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Look to South Africa, Remainers, for the true meaning of xenophobia


Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart – Alan Paton: ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’.

ONE of the many smears thrown at us Brexiteers is that we are xenophobic. This is the trendy buzzword used to denigrate us deplorables who had the temerity to vote to leave the EU. The Remainer rant includes xenophobia alongside that other overused insult – racism.

Remainers unthinkingly accuse Brexiteers of xenophobia in a foolish attempt to virtue-signal their own anti-racist credentials. I suspect that many who attempt to wield this word as a clumsy linguistic weapon against Brexiteers have no real understanding of its true meaning.

To accuse others of xenophobia just because they voted to regain sovereignty for their country is not only unfair but diminishes the suffering of those who have experienced this form of hatred. To trivialise the anguish of others just to score an insult against a political opponent is immoral.

To see examples of real xenophobia, look no further than the country of my birth, South Africa. The jubilant and unifying rainbow spirit of the early days of post-apartheid has sadly been forgotten. Far too many South Africans demonise the foreigners living among them, blaming them for their difficult lives. The true culprits are the corrupt members of the ANC government. But, because of their poverty and vulnerability, economic migrants are far easier scapegoats.

South Africa’s population is around 50million. Migrants, who mainly come from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho, number about 3.6million – a minimal amount. But those afflicted with hatred of the other don’t pay attention to facts.

Over the past two weeks South Africa has been torn apart by xenophobic attacks on immigrants. Lorry drivers staged a strike against the employment of migrant drivers, burning their vehicles in coastal KwaZulu-Natal. Foreign owned shops in Gauteng have been attacked. Eleven people have died and almost 500 rioters have been arrested.

On Thursday last week, in a small town called Springs, towards the east of Johannesburg, a man was shot by rioters as he tried to protect a foreign shop owner from being lynched. An Ethiopian shop owner was robbed of money and stock by looters who told him that he must go back to his own country because he is an ‘illegal foreigner’.

South Africans are in no mood to be told what to do by community leaders and politicians. On Sunday Mangosuthu Buthelezi, founder of Inkatha Freedom Party, held a rally in Johannesburg where he admonished rioters for their xenophobia. In response, some of the crowd walked out brandishing sticks, shouting that all migrants must leave South Africa.

On that same day hostel dwellers from Jeppestown, armed with sticks and pangas, marched through the streets calling for African migrants to leave the county. In their xenophobic rage they attacked several shops and businesses. 

The riots have spilled over South Africa’s borders into other African countries. Following reprisal attacks in Nigeria, South Africa was forced to close its diplomatic missions in Abuja and Lagos. Students in Lusaka forced South African-owned shopping malls to close. And in a harrowing echo of the dark days of apartheid, two prominent Nigerian musicians have announced that they will boycott South Africa.

Sadly, these are not the first xenophobic attacks in the country. In 2008, more than 60 people were killed and thousands more displaced from riots aimed at refugees and migrants. Further violence against foreigners took place in Durban and Johannesburg in 2015.

There are many factors which have contributed to these xenophobic attacks. Immigration into South Africa was tightly controlled by the apartheid government. After 1994, this damaged society, trying to recover from the ravages of apartheid, had a sudden influx of migrants. The ability of South Africa effectively to absorb them has been hampered by the ANC’s disastrous inability to govern properly. South Africans are forced to compete with migrants for scarce resources in a failing economy.

A bloated public sector budget, an unemployment rate of nearly 28 per cent, skittish investors, conspicuous consumption and corruption are just a few of the factors decimating South Africa’s economy and adding to the misery of millions of its citizens. The country has one of the world’s highest murder rates. There is no welfare state safety net. Loss of a job can lead to death. Life is tough in South Africa.

Added to these woes are the twin devils of socialism and Islamism propelling South Africa even further on its downward trajectory, see here and here. 

The system of apartheid cheapened life. Twenty-five years after it was dismantled, South Africans are still struggling to heal from its destructive effects. But no matter how painful the recovery, apartheid can no longer be used as an excuse for these heinous attacks on foreigners. And neither should poverty be used as a reason to destroy the livelihood, and lives, of migrants.

South Africans should know better than to persecute others for who they are. I suggest that Remainers stop their anti-democratic whingeing and realise how lucky they are to live in a country where immigrants, including myself, are rightfully protected by law and order.

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Karen Harradine
Karen Harradine
Karen is an anthropologist and freelance journalist. She writes on anti-Semitism, Israel and spirituality. She is @KarenH777on Twitter.

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