I am going to tiptoe through the minefield of a column that references the ugly phenomenon of xenophobia. This is not a dissertation, but I shall attempt to dulcify the stark realities that are clearly visible.
Dictionary synonyms for the word include prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, insularity, parochialism, isolationism, ethnocentrism, ethnocentricity, racism, racialism, nationalism, and jingoism.
The general understanding is that it is the fear or dislike of anything perceived as foreign or strange, threatening loss of national, ethnic or racial identity. A 1997 review essay included elements of a political struggle about who has the right to be cared for by the state and society.
A modern Italian sociologist, Guido Bolaffi, called it “an uncritical exaltation of another culture which is unreal, stereotyped and exotic”.
My essay is triggered by the alarming metamorphosis that is evident at the centre of Bellville. This area used to house supermarkets and insurance brokerages, legal firms and real estate agencies.
These days, it is the locus of the taxi horde, and foreign nationals who have occupied every inch of business, living and squatting space. I have heard people say that Bellville could justifiably be renamed Somaliland.
I can hear my readers rushing in to defend whoever I pull in to blame for what is an eyesore. Granted, “foreign nationals” have brought in a strong work ethic, a willingness to maximise and exploit any contingency for the advancement of their own. This includes a strategic placement of the social organism close to government agencies like the offices of Home Affairs and the South African Revenue Service.
All flats, shops, garages, chemists, haberdasheries, eateries, repair facilities… you name it, have been populated by this national group.
I recognise that the ANC has a soft policy regarding neighbours who assisted in the Struggle for freedom. But where do we draw the line when the expansion of the settlement under review breaks all the social rules pertaining to health, child-rearing, protection from the natural elements and, indeed, the land-shark gangs who infiltrate and sell imitation goods that include just about every product from CDs to cigarettes?
We move to the silly resistance by a residual society to the overtures of Amazon on the banks of the Liesbeek River. The resistance ignored the built-in benefits of increased employment and fiscal growth in favour of a new-legitimated authenticity as a First Nation.
We have hardly reasoned a truce, a sort of lame compromise, when the Cape Castle, that pentatonic icon of South African colonial history, was overrun by thousands of freelanders (my construct) who willy-nilly occupy and destroy what is a major income-generating tourist attraction.
With the “invasion” comes overcrowding, no social facilities and no defence against potential insect and animal infection. The entrance to the Castle protects a living river that could easily be converted to a source of potable water. It stands a good chance of permanent pollution.
Prior acts of rejection include the rivalry between Boer and Brit, the Immigration Regulation of 1913 which kept out Indian immigrants. As recently as 2018, there were acts of xenophobic horror, including hate speech and physical destruction, directed at the Chinese in the northern provinces. And didn’t a Zulu royal state openly that the migrants (in this case, Zimbabweans) should “pack their bags and leave”?
The conditioned reaction is informed by notions of xenophobia which are not exclusively South African. All countries have the problem to a lesser or greater degree. It appears that we do not have the muscle to control social movement that flaunts the law.
I do not seek recrimination, but we must remember our basic right to be heard in a court of law. Let this be your guiding lamp when you consider what I have presented for your valued erudition and sense of fair-mindedness.
Let us clean up and rise together before we inherit an irreparable and irreversible societal implosion. Up to now, we had only Covid to deal with. Who knows what awaits us when there is no control over who crosses our borders willy-nilly?
* Alex Tabisher.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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