There is another side to this xenophobia issue that we will have to tackle once people are safe and the reprehensible necklacings have ceased.
In the process of unpacking this horror, I sincerely hope there will be space made to discuss and interrogate the factors that lead to people leaving their native countries in the first place, and the role that African leaders are playing in that!
Some people come to South Africa (SA) to get an education. Some come to take up professional careers. Others come because they follow their hearts to marry South Africans. The reality, however, is that the greatest number of migrants leave their countries to come here seeking respite from war, political exclusion/oppression and poverty (Just like South Africans did during apartheid).
So, we are talking here about the most vulnerable members of humankind. Psychologically broken from being politically hounded, forcibly removed from their homes and possibly having lost family members in horrific incidents.
Economically wiped out and socially excluded. If anyone thinks that can be an easy thing for a human being to bear and survive, they are wrong. Starting over again in a new country where you do not know your way around, do not know the language and are ridiculed, with no capital and depending on handouts cannot be easy.
It is also not the African way (whatever the politicians and the International Monetary Fund [IMF] may have convinced you of!). Many would stay home and farm to feed their families and build their futures within their own communities if they could afford the farm inputs and the land.
However, back where they come from, political corruption precludes them from land ownership and meaningful economic participation. So they begin to buy into the dream of going to a whole new world where they might get the opportunity to take care of their families and regain their human dignity. (If you are a parent, you know that feeding your children is a top priority and you will do all in your power to ensure it happens. And because you know your circumstances, educating them to ensure they escape a similar fate is a second priority.)
This is where most of these people are coming from and this is why they are here. You do not see them at Tashas living it up and lunching with their families. Or watching the dolphin show at Ushaka Marine World. No, they are in that little shop trying to make a living to ensure their children eat that night. That little container is their safe house, their hope for a brighter future and now also their casket on the pyre of hatred that is being stoked by those who should know better.
This is #UbuntuFail on an epic level. Be that as it may, we foreigners also cannot keep weeping to be allowed to stay in a country where the majority believe we are leeching and not adding value (whether that leeching is real or perceived). Because the truth is that African leaders have failed African nations to a large extent. If our leaders fulfilled their floral and beguiling electoral promises, the degree of migration to the South would be less, or, at least, it would be more voluntary, meaning those who get here would have a better shot at quality work and lifestyles and also contribute to and integrate in a greater way into their adopted society or their original homes. There is surely a measure of blame to be laid at the feet of our leaders.
As much as we are clamouring to hear from Zuma, we should also be clamouring to hear from the various presidents of the affected nationalities! They surely have something to say.
Why are their people emigrating in droves? Their poorest and most vulnerable people! We need to hear from them too. What plan do they have for their people? And will that plan take five years to formulate?
My question to my countrymen of Malawi (my home and heartland), is what is it that we are going to do differently going forward, having experienced this trauma in SA? Will this impact on our sense of civic initiative and ignite more robust engagement with our government regarding economic growth, job creation and enterprise development? Will we demand performance now?
Will we go back to the floral electoral manifestos and start checking delivery against promises, asking questions where necessary and playing a role where called upon? Will we become more entrepreneurial and work collectively in the private sector? Or will we just get on those repatriation buses that have been arranged to Lilongwe; only to return three years from now to take another beating at the hands of those who have been failed by their own system and need a scapegoat for their own pain?.
- The author is a Malawian citizen permanently residing in Durban, South Africa. She is managing director of MatricMag Pty Ltd.