Are the last couple of days of violence in Alexandra between local residents and foreigners an act of xenophobia? Well, maybe not in the most straightforward way, but it certainly is. Desperate times usually calls for desperate measures by desperate people. And after years of high unemployment, everyday crime and neverending price hikes it shouldn't come as a shock that the "we and them" mentality shows its ugly face. This is both a common and natural mechanism in a population under stress, but it doesn’t belong in a modern society.
But how does one exterminate this kind of behaviour of “we” versus “them”? This is a huge task anywhere in the world, but especially in South Africa, as this kind of thinking runs in the South Africans’ blood. Referring to other groups of society (may it be foreigners or other local ethnic groups) as second class citizens is no way to build a modern and free nation.
This conflict between different groups is partly the result of fear, the fear for the unknown. “We” might not like “them” because they have different traditions, customs and/or values. But I don’t think anyone can honestly claim, after learning about other cultures, that the difference is so great that it justifies a xenophobic behaviour. The other main reason to conflicts is, quite obvious, an unwillingness of sharing limited resources (e.g. job opportunities) with others, and especially with others that aren’t like oneself (which brings one back to the problem of fearing other groups based on ignorance).
So, the solution to this problem is an increase of understanding/ awareness for other cultures in combination with a prosperous economy, which accordingly will transform “them” to a part of “we”. Simple isn’t it? The one that can figure out how this will work and withstand for generations, please give us a notice, there is a world yearning for the answer.
Mail & Guardian