be one full of regret and bitter disappointment. He even predicted that Black South Africans will eventually revolt against the system and new heroes would emerge, none of them preaching with that God forbidden reconciliatory tone of Madiba’s which was a dagger blow to their pride and national spirit and left Black South Africans as helpless chickens coming home to roost in chicken coops owned by white farmers.

Well in 2015, Black South Africans have risen…although I am baffled to see that it is none other than their fellow Africans in the cross hairs of these marauding Black South African brute squads. The descendants of the people who stood by them in their time of need, the descendants of the people who funded and trained their revolutionaries and gave them the hope of one day being more than just an illiterate pesant on a plantation owned by a Dutch beer harvester, are the ones being marked for beatings today. The fact that Ethiopian migrants and shop owners are being targeted for violence some fifty years or so after the first South African revolutionaries left Addis Ababa armed with the blueprints to saving their country and rescuing their drowning people from chewed up by the sharks of colonization….has left Ethiopians across the world flabbergasted and irate.

The role Ethiopia played in fighting the apartheid system in South Africa was utterly crucial in rendering the original system out of use. On the diplomatic level, South Africa was ostracized at every OAU summit and excluded from the continent’s functions which combined as fundraisers for Black rebels who were armed and trained in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola among other states. Even in the sporting arena, former CAF President Yidnekachew Tessema had a no nonsense policy on the racist practices of the apartheid era South African sporting federations. During Ato Yidnekachew’s tenure as African football’s head, South Africa were banned from competing in the African Cup of Nations due to their refusal to field Black players. The Derg era Ethiopian passport which served Ethiopian citizens was valid for travel everywhere, except apartheid South Africa, excluded so as to remember the plight of the discriminated Black population. Page four of the old Ethiopian passport specifically states that the Ethiopian passport was an internationally recognized travel document valid “for travel everywhere except South Africa.”

The “victorious” African National Congress rebels who took over the country after winning an election in 1994, bitterly failed to harness the heroic fighting spirit of their comrades. After the long history of cooperation and aid to the ANC, Ethiopians being targeted for mob justice shows that the ANC didn’t put much energy into reforming the South African education system and have put little emphasis on the post struggle history, out of Nelson Mandela’s goal to seek “peace and reconciliation.” All this would eventually do was leave a generation of Black children without a trace of their own roots, ignorant of their own history and without an idea of how they came to be or how their ancestors gallantly fought to prevent their current conundrum from becoming the everyday reality. But with the roles of patriots like Chris Hani censored in favour of the internationally accepted Nelson Mandela, the current generation cannot even recall the names of their own heroes and heroines. After all, under the current government, former apartheid era leader F. W. de Klerk is propagated as a national icon, despite the former president being forced into giving up power due to circumstances and by no means due to a desire to clear his conscience. With no proper acknowledgement being given to the freedom fighters out of a desire to remain in the diplomatic spotlight as a media darling, post apartheid South Africa ensured us that the next generation would have no model figures of yesterday which they could relate to and be inspired by to rise, grab the baton and take the next step.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” said famous historian Marcus Garvey. Well the xenophobic lynch mobs targeting Ethiopians, Somalians, Eritreans among others, are trees with no roots, easily tossed by the winds of hate, hopelessness, unemployment, poverty and can easily be chopped, carved up and turned into weapons of blind fury. This is what has happened in recent days. These victims of state sponsored ignorance campaigns have been unleashed and unfortunately, its innocent migrants from Malawi and Zambia among others, who are reaping the bloody thorny produce sowed by greedy indifferent politicians in the Rainbow nation. This isn’t the first instance of xenophobic violence in South Africa targeting Africans, but it is proof that the trend is showing no signs of reversal.

But even if the looters and attackers have no idea of the deeply entrenched role their fellow Africans played in their struggle for freedom, they aren’t daft enough to forget one crucial point that renders their entire campaign obsolete:

African migrants aren’t to blame for the Black South African remaining at the bottom of the South African food chain. African migrants aren’t to blame for Black South Africans being born into the unchained, unbound bondage they have been subjected to since Mandela walked out of jail victoriously pumping a fist in the air giving his people the impression that better times were nigh. African migrants aren’t to blame for Black South Africans living in squalor, while salivating at their lush bountiful land that former apartheid era prison guards turned corporate executive Afrikaners lustfully graze upon.

You would think those machetes would be hacking away at the real causes of their misery and woe; incompetent leaders and an extremely greedy, minority section of society which has gobbled up the wealth which it robbed from defenseless Black people. But no. While this minority section of South African society’s most renown members should be on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide, they remain untouched at the top, pulling the strings of Black puppets in parliament. Thanks to a “truth and reconciliation” process, they have been absolved of all wrongdoings, the massacres of protesting Black students and the torture and execution of their revolutionaries, are so yesterday. As long as they promise to trade in their weapons for garden hoes, they can continue to farm and plow the land those executed revolutionaries are buried under. These people haven’t been targeted for violence despite their being the source of all that is wrong in the Rainbow nation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling for the pitchforks to be pointed at their necks in a literal sense, but the fact that they are nowhere near the bulls eye mark on the xenophobic mob dart boards, more than shows how deluded and misguided these youths are.

Due to the limited media coverage and the little to no international condemnation of the violence, the government of South Africa has responded with incredibly slow reaction timing in dealing with the violence. So long as corporate stock isn’t touched and foreign embassies are kept spic and span with no blood splattered on them, the South African police force appear to be content with their snail pace of dealing with the violence, arriving just in time to puff at the smoke from the smoldering ruins of a Somali man’s shop, long after it has been burnt to a crisp.

As usual, the Ethiopian government has issued no messages of condemnation nor calls to quell the violence. It’s business as usual in Addis Ababa, as Ethiopians stuck in the danger zones now eagerly await…..the posting of a helpline phone number on Facebook by the Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom. We wouldn’t be able to hear condemnation from Somalia with the noise of the bullets ricocheting outside the office of the Ministry of foreign affairs of Somalia, which means that just like in Yemen weeks ago and just like in Saudi Arabia in 2013, the cries of migrants will most definitely fall on deaf ears.

South Africa was always going to be a ticking time bomb, those of us who weren’t swayed by the Hollywood depictions of Morgan Freedom opening the gates to a Black man’s paradise of equal opportunity and prosperity knew this all along.

But I am more than disappointed, saddened and heartbroken that the impending implosion, which will result or is resulting due to a national boiling over of frustration…..will most certainly see innocent migrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Zambia, Malawi, Congo DR, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and other African nations unknowingly be placed in the front line of fire, attacked by an aimless, goalless, pointless, ambitionless, rootless gang of Afrophobic Black South African vikings.

With mass media declaring the plight of our African brothers or sisters not worthy of close up coverage, we the internet savvy generation of social media users must be the media. Sign all the petitions you can and popularize tweets such as ‪#‎xenophobicSA‬ ‪#‎stopxenophobia‬ among others. It’s indeed sad we are reduced to this, but as dynamite comes in small packages, we can create a boom loud enough to be heard across the horizons and I call on you to do so.

May God protect the innocent migrants in South Africa.


Guest Author

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