I heard a story that recently, in Atteridgeville, a group of people were protesting for reasons unknown to me. During the protest march they ended up breaking into a shop owned by a Pakistani immigrant. They raided the man’s shop, stealing the food he sells and some of his profits. The Pakistani shop owner tried to stop them, but there wasn’t much he could do against the large group. The story I was told then proceeded to how the food was being sold for half price on the streets of the Pretoria township and locals were buying it too, without asking any questions.
As the narrative of the story was continuing in the township, it was clear that some were in total support of the act and were justifying it by saying the shop is owned by foreigners. It’s strange that black South Africans, some of whom lost their family members to apartheid, discriminate against others because they look and sound different. This is a country that saw a lot of bloodshed because of discrimination that made others lesser citizens because they looked different from the race considering itself more superior. Xenophobia is exactly that – it’s just that the race once considered inferior is claiming superiority over others. This time it’s not skin colour or skin tone being used, but nationality.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu coined the term ‘Rainbow Nation’ for South Africa. Clearly that term means nothing these days as we move away from racial, ethnic and other forms of tolerance that one can have.
Black South Africans seem to care less about why people leave their countries and brave their intolerance in some of South Africa’s poorest townships. They never spend time to think that maybe foreigners don’t want to be her but are discrimination, assault and fear in a South African township offers a better life than the one they left behind in other parts of Africa, the Asian sub-continent and the Middle East.
It’s been almost 18 years since we found our democracy in this country. It’s been almost 18 years since we found the many freedoms we constantly talk about, but clearly the minds of some South African are not free as they are constantly looking for people to blame for their suffering. Clearly people in Atteridgeville never cared to stop and think why the Pakistani man managed to move to their township and open a shop that ended up doing well. They clearly never even asked him so maybe he could share some skills with them. All they seem to have wanted on that day was someone to blame for their problems and the foreigner just happened to be there. If not careful we can easily return to May 2008.