The international community, especially other Africans need to appreciate the complexity of South Africa’s situation and support not condemn it
By Dr Eng. Kant Ateenyi Kanyarusoke
As a resident of South Africa, many people keep asking me about this xenophobia thing.
According to my understanding, given my observations in Botswana and South Africa over the last 14 years, it is the hatred of non-nationals living in your country.
Different social groups express it differently and it tends to come to the fore, when there is competition for access to opportunities.
In this article, I will try to trace the roots of this problem in South Africa and hazard a way forward.
The Cape was originally settled by the Khoi-San peoples. The Khoi were a pastoral nomadic group whose women were very well endowed in some quarters. The San were hunter-gatherer groups of people, light-skinned, short and small in stature. Both spoke non-Bantu languages full of clicks formed by twisting tongues as they spoke.
The Dutch arrived and settled in 1652 during the European quest to find a sea route to India and China. They robbed the Khoi-Sans of the land, shot them on sight and drove them northwards into the arid deserts. This was the beginning of xenophobia in the area.
Xenophobia was not started by our darker-skinned, Bantu-speaking relatives, who at the time, were also moving southward from the Congos and the Great Lakes region as ‘foreigners’. In fact, when they encountered the fleeing Khoi-Sans in parts of Botswana and today’s Namibia and mid-South Africa, they mingled with some, intermarried and modified our main language to introduce clicks in the resulting dialects.
But a sizeable number of Khoi-Sans preferred to keep clear and stay in the deserts and in scattered thickets of the region for fear of ‘foreigners’.
Meanwhile, the British had been prevented by the American block of land to find a western sea route to the East.
They turned to the Dutch route and sought to hijack it from them. The Khoi-San - hunting Dutch became the ‘huntwa’ in Uganda speak.
They resisted, but could not win. Many gave way and fled northward, following the Khoi-San they had chased earlier. This was violent xenophobia again, but this time between two European tribes. Our Bantu relatives were not yet involved.
The fleeing Dutch farmers resumed their Khoi-San extermination venture whenever they found them in their hideouts. They also met our own relatives – the Sotho-Tswana dialects speaking peoples in mid and northwest South Africa. They drove the Sotho off the lowlands and would have exterminated them were it not for the latter to escape to highlands of present day Lesotho.
The Tswana suffered but were to be saved by the British who at this time were taking over present-day Botswana. Xenophobia among our people was thus introduced by these Dutch farmers. In Zululand, around 1830 the warrior Shaka arose, scattered everyone in his midst and aimed southward for the Cape. He butchered fellow Bantu clans. Survivors dispersed to form new so-called tribes like Xhosas, Ndebeles, Swatis, etc.
Some fled as far north as Tanzania. This seeded great hatred, mistrust and extreme violence among our Bantu relatives. Sectarianism and xenophobia bloomed among our people because of this.
The real resource curse came when our own innocent daughters were noticed playing a stone game with gems by the invading Europeans in mid-South Africa.
Diamonds were here, in one of the concocted fleeing Dutch republics, and shortly after, gold followed in Johannesburg area in yet a second similar ‘republic’.
The British left in the Cape pursued the Dutch and violently grabbed the mineral fields! Again. European tribes’ xenophobia was on. They enforced a union with the Cape and the Eastern coastlands.
The Union of South Africa was thus born out of a cocktail mixture of blood, sweat, greed and xenophobia!
Bantu men from all over the region were recruited into the minefields leaving only women behind.
The men stayed away from their wives and families and the traditional African way of bringing up children was destroyed. Boys had no guidance. Women were sexually starved.
Maturing boys ran amok, attempting to impregnant anyone of age before being recruited into mines. In my view, this is the true genesis of the rampant female abuse among our southern relatives.
The Dutch community was the dominant European tribe. Its tribal political party, the National Party formally introduced the policy of Apartheid in 1948.
Families were split. If your brother had a brownish skin while yours was darker, he became a ‘coloured’ and was forced to go to live in a different reserve — just as you were relocated to some flimsy barren ‘homeland’.
This traumatised society further. All good land was grabbed by Europeans. All businesses were run by them. Worst of all, different school systems were set up for Europeans and for the rest.
History was falsified. Geography was optional. Maths and science for our Bantu relatives had different syllabi — it being assumed they didn’t need them or could never comprehend them.
They were taught that they were lucky to be in their little homelands because elsewhere on the continent it was all doom and gloom.
Independence in 1994 was mostly a political expression only. And with politics, come lies by aspiring leaders and false expectations by naïve citizens.
To be fair, the ANC has done some work, especially on housing, and is trying when it comes to higher education. However, lower education improvement, economic independence and crime prevention/control, which in my view are the most important areas in stemming xenophobia, are still elusive.
I think the government needs to reform education and emphasise both technical skilling and African history for every child in school.
Violent criminals ought to be given maximum deterrent sentences, even if it means annoying the human rights activists.
The international community, especially other Africans need to appreciate the complexity of South Africa’s situation and support not condemn it.
But the South African elite also, need to constantly nurture the pan-Africanism spirit among themselves and their less fortunate countrymen and women.
The writer is a pan-Africanist solar engineer and engineering educator.