Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
on your Newsreader!
Print this page
South Africa: Xenophobia & Civil Society
Aug 6, 2010 (100806)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Virtually every author concludes that violence against African
migrants will continue and increase unless some profound
socio-economic and attitudinal changes occur. This text thus sounds
a loud warning bell to South Africa about our future. And it does
so not merely based on the opinions of the authors, but because of
the views of ordinary South African citizens that informed the
research. ... survey after survey, focus group after focus group,
have shown deeply xenophobic attitudes rising steadily over time."
- David Everatt in introduction to report on South African Civil
Society and Xenophobia, July 2010
This 500-page report, based on more than three dozen case studies
and available a http://www.gcro.ac.za/news/xenophobia-reports-released, contains
an extensive analysis of the violence in 2008, attitudes and
structural background of tensions between South Africans of all
races and immigrants from other African countries, reports from
case studies in several different geographical areas, and analyses
of the responses to the violence from different sectors of South
Most significantly, it notes that the large-scale outburst of
violence in 2008 has been accompanied, before and after, by ongoing
smaller-scale violence, and that the danger of renewed larger-scale
violence remains serious, unless underlying causes are addressed.
Among the many distinctive contributions of this study are reports
from focus groups and surveys, both before and after the 2008
violence, and a chapter entitled "Migrant Voices" focused on
migrant civil society organizations in South Africa.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the overview essay
by David Everatt, and a short newspaper article by one of the
researchers describing a visit to a shack settlement in Chatsworth.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, available on the web
at http://www.africafocus.org/docs10/migr1008.php and sent out to
subscribers by e-mail, contains several recent reports on migrant
rights in Africa, including the inaugural gathering of the Pan
African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights, in Bamako, Mali, in
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration related issues,
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++
South African Civil Society and Xenophobia
(Johannesburg, July 2010)
This comprehensive 500-page report, coordinated by Strategy &
Tactics, was written by some of South Africa's leading social and
political scientists as well as civil society activists. The report
analyses the conditions that allowed xenophobic violence to erupt
in South Africa in May 2008, leaving 62 people dead.
But its real focus is on civil society organisations, which played
a key role in mitigating the worst of the violence and assisting
victims, while the state dithered.
Synthesis Report: Overview and Prospects
by David Everatt
introduction: things fall apart
For fifteen years after democracy's birth, xenophobic violence was
a barely reported but constant aspect of the South African
landscape. Buried beneath the 'miracle' of the 'rainbow nation', it
was like a sore tooth, a nagging, incessant but low-level
continuance, which erupted in May 2008 in an orgy of violence that
spread rapidly from Alexandra to other sites across the country ...
and then seemed to have stopped almost as suddenly. Since then,
violence directed against African migrants (legal and illegal,
documented and undocumented, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants)
- including murder, rape and robbery - has continued, but has
returned to its side-bar one-liner status in newspapers and
near-absence from the broadcast media.
It is argued here that a combination of deep structural social,
economic and spatial inequalities, an on-going reliance on cheap
labour, housing shortages, township retail competition, racism, a
history of the use of violence to advance sectional interests and
a traumatically scarred national psyche combined in early 2008 with
a desperately low national mood as the economy seemed to be in
free-fall and the ruling party was in the midst of factional
splitting, to create ripe conditions for the xenophobic outburst.
And it is equally clear that the violence will recur. Since May
2008, it has continued anyway, in its earlier form - sporadic,
poorly reported acts of violence, though no less murderous for that
- and unless we move South Africa away from 'business as usual', it
is reasonable to assume it will recur at scale as well.
As a result, the following assessment of the response of civil
society to May 2008 and the fault-lines reflected by the attitudes
that fed the violence, the violence itself, and the response of
civil society, business and state, is thus not an academic
exercise. Virtually every author concludes that violence against
African migrants will continue and increase unless some profound
socio-economic and attitudinal changes occur. This text thus sounds
a loud warning bell to South Africa about our future.
And it does so not merely based on the opinions of the authors, but
because of the views of ordinary South African citizens that
informed the research.
'A sudden thunderstorm'?
