African on-African xenophobia.

Author:Wambu, Onyekachi
Position:BACK TO THE FUTURE - Column

While African emigrants decry their treatment in Europe and elsewhere, the spate of African-on-African xenophobia raises ugly questions. What are the causes of this problem?

The outbreaks of violence against African migrants continue to poison the South African brand. The positive narrative of truth, reconciliation and forgiveness, or the much-vaunted philosophy of Ubuntu, melts into insignificance in the face of Africans being ruthlessly hacked with machetes. This treatment of the other undermines complaints about the treatment of Africans in Europe and elsewhere. What is fuelling this?

Anyone visiting South Africa since independence has sensed the shift from the optimism and openness of the early years, when Mandela was celebrated and everything seemed possible, to the gloom of the present, where for many, hope has evaporated, and little change is expected in their lives.

For me, this shift has been reflected in the behaviour of my middle-class African friends. Post-1994, as the society opened up, former white-only institutions looked around for these middle-class Africans as part of overdue diversity drives. The same institutions, looking to hedge an uncertain black future, also offered businesses opportunities, partnerships, and access to credit.

On the back of this an emerging African middle-class opened fast-growing businesses in sectors like fashion, retail, hotels. Confidence was such that every visit to South Africa ended with invitations from this middle class to relocate and participate in the opportunities.

The blandishments were easily declined. Instead one tried, unsuccessfully, to engage this over-confident group in discussions about the fundamentals of the economy, set against the deal that produced the miracle of the 'rainbow nation'.

Under the deal there was to be no redistribution--land and the existing economy would be left in white hands. Future African empowerment would happen only through an expansion of the economy.

But just to absorb the historically unemployed and provide jobs for those coming onto the job market, the economy needed to grow annually by 5%. Since 1994, however, the economy has averaged just 2.7% growth, which is not enough to absorb the long-term unemployed and those coming onto the market, let alone the large numbers of new migrants, dazzled by the prospects of the 'rainbow nation'.

Soured dreams

The gap between what was needed and the reality is what is producing the soured dreams witnessed on...

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