There can be no more vicious form of racism than xenophobia, a tiny spark of madness that can so easily escalate into an often fatal inferno of intolerance. Over the past week, the flames have been fanned in both Johannesburg and Pretoria.
This particular brand of barbarism is, the social scientists would have us believe, a primal urge to seek out those who are different and attack that variance to
the perceived norm. In many ways, this is too simplistic a construction on the root cause of this particular prejudice.
This still divided country has a long and sorry history of xenophobic attacks and even more heart-rending is the documented fact that since the dawn of our democracy in 1994, the incidence of xenophobia increased.
Between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, a series of attacks left 62 people dead; although 21 of those killed were South African citizens. In 2015, another nationwide xenophobic spike against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.
This is not a litany any citizen, no matter how marginalised, should take the smallest amount of satisfaction from. Our much-admired constitution has given all South Africans – and indeed, those we harbour – some of the most sweeping range of freedoms on the planet. But those liberties do not, and cannot, be construed as licence.
No one would argue that it is difficult in the extreme to maintain a level head when you are among those left largely untouched by democracy in the light of the excesses which are exposed almost daily as emanating from a corrupt and self-serving governing elite.
But violence has never proved to be anything remotely like a panacea for imagined ills. The alternative is the most evil of anarchy.