Whether it is entirely accurate to describe the May 2008 violence,
as Bishop Paul Verryn has labelled it, like a "sudden
thunderstorm", even he seems to doubt - "The warning signs were
very much in place before the full onslaught happened", he notes,
suggesting it may have been shocking but was not unexpected - the
thunderclouds had been building for a long time beforehand. Use of
the word 'xenophobic' is not uncontested. In his remembrance
tribute, then President Mbeki stated:
"As many were killed or maimed during the dark days of May,
thousands displaced, businesses and homes looted, and homes and
businesses destroyed by arson, I heard it said insistently that my
people have turned or have become xenophobic.
The word xenophobia means a deep antipathy towards or hatred of
foreigners. When I heard some accuse my people of xenophobia, of
hatred of foreigners, I wondered what the accusers knew about my
people, which I did not know.
Over many years, I have visited many parts of our country, both
urban and rural, in all our provinces, and met many people from
other countries, including African countries, who have not
hesitated to announce their countries of origin....
Everything I know about my people tells me that these heirs to the
teachings of Tiyo Soga, J.G. Xaba and Pixley Seme, the masses who
have consistently responded positively to the Pan-African messages
of the oldest liberation movement on our continent, the African
National Congress, are not xenophobic.
These masses are neither antipathetic towards, nor do they hate
foreigners. And this I must also say - none in our society has any
right to encourage or incite xenophobia by trying to explain naked
criminal activity by cloaking it in the garb of xenophobia.
I know that there are some in our country who will charge that what
I have said constitutes a denial of our reality."
Whether or not it was 'xenophobic' - a point repeatedly rejected by
Mbeki and most of his fellow African National Congress (ANC)
leaders, who insisted it was "naked criminal activity" - or
'Afrophobic' or 'negrophobic' as others have tried to explain it
(see below) - seems rather trite in the face of the murder, rape,
injury, theft and displacement that resulted, as it is in the face
of the massive popular mobilisation spear-headed by civil society
organisations (CSOs) in the face of dithering, bickering and
lethargy from the state and its officials. We return to the issue
below, but we should be clear from the outset: all the evidence and
research data indicate that Mbeki was indeed in denial about
'his' people. As this book reminds us, survey after survey, focus
group after focus group, have shown deeply xenophobic attitudes
rising steadily over time. Ordinary South African citizens --
despite the heroic anti-apartheid struggle, but surely unsurprising
in the context of segregation and apartheid - are deeply uneasy
about 'other' Africans. These 'others' may be from Limpopo, or the
rest of Africa.
Mbeki counterposed the pan-African visions of Soga, Xaba and Seme,
and his own biography, as evidence in support of his assertion that
"I will not hesitate to assert that my people are not diseased by
the terrible affliction of xenophobia which has, in the past, led
to the commission of the heinous crime of genocide."
Yet ordinary citizens were as definite in asserting the reverse, as
the following sequence (taken from a focus group of unemployed men
from Olievenhoutsbosch) illustrates:
R: Unemployed citizens don't have food to eat but foreigners are
sure that they are going to get three meals a day; they are
provided with breakfast, lunch and supper whereas we have to
struggle on our own to feed our families.
Government is using the taxpayers' money to feed foreigners at the
expense of its people.
R: I don't think that the xenophobic attacks will never happen
again; it is going to take maybe ten years to address the various
issues surrounding foreigners, xenophobia will take a long time to
be addressed in South Africa.
Government is talking about reintegrating foreigners back to the
communities that chased them away in the first instance. These
people are not originally from South Africa; they come from various
countries, I think that the only solution is for government to
deport them back to their countries. The government must commit
itself to taking these people back to their own countries; that is
where they belong.
R: Government must introduce a system through which it will control
foreigners because at the moment they come and go as they please.
Foreigners are taking our jobs and houses from us; most of them own
houses and businesses in the township. They can afford to do all
these things because they are employed whereas we are unable to
afford the basic things.
R: Foreigners can afford to buy stands and build houses because
they have jobs.
R: I want to add something; every foreigner who is employed has
robbed a South African of that job and every foreigner who does not
work commits crime.
