Is political language behind the latest Xenophobic attacks?

THERE are number of theories doing the rounds as to why the latest round of xenophobic attacks,  despite the success of the World Cup, seem a strong eventuality. As I write this, there are renewed reports of violence, looting and fear amongst South Africa’s immigrant community who have borne the brunt of hatred from our nations’ citizens. A recurrence on the scale of 2008 may be unlikely but the stain of the well-planned pogroms against foreigners two years ago remains and has driven perceptions of what is to follow.

For starters we have the failure of the ANC Youth League to issue an apology for its outrageous use of the slogan: “Kill the Boer.”

“Kill the Boer” has quickly turned into “Kill the foreigner” and it is the ANC which needs to account for the attacks of 2008 — the result of the much vaunted Mugabeite “war against the white man” outlined by Julius Malema and his stormtroopers, which merely backfired into the all too familiar black-on-black violence which characterized the late eighties.

The violent political language and angry rhetoric which has entered much of the political debate in government circles over the past decade also needs to be resoundingly condemned, not merely for furthering the ambitions of race chauvinists and black supremacists in government circles, but also for instigating crimes against humanity. The 2008 genocide against Somali’s and Malawian immigrants was clearly such a crime, as too the current spectacle of criminality unleashed by thugs amongst the ANCYL

A photograph of yesterday’s murder of a Malawian in the Western Cape speaks louder than words.

It is not enough to simply decode South Africa’s peculiar internecine strife within the vocabulary of township struggle. Ask any South African what is going on with the Amakwerekwere in the township and you get the stock character assassination and blood libel. Either “they are too black” or “they don’t speak our language” as hatred against white immigration turns into hatred against black immigration. In a sense we have all been turned into emigres of a foreign land, with the South African government’s steadfast refusal to accept immigration on any term other than its foreignness. (See this posting)

The pogroms are thus not simply the result of economic jealousy by the vast mass of unemployed youth in the townships, even though our immigrants tend to do better than our locals, working harder, and longer for less. They speak of a basic fact of human nature — fear of the other, ignorance of each others culture.

The xenophobic attacks against all that which is “alien”, “foreign” or “unknown have surely created a deep wound which clearly the World Cup has not managed to heal. It is not enough to simply wave the national flag, sing the national anthem, blow a Vuvuzela and claim football unites.

Even though South Africans have embraced the essence of multicultural cosmopolitanism by supporting the footballers of Ghana, and Spain, we need concrete steps, not symbolic gestures. A common language, civics classes for new immigrants, literacy and education for all,  if we are to survive to avoid another genocide.

Communication on the street is already difficult as it is — having a huge  influx of newcomers from up North who don’t speak a word of English or any one of the 11 official languages makes it far worse. It is bad enough that we already have too many official languages, (12 if you count language for the deaf). When immigrants speak none of the above, and when there are too many dialects floating around to create a lingua franca without some form of divine intervention, there is trouble.

It is not another trite theory to suggest that when  hordes of newcomers who don’t speak any Nguni language arrive on our shores — some 15 000 each month in the Western Cape alone — our primal and primitive instincts reign supreme. Try having an argument with a shop-owner who only speaks Arabic, as many Somalis do, or try entering into cultural discourse with a Congolese whose closest language may only be French?

Civics classes and language laws that ensure that immigrants learn the rudiments of what it means to be South African could change all of this.

Knowledge of our history, culture and traditions should be a requisite for gaining the vote, as too basic insights into our Bill of Rights.  Waving a flag, blowing a Vuvuzela and carting the president aloft over one of the national Stadiums is clearly not enough

UPDATE: Statement by Zackie Achmat

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