XENOPHOBIA HAS NO PLACE IN A DEMOCRACY

Pretoria News, 21 February 2008

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Xenophobia has reared its ugly head in a squatter settlement west of Pretoria, with disgusting acts of thuggery and victimisation that shame us as a supposedly democratic nation. We should be very worried about this hate growing within our society for it will destroy us if left unchecked. In the Itirileng informal settlement, groups of marauding armed men attacked scores of foreigners, including women and children, chasing them from their shacks and destroying their belongings. Those who tried to fight back were stabbed and beaten before being dragged through the streets naked. Apart from Africans from other countries, Zulus and Xhosas were also chased away by the irate residents who claimed foreigners "stole" their jobs and killed people. One man told a reporter: "They must go to their own countries because if they don't, we will kill them" while one woman said the foreigners have "dark, shiny faces" and cannot pronounce numbers properly. It is a fact that millions of people from African countries have flocked here since 1994, seeking refuge from persecution - as our own exiles did during apartheid - in efforts to build a better life for themselves. Admittedly, it is true that foreigners are placing an additional burden on community services like health and education and adding to the pool of the unemployed. Competition for resources by the foreigners and our own poor is thus becoming bitter. But we should not allow the monster of xenophobia any breathing space in South Africa. The phenomenon is identical to racism - it is hating someone purely because they speak a different language or have a different pigment. Many lives were lost to rid us of apartheid and we must not replace one evil with another. As the latest violence shows, xenophobia can also turn into ethnic strife and before we know it, we could turn into another Kenya. Stop xenophobia and severely punish those who practice it. The alternative is anarchy.