Where Verryn is spot on in his metaphor is in the sudden outburst
of the violence and its equally sudden cessation, just like a
Highveld thunderstorm (which also implies its inevitable return, of
course). Like spring or autumn showers, low-level violence aimed at
African migrants preceded and followed the storm, and anti-foreign
sentiments had been evident from before the 1994 democratic
elections and grown in intensity during the years thereafter. But
the May 2008 outbreak was a massive eruption which threw into
relief many of the fault-lines of South African society, and
provided an opportunity for civil society to play a leading (and
creative) role in mobilising funds and people and public opinion,
directly intervening to save lives, help the injured, reunite
families, challenge and shame the state and politicians into
something resembling action, liaise with the international
community, organise itself into more relevant structures, get
closer to citizens, and generally remind us of its former power as
a major player on the South African landscape.
While politicians argued and their parties squabbled, civil society
in its truest form - community-based organisations, social
movements, faith-based organisations, workers, unemployed people,
school-children and students, shop-keepers and any number of
citizens from all walks of life, working alongside the
non-governmental organisations (NGOs), threw their energies, money,
goods and beliefs into helping the victims of the violence. Could
it potentially be a new dawn for the civil society sector, once so
powerful in South Africa, with its tradition of humanism, of
ubuntu? Did the massive mobilisation of goods and services - and
the politicisation of a whole new generation including, critically,
children and youth - suggest that civil society organisations might
be able to regain some of the gains lost since 1994? That question
motivated this study at a time when faith in the new democratic
government of South Africa was wobbly, at best.
The focus of this book is not xenophobia per se; nor is it the
migrants, refugees and others who were the focus of so much rage;
nor is the state. Rather, the focus is on the intersection that the
'thunderstorm' - the causal high-pressure systems - provides,
between understanding South Africa's post-apartheid trajectory, and
the conditions, role and prospects of civil society. Some saw May
2008 as a watershed that could be built on to catapult civil
society back to the power and prominence it enjoyed during the
anti-apartheid struggle, but most particularly in the 1990-94
interregnum; others regard such a notion as hopelessly romantic.
The Atlantic Philanthropies funded this wide-ranging research
project, involving multiple institutions and authors, in order to
better understand what happened in different parts of South Africa;
what roles civil society played; if and how coalitions and other
forms of united action worked;what gaps were missed;and what is
needed to make civil society a strong, permanent feature of the
socio-political landscape rather than merely a powerful
crisis-response sector. This in turn can only occur when grounded
in a sober assessment of the economic, social and political
conditions in which the violence occurred, as well as a blunt
assessment of the state of civil society today.
This book is based on primary research in different parts of South
Africa. It is qualitative, and makes no claim to national
representativity - we have no work on the Eastern Cape, for
example, where attacks on Somali shop-keepers were early signals of
the later crisis (and where they have continued unabated). That
said, more than three-dozen case studies have fed into a
substantial synthesis and book-length overview authored by a
mixture of prominent commentators, academics and activists. We
deliberately include the voices of migrants and migrant civil
society within the country (absent from virtually every other
narrative). And we include a critical, progressive review of civil
society in South Africa in 2010.
This collection, therefore, is both overdue and makes a
considerable contribution to debate. All the participants agree
that it is only through debate, based on primary data and rigorous
analysis, that we can hope to shake some sections of civil society
from a post-1994 torpor and re-ignite the energies that made the
sector so important in South Africa, and in the world, in the
defeat of apartheid.
what happened? and why?
In May 2008, any lingering, wistful hopes for the 'miracle' of the
post-apartheid 'Rainbow Nation' were immolated. The wave of
violence ripped across Gauteng and then spread like uneven wildfire
across the country, with patches spared, but with sufficient
viciousness to leave 62 dead, almost 700 injured, and hundreds of
thousands displaced from their homes country-wide. While the
violence was mainly directed at foreign-born African migrants, it
included 'Shangaans' - South Africans from Limpopo in particular,
who failed linguistic tests such as knowing the isiZulu word for
'elbow' (indololwane). This was a gruesome re-creation of the
infamous pencil test of the apartheid regime, which was used to
separate those who would live a white life (with their smooth hair)
from those whose hair condemned them to the life of a black
non-citizen in white South Africa.
