Xenophobic attacks: Why South Africans target mainly African immigrants

Wednesday September 11 2019

By Immanuel Ben Misagga

The on-going wave of xenophobic attacks by Black South Africans on immigrant Africans have raised concern from all corners of the continent and beyond. A lot has been said about the xenophobia, which literary meaning fear of foreigners, which is largely fuelled by politics and economics.
However, from my experience as someone who often travels and invests in South Africa and other southern African countries, I believe that xenophobia stems from a mindset of just a section of South Africans.
First of all, we should not forget that a united South Africa is just 25 years old. Therefore, many South Africans are yet to overcome the classification, stereotyping and confinement they endured during the apartheid regime.
I have been privileged to visit the leafy communities of South Africa as well as its ghettos in Soweto. My first surprise was the huge presence and influence of food and supermarket chains across the country.
Besides, the prices of goods in the supermarkets are tailor-made for the different communities. For instance, the price of the same burger in Soweto could be three times lower than in upscale Sandton, just a few kilometres away.
In other words, every class of South Africans was sorted in their own locality and it is quite rare to find a suburb like Naguru or Namuwongo, where the wealthy rub shoulders with the poor.
There is an invisible distinct line that one doesn’t cross. Since the end of apartheid, there has been an influx of other African immigrants into the country whose potential for opportunities is unmatched in Africa.
Owing to the tough economic and political conditions from their countries of origin, these immigrants easily mix up with the oppressed South Africans.
However, this has unsettled the members of the downtrodden communities, with the worst case scenarios prevalent in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Over the years, these immigrants use every loophole or opportunity in the economic chain of wealth to create their own class of merchants who often sell basic necessities of life.
What starts as mere retail shops owned by immigrant Africans soon becomes upgraded to mini-super market and in some cases, a mini-franchise that acts as middlemen between the rich and the poor. Mark you, shops were started by East Africans and later Nigerians in around 1996 in compounds and villages.
Therefore, xenophobia can be instigated by mega supermarkets who lose local market.
Consequently, the affected South Africans tend to resort to xenophobic attacks in order to destroy shops established by African immigrants in order for supermarkets to regain their sales (market). This has greatly reduced the influence of many major supermarket chains from the shanty suburbs.
With time, South African locals have come to realise that they have become dependent on services offered by African immigrants, especially shrewd Nigerians, who have a huge economic influence on the lower-income communities.
I have interacted with a number of South African friends who, however, point to something queer as one of the possible causes of the xenophobic attacks.
“They have taken our women and are eroding our culture…that hurts our pride,” my friend told me.
It was a strange revelation. With that revelation, it seems there is a mix of social and economic factors that is causing mistrust between South Africans and African immigrants. This mix has introduced cultural pluralism that is eating away some of the old practices among South Africans, thereby stirring anger.
So, xenophobic attacks are always a spark away as long as the timing is right to show the world how the indigenous people have been rendered beggars in their own country.