Our leaders instilled Xenophobic ideas into our citizens

It is with great sadness that my reason for blogging about Xenophobia before “the SABC saga” as I promised on my previous blog comes from a deep sadness and embarrassment to me as a South African.

Today I’m not proud to say I’m a South African not because I’m short, poor or dark in complexion no, but because my brothers and sisters have allowed themselves to be convinced by criminals that they are different to my brothers and sisters from other countries within Africa.

They were not easily convinced to attack my brothers and sisters from other beautiful African countries but were manipulated by the dirty criminal minds through the use of their fear of dying poor or houseless or not getting a job to put food on the table in order to feed their families.

They did not buy into this idea because they are dumb but because they are poor and desperately need the RDP house that was sold to my Brother and Sister from Zimbabwe or Nigeria by its previous occupant (South African) who opted to go back to the life of living in a shack.

But this has been on the pipeline for years and yes it did not originate from the ordinary citizens in the townships or the poorest community members but from those we elected into power to “leader us not into temptation” but to equality and a non-racial nor xenophobic society.

Below are sections from an article presented almost exactly three years ago, (April 2005) by Prof. Michael Neocosmos from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Sociology, during a Lunch Research Seminar at Rhodes University (Sociology department) on the general topic of Xenophobia.


The inserts will give you an idea why I said what I said above, why I believe our Intelligence has failed us and why I believe that these are well organised attacks which our intelligence should have been ahead of. Lastly why our leaders’ reactions to these attacks have been mild instead of harsh statements…  


I was still a second year student back then… this blog will attempt to summarise what he presented  


…it is also relevant to note the position taken by the Commission on the SADC Draft Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons in the SADC Region of June 1995.  The objective of this agreement was the progressive abolition of border controls on citizens of member states.  Reminiscent of some of the resolutions adopted in 1958 in Accra and influenced by Pan-Africanism, the Draft Protocol calls on member states inter alia to confer, promote  and protect in relation to every citizen of a member state:

the right to enter freely and without a visa the territory of another Member State for a short visit;

the right to reside in the territory of another Member State;

the right to establish oneself and work in the territory of another Member State. (section 566).

While identifying “itself with the ultimate objectives underlying the Draft Protocol”, the Commission distances itself from its recommendations “in the current circumstances of highly uneven development in the SADC region” (section 568).  What this meant of course was that despite its asserted willingness to support the integration of the regional labour market, the Commission simply backed the South African chauvinist fear of being ‘swamped by foreign immigrants’ rather than seriously addressing the issue of how such integration was to be achieved. 


The Commission Report above, suggest that even for the most ‘progressively minded’ South African intellectuals and politicians concerned with democratisation, the wishes of those most affected by the migration process and a change in citizenship were not being addressed.  Rather while paying lip-service to the democratisation of regional relations including the migratory labour system, their perspective was one of ‘democratisation from above’ and they preferred to hide behind a short term narrow conception of ‘national interest’ insofar as regional relations were concerned.  This amounted to a conception of ‘national interest’ defined by the state and its apparatuses.  With the sole exception of the abolition of the compulsory deferred pay scheme, the recommendations of the Labour Market Commission on the issue of regional migration simply confirmed ANC and NUM prejudices, and offered little openings to democracy other than a temporary and very specific relaxation of notions of indigeneity.  Oddly (and sadly) enough, it was the interests of the Chamber of Mines who wished to have access to migrant labour from the region to keep its price and militancy down, which seemed more in tune  with those of the peasant-migrants, as at least these argued for the retention of migrancy.


