Monthly Archives: April 2015

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa and the need for transformation

The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa are a major cause for concern. They are part of a complex landscape where past and present grievances, injustices and structural inequalities are forcefully emerging from decades of neglect and justificationist techniques to preserve the status quo. More than anything, we need unity and solidarity across all groups and communities, in a delicate moment when histories, identities, memories and feelings can be easily mobilised for destructive and self-destructive purposes. We need to reflect deeply about causes and concerns of all involved, and avoid using these events in any way to justify narrow political and identitarian concerns. Now more than ever, we need to recognise each other’s humanity, no matter what is being said and done by whom and for what purposes.

But let’s not fool ourselves. The entrenched inequalities and injustices these attacks hint at – which of course are much more complex and deeper than a simplistic scapegoating of one group can ever allow for – need to be addressed, if we want to truly find resolution and move towards a brighter future. As things stand, the path I am seeing is one where structural inequalities which favour certain class and racial groups at the expense of the vast majority of Black South Africans will continue to be glossed over. What is emerging is an undeclared but very palpable state policy of controlled fear and intimidation that feeds xenophobic sentiments, keeps foreigners ‘in check’, while leaving the structures of the economy fundamentally untouched. The attacks are coinciding with the rise of a wider movement calling for transformation, reaching traditionally middle-class institutions like universities. This is another sign that there are deeper structural issues that need to be addressed. This movement, which links people from all kinds of backgrounds and class positions, might in fact contain the seeds for a positive and negotiated transformation that addresses issues of poverty, underdevelopment and discrimination in all sectors of society. For those of us who continue to be embedded in the enclaves of privilege that South Africa offers to some – elite universities certainly feature in this – there lies the responsibility of contributing in whatever way we can to this process. This is a moment of crisis, no doubt, but also an opportunity to be part of a new deal that pushes further with the agenda of equality, redistribution and non-racialism that has always been at the centre of the liberation project, in South Africa and the rest of the continent.