Jaundiced Eye: Don’t use the dirty x-word

Plainclothes members of the South African Police Service patrol the Johannesburg township of Alexandra on September 3, 2019 after South Africa's financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. - The township was scene to a second night of urban rioting in Johannesburg, where hundreds of people marched through the streets on September 2 in an unusually large expression of anti-foreigner sentiment. Such violence breaks out sporadically in South Africa where many nationals blame immigrants for high unemployment, particularly in manual labour. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Plainclothes members of the South African Police Service patrol the Johannesburg township of Alexandra on September 3, 2019 after South Africa's financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. - The township was scene to a second night of urban rioting in Johannesburg, where hundreds of people marched through the streets on September 2 in an unusually large expression of anti-foreigner sentiment. Such violence breaks out sporadically in South Africa where many nationals blame immigrants for high unemployment, particularly in manual labour. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Last week Magashule had expressed regret that the violence was being directed at ‘people who have the same skin colour as us’, rather than those ‘many others with a whitish colour’.

We are steadfast, we South Africans. We’re not going to the dogs, we insist, even as the hounds of hell hump our legs and piss on our shoes. We are not xenophobic, we aver. 

Such confidence, even as mobs brandishing knobkieries and pangas and bay, “Mugabe is dead, go back to Zimbabwe.” 

The facts don’t matter. Nobody asks the 600 Nigerians flown home why they are shunning our hospitality. Nobody asks the families of 213 truckers killed in anti-foreign firebombings last year whether they think us xenophobic. 

Xenophobia, the x-word, has joined the k-word as unutterable in SA. 

In 2008, after more than 60 foreigners were killed, Thabo Mbeki persisted with the line that xenophobia couldn’t possibly exist here, since black South Africans had “a long history of co-existence with other Africans”. 

Jacob Zuma, was similarly hypocritical. In 2015 – after violence claimed seven migrant lives – Zuma told African Union leaders that the “actions of a few” did not justify the x-word slur. 

Xenophobia denialism is also the prevalent tenor in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet, the argument being that since locals also suffer, it is mere criminality. The parliamentary justice and security cluster issued a statement “noting with concern” that incidents of common lawlessness have been “characterised as xenophobic attacks”. 

That’s wrong, “SA is not xenophobic,” the ministers assured us. As part of attention-deflection from the x-word, some sought refuge in deep intellectual pondering. 

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande blamed capitalism. International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor blamed apartheid. Not noticing the blunt response from Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule went so far as to claim that African leaders concurred with the ANC’s view. 

“What I know … is that our presidents, the presidents of Africa are talking, and they have analysed this correctly. It is not acts of xenophobia, it’s acts of criminality.” 

Last week Magashule had expressed regret that the violence was being directed at “people who have the same skin colour as us”, rather than those “many others with a whitish colour” … [who] have never been attacked, because they are also so-called foreigners.” 

At least he is now getting “on message” with the official ANC line. But Magashule, not the brightest button in the haberdashery store, unfortunately then went and spoilt it all. 

He went on to commit an even more heinous act than using the x-word. He described some of the violence as “tribal battles”. Now, in the ANC lexicon, the t-word, tribal, is never acknowledged to be the cause of anything, implying as it would, ethnic cleavages within black SA society. 

While Ace should expect a chiding from the ANC’s political commissars for that little slip, xenophobic and tribal denialism is prevalent among black nationalists. 

It is simply inconceivable to admit that there is, indeed, a deep-seated antipathy among many black South Africans to their black “brothers and sisters”, both here and abroad.

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