A couple of remarks from miners illustrate the point:

I have laboured under very difficult conditions to make south Africa what it is and so, have earned some reward.  South Africans earn pensions at old age and blue card earnings for six months while looking for jobs.  This blue card money is the money deducted from the salary while one works.  Unlike in Lesotho where our deferred pay is not benefiting us as contributors, here at least there is something to wipe off one’s tears…[Respondent has no intention to bring his family even if he is granted permanent residence] Life in South Africa is garbage…working here is like going to the cattle post where you take your livestock in summer and bring them back in winter.  [He does not want to be a citizen of South Africa.  He will only use the ID or permanent residence as passport to getting his worked for benefits]…


Another [does not want to stay permanently in south Africa because there is no free land…] while another [wants to bring his family because he does not own fields or anything of value in Lesotho] (Sechaba Consultants, op. cit).


Clearly therefore migrants tried to get the best of both worlds – the rural security and status of Lesotho and the access to cash in urban South Africa.  However the majority made it absolutely clear that they were only interested in having access to South African benefits – jobs or IDs – temporarily.  This response can be understood as being completely rational and had two major reasons: first because miners had access to material resources (mainly land and cattle) in Lesotho, which they would never have been able to access in RSA (unless Lesotho became integrated into South); second because the proletarianisation entailed by becoming permanently South African also entailed a complete decline in conditions of life, including in moral standards which were seen as incomparably lower than rural life from the perspective of rural dwellers.  It is this latter conception – recurring systematically in interviews – in particular which was often expressed as an adherence to Sesotho cultural values (as expressed in songs, music etc) and is interpreted by Coplan (1994) as an romantic attachment to national identity.

Perhaps one of the most staggering remarks was made in 2002 by the ANC ex-Director General of Home Affairs. He was quoted as claiming that:


approximately 90% of foreign persons, who are in the RSA with fraudulent documents, ie. either citizenship or migrant documents, are involved in other crimes as well…it is quicker to charge these criminals for their false documentation and then to deport them than to pursue the long route in respect of the other crimes committed (Masethla, 2002, cited Crush and Peberdy, nd: 1).

Perhaps one of the most staggering remarks was made in 2002 by the ANC ex-Director General of Home Affairs. He was quoted as claiming that:


approximately 90% of foreign persons, who are in the RSA with fraudulent documents, ie. either citizenship or migrant documents, are involved in other crimes as well…it is quicker to charge these criminals for their false documentation and then to deport them than to pursue the long route in respect of the other crimes committed (Masethla, 2002, cited Crush and Peberdy, nd: 1).


Of Course, as Crush and Peberdy point out there is no data whatsoever to support this contention, or otherwise.  Nevertheless, Harris (2001: 76 ) notes that in 1998 according to police=s own statistics, South African citizens comprised on average 98 percent of all arrests made, foreigners arrested rarely  exceeded one percent in any crime category, actual conviction rates are, of course, much lower.


After only a few months in office, Minister of Home Affairs Buthelezi announced in 1998 that if we as South Africans are going to compete for scarce resources with millions of aliens who are pouring into South Africa, then we can bid goodbye to our Reconstruction and Development Programme@ (cited Harris, 2001: 74).  In fact Buthelezi developed quite a notoriety for his infamous xenophobic statements which included inter alia the suggestion that all Nigerian immigrants are criminals and drug traffickers (op cit.). He also stated in 1998 at a speech in Cape Town on 12th February that it is not surprising that there is in the country growing resentment to most foreigners…just as south Africa was coming to grips on how to meet its people=s needs and to develop, it faced a deluge of migrants.  By 1998, Buthelezi was reacting to the Human Rights Watch Report on Xenophobia in South Africa (HRW, 1998) which had referred to South Africa=s increasingly xenophobic public culture which tolerates unsubstantiated and inflammatory statements by politicians which blame migrants for crime, rising unemployment and the spread of diseases,  by accusing Human Rights Watch of wanting five-star treatment of illegal aliens while more than 50 percent of South Africans live below the poverty line. In August 1999, Buthelezi was asked by and ex MK ANC MP in Parliament (Ike Maphoge) why refugees from neighbouring countries were being treated so leniently, he replied that he sympathised with Maphoge but every time he had raised similar issues with government, he had been accused by the ANC of xenophobia[1].


