FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Attacks on foreign nationals are a form of hate crime


The unhappy truth about the mayhem and anarchy happening around some of the major cities in South Africa is that we cannot say we are surprised.

The signs have always been there before us. This is not one of those that author Nassim Nicholas Taleb called Black Swans – events that nobody could have reasonably foreseen, like the airplanes intentionally crashing into not just one but both buildings that made up the Twin Towers in New York city.

Allegations and threats against foreign nationals have gone on for a while. In most cases, they have degenerated into ideological postures instead of making an attempt to address the underlying tension between the foreign and local communities.

A sentiment – even one that is xenophobic or in any other way bigoted – does not disappear by describing those who embody it as they are. I doubt if ever anyone stopped being a tribalist, a sexist or a racist because someone told them that is what they were.

Attacks on foreign nationals are xenophobic and forms of hate crime.

Twinned with xenophobia is the state’s general indifference to arresting, prosecuting and jailing lawbreakers.

Ours must be one of the very few countries in the world – most certainly on our continent – where people will go in front of television cameras and without attempting to hide their identity, tell all and sundry that they have intentions to carry out economic sabotage and public violence in their town and city.

Just recently, Tshwane Municipality workers went to their workplaces, took buses and blocked the streets. Incredibly, they did the same thing the next day.

The same city government and its police now say that anyone who has information about lawlessness must bring it to them instead of taking the law into their own hands. The same workers are back at work as though nothing happened.

It is no great wonder nobody seems to fear that their actions might have long-term consequences.

We are where we are because we have a government that values outward appearances to being seen to be dealing with the problem in a decisive manner.

It does not help the foreign nationals to swat away a deep-rooted perception that a particular foreign national community’s activities bring harm to the local population.

Instead, it makes that community a future scapegoat where all other troubles in the society will be laid at their door and harm visited on them.

The state must go out of its way to show the perceptions are misplaced or stop that community from causing harm to foreign nationals.

We are caught up in the either-or mindset where one cannot condemn acts of criminality conducted by foreign nationals – where such are manifest – and call out xenophobic attacks where they raise their head.

Political parties predictably tap dance around these issues. They do not want to be accused of being xenophobic, while at the same time not wanting to alienate the electorate.

What they must know is that unless they call things as they are, whoever wins the next elections might just get the authority to govern a crime scene and not a country, for that is all we will then be.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.