This year’s Anti-Racism week comes at a pivotal moment for South Africa and the world. As global and local current events have shown, there is an urgent need to radically disrupt and dismantle racial injustice, anti-blackness, afrophobia and the various global power structures that entrench violence and inequity.
In South Africa, we find ourselves in a context at constant odds with the legacies that we have inherited from Apartheid, Colonialism and Slavery. We confront a society in need of urgent healing and justice. We are a traumatised society that has yet to deliberately address the deep wounds of centuries of violence, hatred and oppression. When these deep wounds remain unaddressed, they create conditions that threaten our efforts for justice and reconciliation.
One recent and urgent example of this is that of the Afrophobic violence we’ve seen in South Africa recently that threatens our prospects of a peaceful and transformed society. South African Afrophobia threatens the full realisation of justice, equity and the protection of human dignity. It threatens the safety and livelihoods of fellow Africans living and working in the country.
Afrophobia remains a lived reality that has life-threatening consequences for African immigrants. Since the late 1990s, South Africa has witnessed overt afrophobic violence through the targeting, killing and dehumanisation of African migrants. The recent rhetoric and actions emanating out of #OperationDudula in the City of Johannesburg highlights just how pervasive afrophobic violence and hatred remain amongst South Africans. The dehumanising language used by the operation’s leaders saying that their goal is to ‘clean up’ the city of Joburg is incredibly violent. It must be condemned and rejected.
While South Africans reserve the right to take part in civic action and raise legitimate political concerns (like unemployment for example), we simply do not reserve the right to use this as an opportunity to dehumanise, to other and to further entrench hatred. afrophobic violence and the normalisation of this afrophobic sentiment amongst South Africans is a critical issue that we need to urgently confront and address. It’s time for South Africans to have difficult conversations about the ways in which our social and cultural norms uphold and perpetuate harmful stereotypes and biases about fellow Africans. As agents of change, it is our responsibility to challenge the normalisation of this rhetoric, to disrupt these harmful social norms and demystify a lot of the political inaccuracies that fuel afrophobic sentiment.
South Africa’s unfolding leadership crisis and the actions of dangerously irresponsible political leadership contribute to the perfect storm for systemic and violent Afrophobia to run rampant. Research shows that afrophobic rhetoric is present and supported across political parties and political divides. More concerningly, South African leadership have been shown to exploit political inaccuracies that fuel and embolden afrophobic sentiment among the public. Our current political leadership has stoked anti migrant/immigrant sentiment. As members of the public, we must educate and empower ourselves to recognise how this is conveniently done by some of our leaders to evade self-accountability and in order to shift blame (of our socioeconomic challenges like unemployment for example) onto African immigrants who are simply also trying to make a living in South Africa.
South Africa’s pressing socio-economic conditions and the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality stems from our inability to deliberately address the socioeconomic and material conditions created by Apartheid. In 2022, South Africa’s wealth and income inequality figures still reflect an extractive and exploitative Apartheid economy that serves to benefit the wealthy white minority. This lack of radical socioeconomic transformation rests squarely on the shoulders of our political leadership who continue to fail South Africans and those who have yet to benefit from the fruits of this hard-fought for democracy. The failure of our leadership coupled with our complicated history around citizenship and belonging continues to have real-life consequences for fellow Africans who face physical, structural and systemic violence at the hands of South Africans and the South Africa Government.
As we continue to experience worsening inequality against the backdrop of rising inflation, systemic corruption and the decline of our social security net, it is the most vulnerable in our communities (immigrants/migrants, migrant women, queers and children) who bear the brunt of imminent afrophobic violence and attacks.
As South Africans, we ought to remember that Afrophobia nullifies and halts our efforts for justice in this country. Dismantling afrophobic violence is integrally connected to South Africa’s ongoing struggle against systems of violence, oppression, exclusion and discrimination that impact all South Africans (due to the legacies of apartheid, colonialism and slavery). Our struggles for human dignity, positive peace for safety, for recognition, for opportunity, for social justice, healing, and equity as Africans remain interconnected. As South Africans, we need to take up the responsibility of undoing the harmful myths engrained in us by white supremacy.
South Africa comes from a brutal history that exploited and manipulated superficial race-based differences for the purpose of oppression, segregation, disenfranchisement and dehumanisation. This is a history that we know all too well, a history that continues to shape us today through intergenerational trauma, violence, division and an inequitable economy.
We must all take up the responsibility of countering and challenging disinformation and commonly held stereotypes that box African immigrants as ‘criminal’ or ‘job stealers’. These stereotypes are false, harmful and feed into the colonial construction of the “other”. These commonly held assumptions remain prevalent in the public sphere and these violent attitudes are baseless and void of any factual analysis of the systemic and structural factors that contribute to poverty, unemployment and crime.
As we recommit ourselves to the global fight against racism this anti-racism week, may we remember the urgent fight against Afrophobia. We ought to hold our leaders accountable and reject their blatant support of Afrophobia. We must reject policy moves that seek to strip fellow Africans of their human dignity and right to belong. As agents of change, we must offer our support, our activism and open up our resources to movements on the ground responding in real time, in the face of ongoing violence and imminent threat. Social movements like that of Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia that was recently formed in Johannesburg in response to ongoing attacks on immigrants.
Lastly, it is time to take up our collective responsibility to urgently dismantle South African exceptionalism and disrupt this colonial notion that South Africa is separate to Africa. South Africa’s rich history and heritage remains intimately intertwined and interconnected with the rest of the continent. As does our future.
The idea of a just, prosperous and equitable South Africa is reliant on a just, prosperous and equitable Africa. And this includes the struggles of all Africans living here, abroad and in the diaspora. #AllBlackLivesMatter
Jodi Williams, Project Leader for Sustained Dialogues Programme