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Xenophobic attacks in South Africa

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa

by Peter Knox SJ

   Every culture has its dominant populist discourses and taboos.The
   populist discourse in South Africa is that foreigners have “taken
   our jobs” (less often “taken our women”) and thereby stolen our
   wealth. Remove the foreigners and then every legitimate South
   African will have access to the untold wealth of the nation.

   Let’s consider some figures:

   King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu receives US$ 6 million per year
   from state coffers to support his 6 wives, 28 children and 5 palaces.

   107 km from his royal Zulu seat is the home of President Jacob Zuma
   who, as the highest paid world leader, receives $ 75 million per
   year (and then steals a further $ 24 million for “security upgrades”
   to his private home.) His overall net worth is some $215 million.

   In 2012, Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma was estimated to be worth $
   8.2 billion from a major oil deal.

   Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa divested himself of some $ 700
   million when he entered politics in 2014.

   His wife is the sister of Patrice Motsepe, whom Forbes (2015)
   estimated to be worth $ 2.3 billion.

   Johann Rupert whose family made their fortune with alcohol and
   tobacco sales is worth $ 7.7 billion (Forbes 2013).

   An axiom of good speech-making is that “people in glass houses
   shouldn’t throw stones.”

   Rather than criticize the outrageous wealth of the country’s
   /nouveau riche/ and “old money” King Zwelithini chose to blame
   foreigners eking out a living in the country for the poverty of
   great masses of the Zulu people. In his much publicised speech in
   early April, he said of them:

   ”I ask that the government help us. It’s now time that people
   scratch at their own fleas and we squash our own. Let us remove the
   fleas from our blankets and place them in the sun so that they drop
   off there. We ask that foreigners take their belongings and go. I
   know that when you all were in their countries while the struggle
   was going on you helped them that they might be free, but you all
   never hung out and sold anything in their countries.”

   Speaking to thousands of Zulus – among the least educated South
   Africans and most inclined to violence, because of their proud
   warrior tradition, many of whom still live 4 or 6 men to a room in
   the hostels around the cities, themselves remnants of the apartheid
   migrant labour system – the king was not going to highlight the
   immense disparities of wealth that exist in the country. Instead he
   gave his compatriots licence to /scapegoat/ foreigners – many of
   them refugees from economic, climatic or violent crises. Instead of
   finding a safe haven in SA, foreigners have been subjected to
   looting, the worst kinds of terror and violent deaths, reminiscent
   of our years of resistance to the apartheid regime. SA is still a
   very violent society. René Girard theorises that the scapegoat
   operates as a catharsis when tensions are building up, after which
   society can go back to business as usual. Was the king cynically
   giving the Zulus an opportunity to “let off a bit of steam?” He
   claims not. He claims to have been horribly misrepresented.

   A press statement of my colleagues in the Jesuit Institute in South
   Africa, says that he king has morally compromised himself. That he
   took a full week to claim that he was misquoted, is an indication of
   lack of leadership. The Traditional Leaders Act (2009) mandates
   leaders to build up our nation, preserve the moral fibre, contribute
   to the regeneration of society and the social well-being and welfare
   of communities. ‘Such legislation sees Traditional Leaders to be a
   force for good in our country. The King has missed an opportunity to
   promote the common good.”  Click on the link at

   In his blog post on the /America/ website, Anthony Egan SJ writes
   that many foreigners have a work ethic that leads them to success in
   their new and relatively prosperous country, whereas many uneducated
   and unenterprising South Africans cherish a sense of entitlement
   that the wealth of the country will be theirs without too much
   effort. “Nothing fails like success” Egan writes. The success of
   others presses a raw nerve – a sense of failure – which, together
   with the sense of entitlement, generated the xenophobic attacks.    See

   The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference reminds us of a
   Zulu proverb which says that the stomach of a visitor is smaller
   than the kidney of a bird – i.e. the virtue and duty of hospitality
   mean that we share whatever we have with the foreigner in our midst.
   The SACBC also reminds us of the biblical mandate in Leviticus
   19:33f. “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take
   advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him
   like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in
   Egypt. I am GOD, your God.”  See

   Deut 10:19 says the same: “You shall love the stranger as you were
   strangers in Egypt.”

   How sad that my compatriots have forgotten that we were received
   with great hospitality in strange lands. How sad that frustrated
   mobs use populist discourse to commit heinous offences against
   fellow African and Asian business people.