Xenophobia is not A South African Problem

The intense dislike or irrational fear of people from other countries is not a South African problem, it’s an African problem.  South Africa has just been given an opportunity to manifest it.  Given the opportunity, other African countries will do the same.


Years ago as young men, we mocked and laughed at the Congolese people who flooded our country looking for opportunities.  Some of these individuals worked so hard and ultimately lived comfortable lives.  Due to my mum’s open mindedness, she helped me embrace these fellow Africans and some of them even became close family friends of ours.

When Zimbabwe’s economy was at its zenith, we as Zambians used to buy basic essentials from there and some of our people even relocated to Zimbabwe.  At the time, the Zimbabweans looked down and mistreated Zambians, they mocked us about how bad our currency was.  Years later the country that was once the bread basket of our country, became a reference point of poverty.

Today the same people whose country was a prosperous country have fled to different parts of the world, and some of them are actually in Zambia, the country they once looked down on and whose people they mistreated at some point.

The irony of this, is that on the few occasions that I have visited Zambia, it’s quite interesting to hear how the common Zambian despises and resents the Zimbabwean counterpart, now that their country is not what it used to be.  Some of the Zambians feel that these people are taking their jobs and business.  But when you actually ask some business owners, they now prefer to rather work with a Zimbabwean than a Zambian because most of the indigenous people are lazy and lack a good work ethic.  This does also sound very similar to some of the comments I have heard in the years I have been in South Africa.

I came to South Africa, almost 14 years ago to study.  My first experience of xenophobia was when I ended up selling in the streets of Randburg in order to raise funds to cover my tuition costs.  While in the streets I met genuine South Africans, who were interested in knowing me as a person, not just as a hawker or foreigner.  What I found striking about these individuals is that they saw themselves as part of the greater Africa and the world at large.  They also understood the role that other countries played in securing South Africa’s freedom.  However, within the same streets I also met individuals who resented me because I was a foreigner.  One day a gentleman walked towards me and almost kicked my merchandise over and whispered to his friend “these kwerekwere, why can’t they go back to their country?”

Today as I reflected on my journey as a foreigner, whose country has also become a home for other people from other countries, my hypothesis brings me to this conclusion that, Xenophobia is not a South African problem.

At a basic level, we as humans do struggle with issues of insecurity, resentment and intolerance towards others.  Generally added to this, we as Africans tend to play victim so that we can cover up our toxic hearts.  We cry about all the injustice done to us but we normally fail to point a finger at ourselves.  The challenge is that we are not healed from the past, neither have we drawn lessons from our past experiences.  We look at our history as an accident and have thus not learnt the necessary lessons to gain a better perspective so as to better ourselves and be leaders in dealing with the social ills of our modern society.

When you have been oppressed before, you know how it feels to be in that condition, therefore your purpose thereafter, is not to propagate the same evil and become vindictive.  But we ought to rather use our bad experiences and become witnesses of love and compassion so that another person does not have to experience the same pain.  Our freedom will begin the day we will make a choice to use our bad history as a learning tool to restore human dignity.  We keep on in-prisoning ourselves when we use the same historical means that previously divided and broke our lives, towards those who are currently vulnerable in our communities


What I have noticed is that a people who leave their own countries seem to possess a drive to make it under any difficult circumstances and are always willing to do anything to survive, whilst the inhabitants of a country are often selective about what they need or are willing to do in order to advance their lives.  Until we overcome this feeling of smug, we will always think that other people are taking our opportunities.

In most African countries today, citizens are complaining about the Chinese coming in and taking their jobs and resources.  But if you give the same people the contracts to construct roads and other infrastructure, their first pay cheque goes to buying big cars and other expensive items that are often not even sustainable.  They sometimes even fail to pay their workers and the projects they tendered for even go unfinished.  Let’s take ownership of our lives and craft a better future, mud throwing has never left the thrower cleaner.

Governments and non-profit organizations must partner and work together to create a culture of commitment and diligence, so that we do not look at other nationalities as the reason for our predicaments.  And we as South Africa, having been regarded as the leaders of Africa must lead the way.

Let’s be Value Creators

Foreigners must be part of the solution and not create more problems by not being law abiding citizens.  We must commit that our presence wherever we are must add value and ensure that we leave the places we have been to better than we found them.


Read my new article ,South Africa is in conflict with itself. www.kelvinnamwanza.co.za

Kelvin Namwanza,is a Coach,Author, Speaker.  To invite him to speak at your next event, write to us at :info@kelvinnamwanza.co.za

Picture taken from:saknowledgesquared.blogspot.com

One thought on “Xenophobia is not A South African Problem

  1. Mwila Reply

    I must say l ike this Article…
    Its a good read.

    But I think, I would also like to point out that, while other African countries may also be indifferent towards foreigners, Nowhere else have we heard the consistent Mob Killing of foreigners like my Nation South África.
    And it continues to happen with the Goverment and Law, doing nothing about it.

    I’m sure you also heard on the News a few days ago, that up to today, none has been held accountable for the Mass Xenophobic Killings a few years go.
    And I think, thats why it continues to happen.
    Because the locals are aware that they wont be held accountable for the Killings of Foreigners atleast.

    I’m not sure, what your take is, on that?

    I would also like to hear your views on Racism, I await the article!

    Thank you ba Kateka.

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