Protesters take part in a march against gender based violence and in solidarity with women who have been subject to violence and in memory of those who have been killed, at the North Beach in Durban, on September 7, 2019. PHOTO | RAJESH JANTILAL | AFP
As South Africa in the past few days descended into another bout of xenophobic attacks on African foreigners, it offered up horrifying stories and images of lynching, looting, and frenzied violence.
However, one of the most haunting things didn’t come via a news story. It was an opinion column in the City Press, by one of its journalists, Sipho Masondo. He was mad as hell, and threw political correctness out of the window, calling black South Africans “barbarians.”
The column painted a picture of out-of-control men raping and murdering women in record numbers (South Africa has among the highest rape rates in the world—including of infants).
Gangs have run amok, and lawlessness rules. He wrote of how during the three and a half year period to January this year, arsonists burnt 214 train coaches.
South Africa is a country where mobs hijack earth movers and dig up highways.
He writes of a highway to Durban, which last year “became a no-go zone after thugs set a number of trucks on fire, looting the cargo and murdering the drivers.”
Over 100 trucks and cargo valued at 1.5 billion rands, have been set alight and looted. And then the really shocking one: He alleged that over 200 drivers, many of them Zimbabweans, have been killed in the process.
If thugs killed 200 truck drivers from the region in an East African country, this part of the world would be at war.
The Nigerians, who have borne the brunt of the xenophobic of recent months, finally snapped, going on their own wave of attacks on South African businesses, burning and looting them. MTN and supermarket chain Shoprite were forced to close shop.
In a sign of how angry Nigerians are, some called on the hated extremist militant group Boko Haram, to attack South Africa in retaliation.
Last month Sahara Reporters reported that 127 Nigerians have been killed in xenophobic attacks in South Africa between 2016 and 2019.
Yet, beyond the bloodletting, there are some dry-eyed analysts who see South African xenophobia and Nigerian retaliation as one and the same thing.
In South Africa, the world’s most unequal country, they are lashing out at unemployment and wretched lives of the black population, for whom post-apartheid has been a disaster; and the incompetence and corruption of the ruling ANC a betrayal of historic proportions.
Nigeria is actually worse. As one publication put it, it has “become the poverty capital of the world,” having overtaken India as the country with the highest rate of extreme poverty globally.
Thus, apart from some very warped self-loathing, successful African foreigners (as opposed to Asian, European and others) hold up a mirror to South Africans of their failures. But only for now.
In the goodness of time, the analysts warn, they will break down the walls guarding the homes of the wealthy and powerful—especially its black ruling class—and burn everything down.
And, they argue, in Nigeria, if there aren’t dramatic improvements, soon they will be burning down the stores belonging to its corrupt elite who have grown fat off pillaging oil revenues for decades.
In short, those lynch and looting mobs, are the canary in the coal mine that the guardians of Africa ordered. I am tempted to agree.
This article was first published in the East African by Charles Onyango-Obbo