HNRS 131- Social Movements in South Africa
1 February 2017
Xenophobia in South Africa
Xenophobia may be the newest expression of apartheid type values in South Africa. It is conveyed via exclusion, violence, and hate. Foreigners (especially from neighboring Zimbabwe) come into South Africa to escape their country look for jobs, and start a new life in a country that is very well developed compared to the rest of Africa. Xenophobia stems from immigrant workers, primarily from other African nations, “stealing” South African jobs; however, migrants do the work that no one else is doing like shoe repair and fruit stands. Therefore, they aren’t “stealing” jobs (Soweto Women).
South Africa’s economy is lacking skilled labor. Egan mentions that there is a lack of interest in a skilled labor job or post-education technical school. The majority of people who are unemployed in South Africa are young black men. Often these young men want to be successful and see a skilled labor job as beneath them and they want to strive for employment with higher status and higher pay.
This then creates a cycle where labor is unreliable, which leads to less demand of skilled jobs, which leads to no increase in wages. Employers are looking for the best skilled workers, which are not found in South Africa because young black men do not have the education required for the job. In other African nations, men and women are educated and trained in skilled labor. These skilled laborers know there are jobs in South Africa and they immigrate. They are hired, because there is a need for their skill. In order to stop the violence in South Africa due to xenophobia Egan suggests that education be equal for all races and that society adopt a new attitude and outlook on valuable work. University education is unattainable for blacks because of the expenses. Students are protesting the tuition and fees of universities in South Africa at the moment.
In addition to employment for skilled laborers, South Africa is a magnet for Africans to migrate to because the nation is wealthy compared to the surrounding countries even though their unemployment rate is high and there is a lot of violence; however, foreign immigration is only about 3-4% of the population mostly consisting of people from Zimbabwe.
There is a lot the South African government could do to prevent immigration ifit deemed it in the nation’s best interest. They could improve their immigration policies and border control increasing the little control over they have over immigration. They could acknowledge the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and the effect it has on South Africa. Zimbabwe is facing a huge financial crisis where one has to fill a bag with cash just to buy a loaf of bread. This is leading Zimbabwe to run out of cash and therefore many are fleeing to neighboring countries.
When foreigners get their passports stamped they have 7-29 days to get a work permit. They wait alongside the road for someone to hire/ pay them to do any random job needed so that they may find permanent employment (Prosper and Xavier). If they are trying to find employment in Cape Town, then a lot of their time is spent traveling from the border to the Cape. This makes it hard for foreigners to be in South Africa. They have such a little amount of time to find employment and get a work permit.
The thing that confused me most of the trip was how this country could go through strict exclusion and horrible violence in the past and now be so open and forgiving about it, but now has so much hate against foreigners. South Africa has 11 different official languages and many races living peacefully together in places like Sophiatown, District 6, and many other townships. I do not understand how the nation can be so accepting of many races, languages, gay marriage, and yet feel hostility towards its neighboring countries. How are South Africans so willingly able to forgive past wrongs, but not accept foreigners? Is it because their economic well-being is at threat?
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for foreigners in South Africa. It is clear that many foreigners are successful in getting jobs as many of our tour guides were from Zimbabwe or other African nations. I wonder if there have been any more known attacks against foreigners like 2008. In May 2008 riots spread across the country killing two foreigners and injuring 40. Most were from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique. Maybe as time has passed and more people have immigrated the more South Africans are accepting the new normal. I do not think it is just because of the passage of time. My guess is that people have had an attitude change. They might have realized that they are not “stealing jobs” and that the foreigners cause no problems for the locals. It might be something interesting to look into for further research.
The experience of traveling to South Africa was transformative for me. I did not just learn about the country of South Africa and its history and people, but I also learned a lot about myself, even if the trip was only 15 days. This was my first flight by myself, a 16 hour one. This was my first time going to the Southern Hemisphere and I knew no one. Traveling with a professor, two guides, and four girls was my crutch. Most of my days were planned and paid for, but I had no one telling me what to look at and read. I was told to be in a certain location hours in the future and left alone. I tended to stick by Rhea. We were roommates the entire trip, she is the closest to my age, and the one I related to most. I learned that I can travel without friends or family. I am capable of going through customs and passport control by myself. I can navigate an airport. I can communicate with locals. I discovered I am more self-reliant than I previously thought.
South Africa was both what I expected but also surprising. Johannesburg was more of a culture shock than Cape Town. I knew that South Africa had a high crime rate, I just did not know that fences would be the only thing you really see while driving. I knew Cape Town was more European and more touristy, but I did not expect to see barely any blacks or coloreds around.
South Africans are very open about their past. It surprised me. To go through such a horrible social experiment so recently I would not expect the nation to be so open to talking about race and their opinions on Mandela and other figures. I cannot help but compare South Africa to America. We went through slavery many, many years prior to Apartheid. We then went through Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which is still 20 years before apartheid ended. Yet, we as a nation find race sort of taboo and rarely discuss what we can learn from our past.
Classroom learning only reveals some of the reality of a situation or place. Reading and lectures can provide background, a discussion of issues, and a limited perspective. Being able to talk to locals, tour landmarks, and ask people who lived through the experience increases what you can learn. In class sometimes I already realize this gap. I do not get the answers I seek or the knowledge I need. Being able to talk to the local women in Soweto provided me with the most insight into the country. That would not be an available resource in the classroom.
Both South Africa and the United States are healing from a past where blacks had unequal rights. Today, both countries still face repercussions of this conflicted history. In South Africa there is high unemployment, especially among young blacks. In America young blacks are being shot by the police for no reason other than because of the color of their skin.
Both countries also have issues with foreigners and immigration. Sometimes men are sent back to their country of origin leaving the mother and children alone. This reminded us of how Mexicans are treated in the US. With Trump now as president more parents are likely to be deported leaving families torn apart. Our border with Mexico is marked with a huge wall and many police. South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe is more natural, being that a river separates the two. In order to cross the river, one must be brave enough to face crocodiles and enough money to pay off the guards (Prosper).
I learned that I learn better by talking to others: debating with students, asking questions, processing my thoughts by talking out loud. Researching is easier when you are surrounded by all the resources needed. I was able to have a casual conversation on the long van rides and would be able to get insight on my research. It made researching more fun and interesting. Instead of talking to a librarian about your research and reading books and articles you could talk to locals who have seen violence first hand.
My Honors 110 paper about the relationship between Muslim assimilation and terrorism in Western Europe interested me because the topic was something I was passionate about. I was discouraged halfway through because I could not find the information I wanted. If I was able to talk to European locals and Muslims in Europe could have been more deeply explored the issues and my paper would have been more insightful and detailed. I have now been spoiled with being able to do research in the field.
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