Reports continue to pour in (as much as any foreign news not associated with Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran makes it through the American media machine) regarding the anti-immigrant violence in South Africa.
My dear friend Alex lives and teaches in a township outside of Cape Town. She writes:
On Monday’s assembly at school, the Principal and English HOD (P.) had spoken about the attacks and violence that had taken place over the weekend. About how it was wrong and how students must stay away from it. ‘Even if you only take a loaf of bread from a shop that has been broken into,’ P. told them, ‘you are just as guilty as the one who broke the window to get in’. The reaction from students had been mixed. It was clear there was a divide in where they stood on the issue. In my classes that day, I asked them what was going on.
‘Xenophobia!’ came their chorused reply.
‘Okay,’ I replied, ‘now how many of us know what xenophobia means?’
Not one student in any of my classes knew.
And so, I wrote the definition on the board.
Xenophobia is a fear or contempt of that which is foreign or unknown, especially of strangers or foreign people. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “foreigner,” “stranger,” and φόβος (phobos), meaning “fear.” The term is typically used to describe a fear or dislike of foreigners or of people significantly different from oneself.
After we read through it, I asked them why, if it’s a fear of that which is foreign or unknown, I am not under siege. I am clearly foreign, so why is my house not being burnt down?
‘Because you are white, miss’, they told me.
Of course, then it’s not really anti-immigrant violence, is it? Not anti-foreigner. It’s an anti- that goes a whole lot deeper.
Who is responsible for it? If you trace back the anger far enough, what would you find? Follow the money, follow the borders.