There was of course a context in which the violence occurred. This
is important:actual flare-ups often resulted from petty and quite
localised moments - as Dube shows in her Ramaphosa case study, a
criminal gang comprising South Africans and Mozambicans turned on
each other while arguing about how to divide their spoils, and the
resulting fight and murder of a gang member triggered a savage wave
of violence in the entire area. It could do so because of the
broader context, which made the incident - laughable in any other
situation - a highly flammable trigger event.
By May 2008, the national mood had reached its nadir. The
xenophobic violence occurred at a moment when frustration peaked
over spiralling interest rates, recent electricity black-outs
endemic in the major centres, soaring oil and food prices,
worsening unemployment, increasing complaints (and protest) about
poor service delivery and ubiquitous crime. Those looking to the
ruling party for leadership found it to be deeply split between the
incumbent but distant national President Mbeki and a disparate
group clustered around his opponent and ANC President Jacob Zuma,
himself having been tried and acquitted on charges of rape and
still facing charges for alleged corruption. The electricity
blackouts in particular shook the confidence of ordinary citizens
of all races, suggesting - in characteristically South African
fashion - simultaneously arrogant and fearful -that we may indeed
be living in 'just another African country' instead of an imaginary
First World space where services run uninterrupted, smoothly and
affordably. More affluent South Africans of all races spoke
increasingly of emigration; and those less well-off blamed
'foreigners' for taking 'their' share of the national cake: jobs,
houses, consumer sales and even women.
Everything came to be blamed on foreigners, as I describe in a
later chapter drawn from focus groups being conducted at the time
(focusing on socio-political issues). Unemployment was blamed on
foreigners undercutting locals; lack of housing occurred because
foreigners bribed officials; lack of services resulted from the
same, which saw foreigners jump to the front of the queue; there
were no small-scale market entry opportunities because foreigners
had taken them; foreigners were selling drugs to 'the youth' who
were increasingly beyond their parents' control; foreigners were
committing crime; the ANC government, with its mistrusted exile
leadership, was seen to be 'soft on foreigners'; and on and on went
the list of complaints.
The focus groups provided a window through which one can see the
process of 'othering' foreigners reach its peak as they were
accused of 'killing our nation'. Mbeki valiantly argued that
'[t]hose who have eyes to see' would see that only better-off
foreigners with 'property to loot' were targeted; those with shops
were attacked; that criminals were out to make a fast buck at the
expense of foreigners. This surreal attempt at attributing
xenophobic consciousness to class analysis - blaming the victims by
mistaking their terrible desperation and extremely hard work for
parasitic wealth - is contradicted by the focus groups (which make
no claims to representivity but still tell us volumes about
According to sentiments expressed openly in these groups,
foreigners are morally bankrupt, they 'make babies with our sisters
and then run away after that', they were 'sucking on our
system','these guys from outside ... commit crime','they are the
ones who commit so much rape', and 'they sell everything we want to
sell'. To add insult to injury, in the midst of tough economic and
political times for South Africans, by comparison with other parts
of Africa 'this is heaven on paradise for them ... they are living
like kings' - this last remark sounding closer to the way Mbeki
chose to understand the violence and attitudes to foreigners. In
over 20 focus groups of all races and classes, just one individual
found something positive to say. For the majority in groups staged
before May 2008, the response was clear: 'If we could work together
... we could fight off these foreigners and drive them home'.
And lest we come to see it as a momentary aberration, in a second
phase of groups that were staged in August/September 2008, most
respondents were clear that 'for now it is silent but it is going
to happen again' (African female 30-39 from Olievenhoutsbosch), and
our renowned ubuntu16 seemed in short supply: 'I want to add
something' said an African male from Olievenhoutsbosch, 'every
foreigner who is employed has robbed a South African of that job
and every foreigner who does not work commits crime'.
