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South Africa: Saying No to Xenophobia

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 22, 2015 (150422)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Finally, one word about 'foreigners' and 'migrants'. No African is a foreigner in Africa! No African is a migrant in Africa! Africa is where we all belong, notwithstanding the foolishness of our boundaries. No amount of national-chauvinism will erase this. No amount of deportations will erase this. Instead of spilling black blood on no other than Pixley ka Seme Avenue (!), we should all be making sure that we rebuild this Continent and bring to an end a long and painful history - that which, for too long, has dictated that to be black (it does not matter where or when), is a liability." - Achille Mbembe

At times like these, with news of the horrific deaths of schoolchildren in Garissa, Kenya; migrants in South Africa and in the Mediterranean; and victims of police violence on the streets of U.S. cities, written words to respond or explain are painfully inadequate.

Some voices are more eloquent than others, however, and this AfricaFocus Bulletin contains commentaries by Achille Mbembe and Mia Couto on the most recent wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa, as well as a short list of other links with relevant commentary.

In addition, AfricaFocus particularly recommends the following three links - a video from the Nelson Mandela Foundation featuring Youssou N'Dour, an interview with S'bu Zikode in Durban, and a petition initiated from Malawi.

Video from Nelson Mandela Foundation, We are All Africans

Interview by Walter Turner, KPFA, Apr 20, 2015, with S'bu Zikode from the Abahlali Shackdwellers' Movement, on the hypocrisy & mixed message on xenophobia of South African government officials

There are many petitions on-line. This one, entitled "Stop Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa," was initiated by Lorraine Mopiwa in Malawi and invites signatories worldwide. It has already received over 18,000 signatures.

Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on this issue include,, and


Updates on Deaths at Sea

Last week, AfricaFocus featured reports from the UNHCR on deaths in the Mediterranean. Since then, the number of those drowned as the result of European policy has more than doubled, and it is now front-page news. A few additional links:

New York Times update on latest deaths in Mediterranean April 21, 2015

"Mediterranean migrant deaths in 2015 may hit 30,000: IOM", BBC, April 21,2015

"The 900 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean were killed by British government policy," Telegraph, April 21, 2015

Niels Franzen, "The EU's Proposed Plan to Destory Migrant Boats in Libya Must be Rejected by the European Council," Apr 22, 2015

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Achille Mbembe writes about Xenophobic South Africa

April 16, 2015

"Afrophobia"? "Xenophobia"? "Black on black racism"? A "darker" as you can get hacking a "foreigner" under the pretext of his being too dark — self hate par excellence? Of course all of that at once! Yesterday I asked a taxi driver: "why do they need to kill these 'foreigners' in this manner?". His response: "because under Apartheid, fire was the only weapon we Blacks had. We did not have ammunitions, guns and the likes. With fire we could make petrol bombs and throw them at the enemy from a safe distance". Today there is no need for distance any longer. To kill "these foreigners", we need to be as close as possible to their body which we then set in flames or dissect, each blow opening a huge wound that can never be healed. Or if it is healed at all, it must leave on "these foreigners" the kinds of scars that can never be erased.

I was here during the last outbreak of violence against "these foreigners". Since then, the cancer has metastized. The current hunt for "foreigners" is the product of a complex chain of complicities — some vocal and explicit and others tacit. The South African government has recently taken a harsh stance on immigration. New, draconian measures have been passed into law. Their effects are devastating for people already established here legally. A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of "foreign" staff at Wits University. Horrific stories after horrific stories. Work permits not renewed. Visas refused to family members. Children in limbo in schools. A Kafkaian situation that extends to "foreign" students who entered the country legally, had their visas renewed all this time, but who now find themselves in a legal uncertainty, unable to register, and unable to access the money they are entitled to and that had been allocated to them by Foundations. Through its new anti-immigration measures, the government is busy turning previously legal migrants into illegal ones.

