Has anything really changed in the last 21 years?
Whether you live in South Africa or not it is most likely that you have heard of the xenophobic activity which has taken place over the past three weeks. The exact reason or reasons are not really known but many of the South African (SA) persons involved make two claims. Firstly that the foreigners are taking their jobs and opportunities and secondly, that they are attacking and chasing the foreigners out of the country because that is what King Goodwill Zwelithini, King of the Zulu nation, told them to do so. On March 21, Human rights Day in South Africa, the King gave a speech in Pongola where he is purported to have said that foreigners must return to their own countries.
Before going further, let’s look at some definitions of xenophobia because it is one of those words which can be said to be the same but different in various definitions.
1. Xenophobia has its roots in fear — literally. Phobia comes from the Greek word meaning “fear.” Given that the fear in question is of strangers, it makes sense that xeno- comes from the Greek word for “stranger, foreigner.” In the case of xenophobia, the fear is irrational. Someone who is xenophobic might distrust a neighbour he’s never met, or a sheikh who lives halfway around the world. Xenophobia is like racism, but instead of fearing or distrusting people because of the colour of their skin, you fear or distrust them because of their nationality, or because they are — or seem — foreign to you. (Vocabulary.com)
2. “deep-rooted, irrational hatred towards foreigners” (Oxford English Dictionary; OED), (Wikipaedia)
3. “unreasonable fear or hatred of the unfamiliar” (Webster’s), (Wikipaedia)
4. An excessive and irrational fear of anything foreign. This fear is most often of foreign people, places or objects. People who are xenophobic may display fear or even anger toward others who are foreign. While xenophobia is often used interchangeably with terms such as prejudice and racism, these terms have different meanings. (Kendra Cherry, Psychologist)
Certain words with similar meanings seem to occur in each definition, namely “irrational”, “unreasonable” and “excessive” and to me this says that is abnormal behaviour. According to the third definition given by a psychologist as opposed to a lexicologist, ergo a definition by one who deals with emotions as opposed to facts, xenophobia is 1) not linked only to people and 2) not the same as racism or prejudice.
None of these definitions suggest, though, that xenophobics are violent or destructive such as harming people and destroying their property. Why are the people in South Africa townships attacking their brothers and sisters of Africa?
What we currently have in South Africa does not seem to me to be ‘deep-rooted’ hatred for the foreigners they are attacking but it does seem to be irrational. Most of them have lived together in relative harmony for 7 years following the xenophobic violence of 2008. Even then, it was a sudden and unexpected uprising. Exactly what the trigger was never became clear and with the attacks this year, there is now talk of a 3rd Force. It is not my intention in this blog to try to define who or what the 3rd Force is but rather to remind us of what was said just over 29 years ago.
Hearing this reminds me of the late 1980s and early 1990s when South Africa, in particular the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, had an inordinate amount of ‘Black-on-Black’ violence. With each of the IFP and the ANC blaming each other the former government blamed it on a 3rd Force which many of us believed it to be the Nationalist government stirring the communities and destabilising them. The idea was probably to show that Blacks were a warring crowd who were incapable of running a country. Today we hear exactly the same thing from the ANC Government – the xenophobic violence is being encouraged by a Third Force! The saying, The more things change, the more they stay the same comes to mind.