The Sunday News
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena
The Marikana massacres of South Africa remain a perfect metaphor in the demonstration of how power works and how it systematically kills its victims.
In the Marikana massacres the world saw poorly paid black police officers shooting down equally poorly paid black miners that were protesting against exploitation by the multinational mining corporation that they worked for.
The poor were spectacularly gunning down the poor as the wide world watched in horror and disbelief.
The individuals, organisations, interests and indeed forces that were the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the suffering of both the miners and the police officers were invisible, only the poor and their tragic dying became a spectacle for everyone to see.
In this short article I argue that, like the Marikana massacres, xenophobic attacks against black African foreigners in South Africa pit the poor against the poor while the true enemies and oppressors of the black African majority remain outside the radar.
The modern, colonial and capitalist world system works exactly like that, the poor victims of coloniality and racism at a world scale daily attack each other and become agents of their own death and destruction while their oppressors and exploiters remain unscathed or are they mentioned in the news about the lynching and massacres of vulnerable black African nationals.
Unpreparedness and Laziness
Based on his observations of the post-colonial history and condition of post-independence Ivory Coast, Frantz Fanon accused the African political and intellectual elites that at independence took over state power from the white colonialists of political unpreparedness and intellectual laziness. Politicians were strategically unprepared and intellectuals were too lazy to decipher the condition of Africa and envision durable futures for the people and their newly independent nations. The elite had no explanations for the continued poverty and suffering of the people when their white colonisers had left the reigns of political power. It is my argument that what is called xenophobia in South Africa which culminates in the violent attacks of poor black foreign nationals arises from the unpreparedness of politicians and the laziness of intellectuals in South Africa, in the main, and the rest of Africa. Politicians and intellectuals in Africa have no strong answers for the strong questions that face the black continent.
They claim easy victories here and tell some lies there to win votes and carry on in power. Scholars retreat into verbosity and obscurantism while strong questions and challenges that face the continent scream out for answers.
The politicians and scholars in South Africa neither have the vocabulary nor the political accent to explain to the black majority why the economy and real power remains in the hands of white minority. Both the scholars and the politicians tip-toe around contentious issues, dunk and dive for safety, and cannot confront coloniality that is at large in the land.
The easy thing to do has been to use the foreigners as a scapegoat and an excuse. As the weakest and most marginal people in the troubled land, the foreigners become perfect candidates for punishment by angry black South African masses that want to vent their anger of the centuries.
Finding themselves stateless and nationless in a country that is still haunted by the colonial nationalism of the homelands where South Africans from different homelands and provinces saw each other as enemies, foreigners become the victims of the victims.
It is in that way that xenophobia is a direct derivative of apartheid and its racism that divided people according to nationality, ethnicity and race. In that division, foreigners were placed at the bottom of the pyramid and the food chain.
The Elite Crime
When confronted with xenophobic violence, scholars and politicians sink into what philosophers call the “hermeneutic temptation,” which is the tendency of philosophers to scratch their heads and dig too deep for complex answers when the truth is lying around on the surface. The anger of black South Africans is over continuing poverty and marginality in a land of plenty. Politicians cannot admit their failure and scholars cannot own up to their laziness. The foreigner becomes the excuse and the alibi. Black and poor South Africans in Diepsloot and Alexandra do not understand the reality of prosperous Sandton across the road from them. Hell and heaven are divided by a road and something must be wrong.
Politicians with Pan-Africanist credentials, in search for votes and easy applause from angry rallies of black people blame foreigners for crime and the scarcity of basic necessities. The problem of drugs and criminality that are problems associated with poverty the world over are explained as criminal habits of foreigners.
That the economy remains an apartheid economy is not politically correct to mention and the powerful black politicians suddenly develop jelly knees, only the foreigner can be accused.
Powerful scholars with Black Consciousness histories and credentials cannot stand up and confront coloniality and continuing apartheid in the polity and the economy.
What they can only do is to blame foreign scholars for monopolising the academy and stealing the scarce limelight of the academy with their work and ideas.
Opportunistically, elite scholars and powerful politicians stoke xenophobic sentiments and circulate xenophobic sensibilities as political and intellectual wisdom.
Poor black South Africans pick these sensibilities and actualise them, they organise themselves to mob and lynch other poor black people from the rest of Africa. The same powerful politicians and storied intellectuals that generate the xenophobic rage come out to politely condemn or loudly wonder at the attacks.
A Question of Leadership
The problem of xenophobia in Africa demands strong political and intellectual leadership. Politicians and scholars need to provide strong answers to the strong questions of the day in South Africa and Africa at large. Political independence and democratisation in South Africa did not lead to liberation. Even the strongest and most beautiful constitutions in the world, that South Africa boasts of, cannot protect South Africans from poverty and suffering caused by an apartheid economy and a racist polity. It is the task of brave political leaders and courageous scholars to confront this coloniality.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Pretoria: [email protected]