Xenophobia is a Plague That Needs Cure

Xenophobia is a Plague That Needs Cure-teentate.org.jpg

Shannon Ebrahim

“Sometimes facing the truth we are afraid of is what makes us who we are supposed to be,” a wise woman once said. This week, I thought of that quote as the controversy around xenophobia and criminality raged in the wake of recent attacks against foreigners in South Africa.

What is apparent is that perhaps we should not be so caught up in definitions that we fail to see the wood for the trees. What happened to hundreds of Malawians in Durban last week, where three were killed, was unacceptable. This followed the stabbing, on Saturday, of Malawian  Edward Kanyemba in Diepsloot, a township north of Johannesburg. His crime? Being a foreigner.

The targeting of foreigners is a sensitive matter especially because South Africa is indebted to her neighbours for the steadfast support they gave the liberation movement during the anti-apartheid struggle.

As a South African, I look at this generosity of spirit as an act of selflessness that knew no bounds, and without it, our liberation would have taken much longer.

Liberation fighters had a presence in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and other African countries even further afield. Many gave the liberation movements land, resources, training and even access to social services.

This was the brotherly love and solidarity which many of us remain deeply grateful for. That is why it is so difficult to accept that there is a devastating trend that foreigners are being targeting in our society, and that these are hate crimes. But if we do not acknowledge the demon of xenophobia when it exists, we will never be able to effectively address the problem.

What I was exposed to this week left me with no doubt that xenophobia is a reality and our challenge now is to address the root cause and raise awareness within the public and the police service.

As it turns out, the Malawian who was stabbed in Diepsloot is someone I know. It was a xenophobic attack clear and simple because his attackers were aware of his foreign accent when he asked them for directions.

When they refused to provide the directions and he turned and walked away, they descended on him as he crossed the road — stabbing him four times in the base of his spine and three times in the upper arm.

It was an attack motivated by pure hatred or resentment merely because he was a foreigner. The attackers left him bleeding in the road and never even attempted to take his money, phone or bag. The story gets more heartbreaking.

Not one of the onlookers who screamed in horror came to his rescue, nor did they rush to the police station nearby and summon help.  But at least an ambulance was called and it took him to Tembisa Hospital, where he was given medical assistance for only 48 hours, after which he was turfed out to make way for other victims of stabbings.

Late that night, he was discharged in the rain — hardly able to walk, with no transport to get to Mamelodi, 50km away. In ordinary circumstances, it would have taken three taxis to get to where he was staying, but at that time of the night it took an eternity in excruciating pain.

With only painkillers, the following day he proceeded to another hospital to get treatment.  It was then that I was informed of his situation and joined him to try to ensure he received treatment.

The nurses relayed a terrible reality — that the hospital has been receiving an increased number of stab attacks, many of them foreigners.

It is time for us to face the truth we are afraid to confront — that xenophobia is rampant in our country.  But the question is: What are we going to do about it?

The writer is the group foreign editor at Independent Media.

Culled from mediamax