Xenophobia in South Africa

Hey everyone! I just touched down in Cape Town, South Africa, where I'll be working this summer on entrepreneurial small business development projects through TSiBA Graduate Business School. I'm looking forward to building upon the knowledge I gained as an NDN intern this past Spring, and sharing my experiences right here on the NDN blog. And if my first few hours are an indication of what's to come, I'll have plenty to discuss.

As I stepped onto South African soil Sunday night I had no idea what to expect. For months I've planned to work in Cape Town for the summer, but with the recent attacks on foreigners in the country, I was forced to become more cautiously optimistic of my plans. When I arrived everyone was extremely welcoming, but I was truly amazed when during breakfast this morning, I looked out the window to see hundreds of people protesting the recent xenophobic attacks marching down the street.

What I saw opened my eyes to multiple aspects of this problem that have been somewhat overlooked. First, while the media portrays the attacks as attacks on foreigners, they are largely assaults on Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians, and others who have been accused of stealing jobs from South African citizens, not attacks on tourists or volunteers who are also foreigners in the country.

In addition, the situation reminded me of an exacerbated parallel of the Minutemen in the United States who task themselves with patrolling the American border with Mexico. In drawing this similarity it can be seen that these feelings of xenophobia are not exclusive to South Africa, however the means will hopefully remain vastly different.

Moreover, in Peter Fabricius' article (subscription only) in the Cape Times, he brings up the point that this violence has tremendous potential of completely changing the way that South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki conducts foreign policy in the region. Interestingly enough, while the Nigerian foreign minister has said that South African apologies are not sufficient in making things right, the foreign nations whose citizens are being attacked have been surprisingly understanding of the violence. (With its strong words, Nigeria at this time has not requested compensation.)

Lastly, in a time when the world is suffering from tremendous humanitarian problems all at once, the way in which Mbeki handles the growing refugee problem in the country will determine how effectively South Africa can manage its own, as well as act as a leader in African humanitarian efforts in the time to come.