Of course, Buthelezi=s quasi fascistic opinions are well known but what is more important is that his officials from his Home Affairs Department were thus encouraged to air their xenophobia in public, which was regularly paraded as the official position of the department if not that of the government itself.  For example a Home Affairs official called Mr George Orr in a television talk show on “illegal immigrants” (South African Broadcasting Corporation Television Channel 1, Two-Way, October 13 1996):


We will grant a grace period for those who have been in the country for five years or more to apply for permanent residence; after which they (>illegal immigrants=) will be hounded, using police to trace them, prosecute employers, deny them health, education services and make life unbearable for them.


Human Rights Watch (1998: 4) has concluded that:


in general, South Africa=s public culture has become increasingly xenophobic, and politicians often make unsubstantiated and inflammatory statements that the >deluge= of migrants is responsible for the current crime wave, rising unemployment and even the spread of diseases.


While during the campaign for the 1999 elections, all opposition parties politicised the issue of immigration ( Harris, 2001: 74), with one New National Party member stating:


[I]t was no good to take R10 million from the budget of the Department of Home affairs for the Reconstruction and Development Programme when illegal aliens were removing far more than that from the economy by taking jobs away from South Africans (cit. Valji, op.cit.: 10).


More disturbing are the statements made by many ANC politicians[2], several of which have already been cited, despite the fact that the organisation had by August 2001 expressed its opposition to xenophobia in a public declaration[3].  Published extremely late in the day, this woolly declaration did not do justice to the anti-xenophobic sentiments of many serious ANC cadres.  On the one hand it stated that the instance of xenophobia in South Africa is largely linked to immigration which was unavoidable given the attraction of South Africa=s democratic breakthrough in 1994″ (p.1) and the forces of globalisation (p. 2); on the other hand it stressed the ANC=s commitment to Aa human-rights based system for migration control through legislation (p.3).  In sum then, xenophobia was the result of immigration and was thus inevitable, it should be regulated through the law.  This seems to be another case of blaming the victims of >structural causes= beyond control; presumably it is not thought possible to have immigration without xenophobia, and the only political way of tackling this is seen predictably to be through the exercise of state legislation.  Given what we have seen regarding the character of this legislation, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the organisation is unable to think beyond the confines of exclusion and control, while remaining within the domain of state liberal politics.  Popular organisation and militant democratic struggles are clearly no longer within its ambit of thought.

1      One of the most notorious was that by Joe Modise, Defence Minister in the first post-apartheid government who said: if we are not coping with the influx of illegal immigrants and our people are being threatened, there will come a time when we will switch on the fence (the electric fence on the Mozambican border) to lethal mode (Johannesburg Star, 6th May 1997)



Filed under Commentary, Crime, Economics, Education, Politics, South African Government

3 responses to “Our leaders instilled Xenophobic ideas into our citizens

  1. I am a South African living in Europe.

    My mother is Angolan and also fled her own country to the “grass is greener” South Africa. She lived in refugee camps and had nothing, just like everyone else now fleeing a miserable existence and looking for something better in SA

    My Step-father is Mozambican – also fled home.

    This makes them “foreigners”. But it makes them “Extra-Special” foreigners because they are also “European”.

    I, being the only one in the family that was BORN in SA (my sister is also a “European Angolan South African!”), am then the only “non-foreigner”!

    My question is, would a mob attacking foreigners stop and analyse the “foreigners” – kill my family and leave me be?

    Or am I also a foreigner because my ancestors from some time long-gone were from Europe?

    My opinion is that people blog about this, even South Africans in Europe blog about this because regardless of what has happened in the past, violence is unnacceptable and will not be tolerated!.

    If Mandela taught us anything, if he taught these mobbers anything, it is that one must love, move forward and be tolerant! This is NOT what I think he envisioned for our people!

  2. Pingback: labour market development agreement

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Kerchieves.

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