Chains of complicity go further. South African big business is expanding all over the Continent, at times reproducing in those places the worse forms of racism that were tolerated here under Apartheid. While big business is "de-nationalizing" and "Africanizing", poor black South Africa and parts of the middle class are being socialized into something we should call "nationalchauvinism". National-chauvinism is rearing its ugly head in almost every sector of the South African society. The thing with nationalchauvinism is that it is in permanent need of scapegoats. It starts with those who are not our kins. But very quickly, it turns fratricidal. It does not stop with "these foreigners". It is in its DNA to end up turning onto itself in a dramatic gesture of inversion.

I was here during the last "hunting season". The difference, this time, is the emergence of the rudiments of an "ideology". We now have the semblance of a discourse aimed at justifying the atrocities, the creeping pogrom since this is what it actually is. An unfolding pogrom to be sure. The justificatory discourse starts with the usual stereotypes — they are darker than us; they steal our jobs; they do not respect us; they are used by whites who prefer to exploit them rather than employing us, therefore avoiding the requirements of affirmative action. But the discourse is becoming more vicious. It can be summarized as follows: South Africa does not owe any moral debt to Africa. Evoke the years of exile? No, there were less than 30,000 South Africans in exile (I have been hit with this figure but I have no idea where it is coming from) and they were all scattered throughout the world — 4 in Ghana, 3 in Ethiopia, a few in Zambia, and many more in Russia and Eastern Europe! So we will not accept to be morally blackmailed by "those foreigners".

Well, let's ask hard questions. Why is South Africa turning into a killing field for non-national Africans (to whom we have to add the Bengalis, Pakistanis, and who knows whom next)? Why has this country historically represented a "circle of death" for anything and anybody 'African'? When we say "South Africa", what does the term "Africa" mean? An idea, or simply a geographical accident? Should we start quantifying what was sacrificed by Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and others during the liberation struggle? How much money did the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity (OUA) provide to the liberation movements? How many dollars did the Nigerian state pay for South Africa's struggle? If we were to put a price tag to the destructions meted out by the Apartheid regime on the economy and infrastructures of the Frontline states, what would this amount to? And once all of this has been quantified, shouldn't we give the bill to the ANC government that has inherited the South African state and ask them to pay back what was spent on behalf of the black oppressed in South Africa during those long years? Wouldn't we be entitled to add to all these damages and losses the number of people killed by Apartheid armies retaliating against our hosting South African combatants in our midsts, the number of people maimed, the long chain of misery and destitution suffered in the name of our solidarity with South Africa? If black South Africans do not want to hear about any moral debt, maybe it is time to agree with them, give them the bill and ask for economic reparations.

Of course we all see the absurdity of this logic of insularity that is turning this country into yet another killing field for the darker people, "these foreigners". But it would not be absurd, since the government of South Africa is either unable or unwilling to protect those who are here legally from the ire of its people, to appeal to a higher authority. South Africa has signed most international conventions, including the Convention establishing the International Penal Tribunal in The Hague. Some of the instigators of the current "hunting season" are known. Some have been making public statements inciting hate. Is there any way in which we could think about referring them to The Hague? Impunity breeds impunity and atrocities. It is the shortest way to genocide. If these perpetrators cannot be brought to book by the South African State, isn't it time to get a higher jurisdiction to deal with them?

Finally, one word about "foreigners" and "migrants". No African is a foreigner in Africa! No African is a migrant in Africa! Africa is where we all belong, notwithstanding the foolishness of our boundaries. No amount of national-chauvinism will erase this. No amount of deportations will erase this. Instead of spilling black blood on no other than Pixley ka Seme Avenue (!), we should all be making sure that we rebuild this Continent and bring to an end a long and painful history — that which, for too long, has dictated that to be black (it does not matter where or when), is a liability.

Open Letter from the Chairperson of the Fernando Leite Couto Foundation

Mia Couto, Maputo, 17 April 2015

To: His Excellency President Jacob Zuma

Available on-line on multiple sites, including

[This translation from Portuguese by Paul Fauvet]

We remember you in Maputo, in the 1980s, from that time you spent as a political refugee in Mozambique. Often our paths crossed on Julius Nyerere Avenue and we would greet each other with the casual friendliness of neighbours. Often I imagined the fears that you must have felt, as a person persecuted by the apartheid regime. I imagined the nightmares you must have experienced at night when you thought of the ambushes plotted against you and against your comrades in the struggle. But I don't remember ever seeing you with a bodyguard. In fact it was we Mozambicans who acted as your bodyguards. For years we gave you more than a refuge. We offered you a house and we gave you security at the cost of our security. You cannot possibly have forgotten this generosity.

