By Novell Zwangendaba – The presence of African football teams at the just-ended FIFA 2010 World Cup held in the Republic of South Africa brought a false sense of Pan-Africanist unity and belonging as local and foreign Africans fakingly embraced each other in support of their national teams.
Violence broke out on Monday night in Kya Sands, as residents attacked foreign Africans in Kya Sands north of Johannesburg. A number of people including South Africans were hurt in the attacks, among the victims were the local Pedi and Shangaan people.
Many foreigners including Zimbabweans and Mozambicans packed their belongings and left the area yesterday.
Police and army details were hastily deployed to Kya Sands, and the police dismissed reports indicating Monday events as xenophobia attacks, they instead blamed the violent attacks against foreign nationals residing in South Africa on “thugs.”
“We are leaving this place we are going back home to our countries, these people do not want us here anymore,” terrified foreign nationals said.
Reports carried out in the media since the outbreak of xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2008 say locals blame fellow African nationals residing in the country of ‘stealing their jobs and women.’
Commenting on William Gumede’s book , The Poverty Of Ideas – South African Democracy and The Retreat of Intellectuals, Prof. Jonathan Jansen of the University of Free State said, “It will…be very difficult to engender – an elevated sense of (African) loyalty in a country where the past is still very much with us, where racial emotions are still raw and where the struggle to build a new society remains a very long-term project amidst dire inequalities that have not diminished since 1994.”
Eusebius Mckaiser, an associate at the Centre for the Study of Democracy remarkd prior to the FIFA 2010 World Cup that, “it is perfectly understandable that in a pluralistic society individuals and communities will have a variety of values, principles, tastes, etc.”
“We should have learnt in the 1990s that the day after the foreign press and international players and fans leave, divisions that were swept under the carpet come back to haunt you. So faking unity (during World Cup) is counter-productive, dishonest, and unnecessary.”
There has been growing acts of violence in isolated parts of the country despite the intervention of the South African President in urging citizens to restrain from violent acts of xenophobia against foreign nationals. In a statement issued during the FIFA 2010 World Cup games in Pretoria, President Jacob Zuma, said the World Cup had demonstrated that South Africans were “warm, peace-loving and hospitable.” Their support for Ghana and other African teams had displayed “African unity in its true sense.”
He added: “Let us isolate all elements who may have sinister agendas, who may want to create havoc and sow pain and destruction in communities, especially foreign nationals residing in our country. We appeal for calm, tolerance and unity amongst all.”
Alas, there is no end in sight to the plight of foreign nationals seking better livelihoods in South Africa. McKaiser noted that, “if sixteen years after democracy we cannot safely declare innocent preferences to each other, then our democracy is much more fragile than a sporting event of any magnitude would be able to repair.”
“Mbeki deserves blame for not doing his bit as national leader to build social cohesion across different groups, he himself and what he stood for actually symbolised and evidenced the reality that Mandela’s and Tutu’s rainbow nation was never really genuine,” he said.
There has been a slightly progressive shift in the Zuma-led government towards xenophobia. In addressing the nation during the World Cup games Zuma pleaded in a soft tone, for sanity and calm to prevail across the country. It is yet to be seen whether the presidential appeal will continue to fall on deaf ears.The South African government has been criticized for not speaking strongly enough against the threat of xenophobic attacks on foreign migrants since the end of the World Cup.
Meanwhile NGOs yesterday launched what they called a “National Unity campaign” aimed at collecting a million signed promises against xenophobia. The organisations said the campaign is called Unite As One.