Xenophobia: The painful history of black-on black violence

Gugu Ndima notes that white monopoly capital has thrived in townships without any disturbance

The painful history of black-on black violence: Lest we forget

I was born in Katlehong, a township near Tokoza in Ekurhuleni.  The name translated in Tsonga means a place of peace.  The name was chosen due to the violent and political volatility which characterised the East Rand (now Ekurhuleni) in the early 1990’s. 

The place has a painful history of black on black violence which destroyed homes, saw innocent lives taken and left many young and old scarred both physically and psychologically from this era.  The name remains a significant reminder and heritage of the people of Ekurhuleni about harsh and painful times. Young as I was aged 8, the sounds of guns weren’t any less tormenting, the cries of mothers weren’t faded by innocence and it didn’t take any level of consciousness to understand the turmoil we were confronted with.

A colleague unceremoniously showed me footage of some of the abruptions in KZN.  The footage was of foreign nationals being burnt and beaten desperately attempting to escape. One of them looked barely 13 years of age. 

This was a stark reminder of how easily violence can be incited when there is obstinate ignorance and an absence of leadership on a contentious issue.  The subject of xenophobic attacks has left authorities mortified, our relations with our African counterparts under scrutiny, but more worryingly it has exposed our shallow degrees of consciousness and levels of understanding of our path towards realising a democratic society and historical relations with many countries in Africa.

There are many alleged theories and distortions propagated around the occupation of foreign nationals in townships, others assuming a strategic takeover of terrorist groups, others assuming that it’s a network of businesses taking over. However the absence of a coherent voice from the powers that be, giving guidance on the matter leaves a void for opportunism, further incitement of violence and more concerning fear within communities. The KZN province sadly has an equally violent history which saw an escalation of black on black violence leaving families in despair and shattered. 

The one argument which has erupted and seems viral even in the attacks in Gauteng is that of foreign nationals taking over spaza shops and killing the township economy.  If indeed the issue centred on the economic severity caused by foreign nationals having spaza shops, then one begs the question as to why the legitimate murderers of the township economy were never attacked, the retail giants which have comfortably killed every organ of what is now characterized as the township economy.

White Monopoly capital has thrived in townships without any disturbance and is no less of foreign occupation than foreign national’s spaza shops. One can argue for its ability to employ, yet the economic spin offs aren’t of great impact as they continue exploit workers and products sold aren’t produced by township communities. 

Foreign spaza shops instead have afforded many alternative and cheaper products injecting competition in a space dominated by Capital. However this isn’t an attempt to attack Capital, yet the absence of context in this revolt  requires that these attacks be interrogated further. 

Eliminating foreign national owned spaza shops in township communities has minimal impact economically for the township community as it doesn’t necessarily eliminate foreign occupation. With or without foreign Nationals, the township economy is being milked by foreign business.  Attacking foreign nationals for example predominantly benefits white monopoly capital which continues to flourish through malls and franchises which aren’t owned by the black majority.    

South Africa has a historically violent society, a nation still battling with reconciliation along lines of race. The cost of going back to that horrific past far supplants the one of reconciling. We must always be conscious of the fact that counter revolutionary forces will find tactical ways to take us back.

Violence in the early 1990’s was incited by the apartheid regime and its right wing battalion to frustrate negotiations towards a peaceful transition.  Mothers and fathers on both ends of black on black violence didn’t benefit, it was a tragic loss, a tormenting political era which yielded nothing but agony.  Our history, our heritage, painful as it is, must serve as a reminder of these inhumane atrocities; however our people must never lose sight of the enemy as we advance towards a national democratic society. The failure of project “Democratic SA” is tantamount to failing forebears who fought for social justice, humanity and eradication of all forms of segregation

In Gauteng the provincial government attempted to deal with the issue of xenophobic attacks by proposing some form of partnership with vendors, however have we dealt with core issues which will completely eradicate this hostility.  This again exposes the urgency to tackle economic transformation, our people can’t be confined to the township economy which evidently doesn’t cater and afford enough opportunity and growth.

We must do away with the notion of confining the growth and development of the majority in the townships; it unwittingly suggests confinement to a specific geographical location and entrenches exclusivity of the mainstream economy to an elite few. South Africa belongs to all who live in it, including the economy of it.

Dispossession, segregation and exploitation have only bred all forms of hatred and sadly at times it’s dislocated.  If we are to avoid dealing with root causes of the problems we see now, we are only going to see deterioration of the situation and if not careful breed ground for another era of ethnic violence and tribalism.

The disunity of Africa has only benefited imperialism, this goes against all hopes of African giants like Nkwame Nkrumah, our aspirations towards African renaissance and a vision of a rainbow nation. Black hegemony is an imperative and strategic component towards realising a prosperous Africa. We must therefore demonstrate the ideals we claim to have built our democracy on. Our leaders dare not fail us now, knowing the historical penalties of black on black violence        

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