For the past week or so, South Africa has been marred by violence of the homegrown variety – not terrorists, not international, but violence by South Africans towards their friendly neighbours and brothers from Botswana, Namibia, Nigeria, Mozambique, etc., who have been living in South Africa for years, trying to seek better lives against all odds.
Xenophobic attacks that started in Durban have spread to Joburg, but I am told that things are much better this time than what happened in 2008. Much better is defined by the number of lives lost so far, number of foreign-owned shops looted and the number of people displaced. Not sure if the people affected by the recent events would agree.
But what struck me most is that not every South African shares this feeling of hatred towards the foreigners. A simple conversation with Fikile, a lady I happened to meet and have a conversation with, left me feeling a little more assured. She is a single mother, raising three kids all by herself. She lives in a township too, surrounded by people who are both locals as well as from across the border. Her best friend, Sam, is from Botswana. She leaves her youngest son, who is less than a year old, with Sam, and is able to go to work without worries. The other alternative would be to leave the little baby in a creche, where conditions are far from ideal.
I asked Fikile how she feels about the recent events. In a few sentences she made it clear – “These are hardworking people who are being hurt. They are not taking our jobs. They sell stuff on the road – its hard work that no South African is willing to do.” The problem according to her is that most of these people do not have papers, and when they try to get papers, they are asked for substantial bribes, which they cannot afford.
Her township has not been affected. Yet. And that I feel is because a lot of people echo what Fikile feels. A few bad apples should not be allowed to spoil the entire barrel.