And finally, it is worth noting that attitudes have not changed
over time. In late 2009, the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO)
commissioned a large sample survey in the Gauteng city-region
(which includes the whole of Gauteng province and key economic
footprints beyond its borders but which are fully integrated into
the Gauteng economy, such as Sasolburg or Rustenburg). During the
survey, respondents were given a 5-point scale (from strongly agree
through agree, a neutral midpoint to disagree and strongly
disagree) with the statement: 'Foreigners are taking benefits meant
for South Africans'. The statement is a Likert item, in which
deliberately provocative statements are read to respondents, who
respond against a scale permitting more nuanced analysis.
A shocking 69% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the
statement. As the graph makes clear, there was no significant
difference between those living in a house and those in shacks, or
those with a degree and those who had never been to school at all.
Across the race/class divide, one thing seemed to unite
respondents, namely their dislike of foreigners. We can argue that
this does not equate with xenophobia, that the question could have
been better phrased, and on and on, but the bottom line remains:
South Africans, black and white, do not seem to like black African
But where Mbeki may guide us, if we are observant, is that
xenophobia, Afrophobia or negrophobia are overwhelmingly symptoms
of a deeper malaise, the hang-over of dispossession, violence
racism, intolerance, and the use of force to settle disputes. This
has been 'the South African way' for centuries, and has bequeathed
to those living in the present a deeply scarred national psyche.
Without genuine, deep-seated healing - which is coupled to genuine
redistribution and the reduction of inequality - no progress is
conceivable. Xenophobia is a reflection of the deeper damage done
There is a debate within this book about civil and uncivil society,
the latter being organised and semiorganised community-based groups
who undertake 'illegal' action for 'legitimate' reasons, such as
reconnecting electricity to the houses of poor people disconnected
as a result of their inability to pay, or rioting against corrupt
councillors. In this important debate, there is a clear appeal to
a higher moral authority - services for the poor - and a sense that
state failure requires an unprecedented degree of pressure against
authorities, rather than mere warlordism and opposition to "rules
of the game" that are considered illegitimate from start to finish.
The debate surfaces in a number of the papers in this book, and
should carefully be followed, given how many recent "service
delivery protests" move from burning a councillor's house or
municipal library to looting an immigrant's shop.
But there is a parallel debate about how to understand what 'civil
society' meant in the context of the May 2008 violence, and of
on-going deeply uncivil attitudes to foreigners. As economic and
political instability swirled around citizens in May 2008, they
broke in two ways. On the one hand, citizens - including political
and civic organisations - had been blaming 'foreigners' - by which
they meant black, African migrants - with a terrifying verbal
ferocity in focus groups and on film that was soon reflected in the
savagery meted out to African migrants - and some South Africans
with darker skin or Limpopo origins and accents - just days after
the focus groups ended.
But while citizens were engaged in murder and looting, other
citizens rose to defend, protect and help foreigners - those who
were already victims, those who were displaced, and those who were
simply foreign and thus potential victims. South Africans savagely
attacked foreigners, stole their goods, raped women, and behaved in
every degrading way that they accused 'foreigners' of doing.
Members of political organisations, social movements, churches,
civic associations and other organs of civil society, as well as
ordinary citizens, took part in the violence, or stood by cheering
or laughing as it occurred. And yet many of their fellow citizens,
members of those same organisations, rose to the challenge of
stopping violence, helping victims, litigating to force the state
to act, soliciting donations, offering humanitarian assistance, and
shaming their political leaders. Were these both acts of civil
society, more or less civil? We return to this question below.
Civil society was at the heart of responding to the humanitarian
crisis, while the state seemed torn by contradictory responses from
different spheres and leaders, the Tripartite Alliance21 dithered
and bickered, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) leadership
in many areas seemed frozen into immobility but in others acted
swiftly to stop violence (compounding the notion of a deeply
fractured, rudderless party), and the private sector (here meaning
the larger corporate entities) made a lot of noise but did little
more. Civil society - individuals and organisations - filled the
gap. Humanitarian relief, advocacy, lobbying, litigation, taking
statements, treating injuries, providing massive amounts of goods
(blankets, food and so on in a cold winter) and a range of other
interventions were provided by faith-based organisations, trade
unions, social movements, non-profits and the general public.
