South Africa is notorious for its horrendous recurring acts of blithering violence against people from other African countries. The deplorable attacks meted out against African foreign nationals have been happening since the early 90s across most South African provinces. Scores of men, women and children have been displaced, injured and killed—all in the name of protecting jobs and socio-economic opportunities that a majority of Black South Africans feel are being usurped by foreigners. In discussing and trying to understand xenophobia in the South African context, it is important to note the fact that not all non-South Africans are being targeted—it is mostly those from other African countries and countries that have people of colour, countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. What we are dealing with is Afrophobia—a phenomenon that repudiates and contradicts everything Black South Africans believed in when they fought vehemently against apartheid.

Here we are again, lamenting xenophobic attacks and every year not much seems to be discussed about concrete plans to eradicate the heinous and misguided fallacies that underlie these acts of violence. Last week, about 100 immigrants, mostly Malawian, were forced to seek refuge at the Sydenham Police Station in Durban after they were robbed and cruelly driven away from the homes they were renting. This recent spate of attacks has led to yet another conversation around South Africa’s complex relationship with African foreign nationals. Why has it been happening almost every year since 1994 and why are Black foreigners the sole target of the majority’s frustrations, which are actually related to a disappointment in the ruling party’s inadequacies?





Not All Foreigners

Contrary to the latest political rhetoric, Xenophobia in the context of South Africa is about so much more than criminality. In fact, our problem isn’t xenophobia; it’s afrophobia. The word xenophobia refers to the discrimination of people from other countries. In South Africa, not all foreign nationals are discriminated against; it is foreign nationals from other African countries who are victims of hate crimes such as looting, vandalism, and in many cases, displacement and murder. Afrophobia is what it is—South Africans regard other Africans from countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Congo and Nigeria with much disdain. The darker the skin, the more venomous the prejudice. The scourge of afrophobia has its roots in a colonial mentality that perceives the African to be the subaltern other capable of nothing else but destruction and pillaging. In South Africa, industrious Africans from other African countries are called “makwerekwere” – a pejorative term that is actually a mimicry of the sound of their languages. White foreign nationals, on the other hand, are referred to as tourists of expats, they have not been victimised for not being from here. South Africans need to be reminded that our neighbouring countries played a pivotal role in helping us secure the freedoms that we enjoy today.

When South African freedom fighters needed a place of refuge during their struggle against the nefarious apartheid government, they made their way across many rivers to neighbouring countries and were welcomed with open arms by people who were all too familiar with the life of fighting against a white minority. A pan-Africanist spirit filled the air as uMkhonto weSizwe cadres sought training bases in countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania. When our cries for a just society were muffled and our liberties denied, we found places to call home in the hearts of the very people we are now killing for seeking the very same things we fought for all those years ago—better opportunities, dignity and life.


Image source: Gado Cartoons (


Blind Rage

As noted by Raymond Suttner, “Xenophobic statements are now part of election manifestos.” Political figures and community leaders are using the fear of African foreigners to garner support and gain votes from systemically marginalised Black South Africans who are blinded by their own poverty, unemployment and minimal socio-economic opportunities—too blinded to see who the real culprit is: an unjust system that is taking way too long to deliver on the promises made when South Africa became a democracy. As articulated by Jacqueline Tizora in her article in the Daily Vox, “Immigrants are scapegoats for the ANC’s inadequacies.” Leaders such as Herman Mashaba, King Goodwill Zwelithini and Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi have perpetuated Afrophobic sentiments by blaming African foreign nationals for the problems faced by many Black South Africans. In 2015, King Zwelithini boldly and unashamedly stated that African foreign nationals ought to return to their home countries because they are robbing South Africans of opportunities and wealth that is due to them. In 2017, Herman Mashaba joined Johannesburg police officers as they raided the homes of immigrants in Rosettenville. In that same year, Deputy Police Minister Mkongi accused immigrants of rendering Hillbrow a dangerous city and said that by opening up our borders, we are “surrendering our land.”

Afrophobia has become a South African epidemic that belies the rainbow nation and democracy narratives that we like to laud as being post-1994 victories. Those who hold high positions of leadership need to be held accountable for perpetuating hateful sentiments that lead to the victimising of our brothers and sisters. Moreover, black South Africans need to be informed about the real reasons for socio-economic entropy. Afrophobia needs to be included in the discourse around decoloniality in South Africa; this will aid in debunking myths around the activities of African national foreigners in South Africa.


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