We haven't forgotten it. Perhaps more than any other neighbouring country, Mozambique paid a high price for the support we gave to the liberation of South Africa. The fragile Mozambican economy was wrecked. Our territory was invaded and bombed. Mozambicans died in defence of their brothers on the other side of the border. For us, Mr President, there was no border, there was no nationality. We were all brothers in the same cause, and when apartheid fell, our festivities were the same, on either side of the border.

For centuries Mozambican migrants, miners and peasants, worked in neighbouring South Africa under conditions that were not far short of slavery. These workers helped build the South African economy. There is no wealth in your country that does not carry the contribution of those who today are coming under attack.

For all these reasons, it is not possible to imagine what is going on in your country. It is not possible to imagine that these same South African brothers have chosen us as a target for hatred and persecution. It is not possible that Mozambicans are persecuted in the streets of South Africa with the same cruelty that the apartheid police persecuted freedom fighters, inside and outside the country. The nightmare we are living is more serious than that visited upon you when you were politically persecuted. For you were the victim of a choice, of an ideal that you had embraced. But those who are persecuted in your country today are guilty merely of having a different nationality. Their only crime is that they are Mozambicans. Their only offence is that they are not South Africans.

Mr President

The xenophobia expressed today in South Africa is not merely a barbaric and cowardly attack against "the others". It is also aggression against South Africa itself. It is an attack against the "Rainbow Nation" which South Africans proudly proclaimed a decade or more ago. Some South Africans are staining the name of their motherland. They are attacking the feelings of gratitude and solidarity between nations and peoples. It is sad that your country today is in the news across the world for such inhuman reasons.

Certainly measures are being taken. But they are proving inadequate, and above all they have come late. The rulers of South Africa can argue everything except that they were taken by surprise. History was allowed to repeat itself. Voices were heard spreading hatred with impunity. That is why we are joining our indignation to that of our fellow Mozambicans and urging you: put an immediate end to this situation, which is a fire that can spread across the entire region, with feelings of revenge being created beyond South Africa's borders. Tough, immediate and total measures are needed which may include the mobilization of the armed forces. For, at the end of the day, it is South Africa itself which is under attack.

Mr President, you know, better than we do, that police actions can contain this crime but, in the current context, other preventive measures must be taken. So that these criminal events are never again repeated.

For this, it is necessary to take measures on another scale, measures that work over the long term. Measures of civic education, and of exalting the recent past in which we were so close, are urgently needed. It is necessary to recreate the feelings of solidarity between our peoples and to rescue the memory of a time of shared struggles. As artists, as makers of culture and of social values, we are available so that, together with South African artists, we can face this new challenge, in unity with the countless expressions of revulsion born within South African society. We can still transform this pain and this shame into something which expresses the nobility and dignity of our peoples and our nations. As artists and writers, we want to declare our willingness to support a spirit of neighbourliness which is born, not from geography, but from a kinship of our common soul and shared history.

Additional related links of interest

Abahlali Shackdwellers' Association Statement on the Ongoing Xenophobic Attacks, April 14, 2015

Palesa Thinane-Epondo, in Mail & Guardian, Apr 16, 2015

Jay Naidoo, "South Africa, say it loud and clear: NO to Xenophobia!," in Daily Maverick, Apr 17, 2015

Pius Adesanmi, devastating article on South African exceptionalism. "the urgent task of mass re-education to help citizens understand that: You are in Africa. This is Africa."

Cawo Abdi, "Labeling South Africa turmoil 'xenophobia' scapegoats poor blacks," CNN, Apr 21, 2015

For an in-depth analysis: Jean Pierre Misago, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), University of the Witwatersrand, in Mail & Guardian, Mar 5, 2015

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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