Coalitions sprang into existence in different provinces - analysed
in detail in this book - to draw in new individuals and
organisations, build on the strengths of existing NGOs (in
particular), and maximise impact. Some 5 000 people marched against
xenophobia in Johannesburg - led by the 'independent left' social
movements and with the ANC and COSATU notably absent - while shops
donated food, workers at small businesses gave food and blankets,
and school children held all-night vigils to raise money and goods
for displaced people. Police stations in many areas were swamped
with donations, as were churches, many located scores of kilometres
away from the violence itself.
. . .
And while most commentators agree that xenophobia was more symptom
than cause, we should not shy away from a blunt assessment of the
remarkable anti-African racism, fear, ignorance, anger and loathing
shown towards non-South African Africans by South Africans of all
races; just as we should not avert our eyes from the murder taking
place, even though it was being committed by our fellow South
It is common cause that despite remarkable achievements in some
areas, despite social grants and free basic services, despite
development programmes in virtually every sector, despite Black
Economic Empowerment (BEE) and its follow-up, Broad-Based Black
Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), government has signally failed to
address inequality. Poverty levels have slowly but steadily
decreased over time. But South Africa is in the top three most
unequal countries on earth, and Johannesburg among the most unequal
cities on earth, joined by Pretoria.
South Africa remains in limbo - post-apartheid but not yet the
non-racial, non-sexist democracy envisioned in the Constitution;
still a transitional society, yet without sign-posts telling
citizens when they will have arrived at post-transitional 'real'
South Africa. And while that obtains, the fertile breeding ground
remains in place for xenophobia, as it does for rape, for violent
crime, for racism and the other social ills by which we are
increasingly identified in the world.
This book offers a series of recommendations - some easily
implemented, others less so - for seeking to reinvigorate civil
society and to attack xenophobia. But underlying those
recommendations is a basic reality that business as usual -
economic, social, political - cannot continue. The book details the
impact of poverty and in particular inequality - economic, spatial,
social - that provides the space in which xenophobia (and so many
other phobias) takes root. Xenophobia, we repeatedly argue, is a
symptom of a deeper malaise. And what all of this points to is that
a rupture with the 1994-2010 period is now required.
The 1994-2010 years should be seen as the interregnum (rather than
1990-1994), a moment when the country bowed before the fear of
'market jitters', 'capital flight' and other bogeymen but has come
to realise that radical shifts are needed regardless of what 'the
market' threatens to do, precisely because 'the market' - as
currently configured - has failed to transform or to assist the
broader national transformation project. It is a period during
which black and white learned that we can live together - but we
don't know how. New rules are needed. A new society is needed. All
South Africans, and all others living in South Africa, need to
jointly re-imagine ourselves and South Africa, as we were asked to
do in the early 1990s. The inevitability of gradualism -
trickle-down, in other words - will not suffice. If the cause is to
be tackled, rather than the symptom treated, then the transition -
the socio-economic transition - needs to be completed.
Seeking solutions in times of insecurity
By Shepherd Zvavanhu
The Mercury, 3 August 2010
On a recent Sunday morning, I saw xenophobia as close as I ever
want to: the anger of a poor community in Durban's main hotspot,
The shack settlement of an estimated four thousand residents is
located in Chatsworth, and suffers divided political loyalties
between two camps within the African National Congress.
It is an unusually violent settlement, known for leadership crisis
and warlordism. But in many ways it is no different than the 100
similar desperate shack settlements in which so many live.
At the July 25 meeting, 300 people from Bottlebrush gathered for
several hours. Three of us came from the UKZN Centre for Civil
Society (CCS), and I addressed the crowd in isi-Zulu, alongside
Our appeal was to halt the pressure on immigrants that generated
attacks and mass flight in May 2008, and again three weeks ago,
just as the World Cup ended.
We were first questioned on who we are, where we came from (one of
us is Zimbabwean and another Congolese), which political party our
Centre is affiliated to (none), and if we were not 'sell-outs' (we
don't think so).
Our Centre provides a platform for people to address issues of
concern to all communities, and xenophobia is the main cancer
eating away at the body politic from within South African civil
society. We recently issued a 100-page report by ten researchers
plus a national team coordinated by
Atlantic Philanthropies and the Johannesburg NGO Strategy&Tactics.
