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Wednesday / March 29.

Xenophobia: South Africa’s new apartheid?

By Arnav Bharadwaj

On 24 February 2017, residents of Mamelodi and Atteridgeville in South Africa came out onto the streets to protest against the presence of Nigerian, Pakistani and Zimbabwean migrants. These immigrants were accused of stealing jobs and perpetrating all sorts of crimes. The protests culminated into a violent clash between the police and protesters and the police were forced to employ tear gas and grenades to calm the crowd.

From Racial Segregation to Regional Leadership

South Africa has traditionally been hailed as a ‘Rainbow Nation’, owing to the peaceful co-existence of various ethnic groups in the country. However, this unity was nothing more than a utopian concept even a few decades ago. The country was torn apart by the atrocious system of apartheid from 1948 to 1991 where the blacks and the whites were segregated even in public facilities like toilets. The system was entirely based on racial stratification. Eventually, this system created a situation of deep resentment and hatred between the varied ethnic groups.

Post-apartheid, these communities started embracing each other’s differences and the erstwhile establishment of a peaceful multiethnic society materialised once again. Taking into account the atrocious segregation policy followed just a few years ago, this was nothing short of a miracle. This harmonious unity and collaboration created a conducive environment for rapid industrialisation. Hence, the economic growth of South Africa was simulated at a time when the rest of its African counterparts were still recovering from the ravages of colonialism. As it soon became a role model for the rest of its African counterparts, South Africa established itself as a regional leader in the continent.

Xenophobia: Murder of Social Harmony

This harmonious existence, which formed the basis of South Africa’s development, is on the verge of extinction as the snake of racial segregation rears its ugly head again. This time it has manifested itself in the form of xenophobia, which is already wreaking havoc in many of its Western counterparts. The economic growth of the country seems to be instilling a sense of superiority among many of its citizens, who look down upon Nigerians, Somalis, Malawians, Pakistanis and Zimbabweans. The contempt for these immigrants stems from deep prejudices and stereotyped notions within their society. These immigrants get targeted for all sorts of wrongdoings ranging from crime to being opportunist job-seekers.

Ironically, this stratification is practiced by the very same citizens whose forefathers faced brutal oppression and alienation due to racial discrimination. As these citizens revel in their newfound quasi-superiority, the country goes through the same turmoil and conflicts, which ravaged the country a few decades ago. Surprisingly, white immigrants are free of these accusations, rather they are adulated as “harbingers of work and capital” with their success being portrayed as the “epitome of progress”. On the other hand, the immigrants from the smaller, less developed nations are tagged as “illegal immigrants”, “opportunists”, “criminals” and “drug peddlers”. Unfortunately, the expression of these prejudices is no longer confined to covert echo-chambers. Instead, these views are articulated openly on public platforms like TVs and radios.

Have we come too far to save the situation?

There are still many South Africans who regret this xenophobia resulting in parallel antixenophobia protests. This minority group is striving to explain the hypocrisy represented by the  “anti-immigrant” protest. The prevailing xenophobia comes across as a gross reminder of the apartheid era. It is threatening to push South Africa back to its tumultuous pre-1991 condition. It is important to understand that the high rate of unemployment is responsible for creating such resentment among the citizens of South Africa.

It is imperative to devise solutions to this pressing issue before it creates further problems. When the protesters have a stable job and a roof over their heads, they will be able to analyse the situation rationally and identify the irony of the situation. It is necessary that the xenophobic protesters realise the significance of South Africa’s great founding principles. After all, the world expects South Africa to uphold the title of ‘Rainbow Nation’ which it lovingly bestowed on the country a few decades ago.