Our visit to Bottlebrush followed extensive research there by CCS
post-graduate student Trevor Ngwane. According to Ngwane, even in
the wake of a government housing project, "It is hard to
distinguish the new houses from the old brick houses some people
built for themselves, everything appears drab and sub-standard."
Ngwane observes, "Electricity has been installed at Bottlebrush and
one can see wires confusedly crisscrossing the street poles intent
on finding their way into each yard. Most shacks are made of planks
or wooden boards pinned together with rusty nails. Each yard can
squeeze in as many as 13 shacks."
The settlement was launched more than twenty years ago, when ANC
refugees fled political violence in nearby KwaNdengezi township,
and the ANC Branch Executive Committee still rules. But according
to Ngwane, "Almost every respondent who commented on the issue held
this committee in disgust because of their poor and allegedly
corrupt leadership. "
We accepted an invitation to visit Bottlebrush from a local leader,
Fundisi Mhlongo. Our aim was to hear concerns from locals as well
as share experiences.
Bottlebrush leaders discussed fraud and corruption by local elites,
the need for proper housing, electricity, water and sanitation and
their unhappiness over rising municipal bills. Residents applauded
Mhlongo's knowledge, and the meeting proposed that he run for a
position as local councillor in next year's municipal elections.
But then came the hard part, as locals explained why they think
their problems stem from the presence of immigrants.
They blame us for taking jobs, as companies in the area allegedly
retrench locals and replace them with much lower-paid foreigners,
who, they say, accept wages of as little as R20 per day, instead of
joining a fight to earn a living wage. A company can employ four
Zimbabweans for the salary of one local, one man claimed to
As for housing, locals can't access accommodation, while immigrants
pay far higher rents, because many more squeeze into shacks.
Foreigners may stay in groups of five where they contribute R500 a
month for rooms that earlier cost locals only R200 rent. Some
landlords prefer to take
foreigners as tenants, instead of locals, because we are
As Ngwane put it, "the housing crisis is stoking xenophobia in
Bottlebrush. This is because of unscrupulous landlords who take
advantage of both the shortage of housing and the vulnerable status
of African immigrants."
We explained our plight, such as looting of the Democratic Republic
of the Congo, with increasing involvement by shady South African
firms. As for my country's background, I trace it partly to the
move by Mzilikazi away from Shaka. Matabeleland is full of
Khumalos, Ndlovus and Dlaminis
so by attacking Zimbabweans, xenophobes are spilling their own
During the apartheid era, we gave refuge to people like Jacob Zuma
and many others from the liberation movements. This was repaid not
through kindness, but by government supporting President Robert
Mugabe against a mass democratic opposition, even helping to cover
up electoral fraud and tyranny.
I begged the Bottlebrush community not to legitimise the boundaries
imposed by colonialists, and to treat Africans as one nation.
Immigrants do not choose to leave beloved families and homes
voluntarily. Not only Zimbabweans, but Congolese, Burundians,
Somalis, Ethiopians, Rwandans etc flee from despotic governments to
save their lives.
I described what I felt when crossing the Limpopo River some years
ago. The majority of Zimbabweans here ran from Mugabe and his
killer militias, such as the Green Bombers. Some of us were
approached at night, our families beaten, tortured and killed in
front of them, our houses and documents burnt, and in some cases
our children and wives raped in front of us.
At the same time, our companies closed due to the economic meltdown
and people ended up eating wild fruits. This is why there are so
many Zimbabweans in South Africa.
The SA government is the region's mediator on Zimbabwe and should
stop shielding Mugabe. Free and fair elections there will change
the kind of government, but by continuing to support Mugabe, more
and more Zimbabweans will come to South Africa.
And if South Africans suffer both a shortage of housing and an
unemployment crisis, then why not solve these simultaneously? Why
not demand a mass construction programme just as ambitious and
urgent as building new soccer stadiums?
There are solutions if we put our minds together. In the meantime,
appealed Mhlongo to Bottlebrush, "we must not beat the foreigners".
(Zvavanhu did community research for the CCS xenophobia report.)
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with
a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please
write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin,
or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about
reposted material, please contact directly the original source
mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see