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Foreigners are the scapegoats for our intolerance

By Zoleka Luswazi | Nov 25, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

"A PERSON with ubantu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed." Desmond Tutu (1999): No Future Without Forgiveness.

This article aims to shed some light on the contradictions of xenophobia. It argues that inconsistency, partiality, double standards and misguided myths are what perpetuate this immoral crime.

Unless we rid society of these we are always going to face hate crimes. Let's debunk these myths and go back to our roots: ubuntu.

We need to remember what the essence of who we are stands for. Younger generations might not know much about that since there has been a disconnect between generations, so in order to raise an awareness of this moral philosophy we need a nationwide education campaign of what ubuntu is.

Ubuntu is an African philosophy that emphasises humanity. Ubuntu is derived from the Nguni word umntu, meaning a person or a human being. So ubuntu is treating other humans with respect, kindness and love.

This philosophy emphasises cooperation, lending a hand and being considerate and thoughtful. There are many idiomatic expressions that are used to give a concise picture of this abstract concept, and I will give translations to the ones I use here.

For example, unyawo alunampumlo translates into a foot cannot predict where it is going to take you, which means be careful how you treat people, you may need them someday.

Another apt expression is intaka yakha ngoboya benye, which translates into a bird builds its nest with another bird's feathers. This means we need each other.

There is no record of how old xenophobia is, but in the Bible we find evidence that in Ancient Egypt people who were not Egyptians were made slaves, and also in Aristotle (Politics Book I) we find him justifying slavery because according to him some people are natural slaves - just like beasts - and therefore by enslaving them you are preventing them from simply killing each other in the wild.

Xenophobia has led to the worst crimes against humanity.

In Nazi Germany millions of Jews were killed because they were a different nationality.

In Rwanda millions of people were killed because they were a different ethnic group.

In Bosnia a different religion was the reason behind an ethnic cleansing that killed millions of people.

In South Africa we have come out of a painful past of racial discrimination.

If discrimination matters morally, then it should matter wherever it occurs.

To discriminate against other people on the basis of nationality is an inconsistent, contradictory double standard. People who are in our country are guests and ubuntu requires that we should treat guests with utter respect.

A current myth blames immigrants for high unemployment rates, but in most cases people from other nations bring their expertise or take menial jobs that nobody wants.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, high unemployment rates are not caused by immigrants but by inappropriate labour legislation, immigrants are able to get jobs because these policies do not apply to them.

Another myth claims that people from elsewhere use up the country's health and education services.

In a study by the Southern African Migration Project, 40percent of South Africans opposed providing these services to people from other African countries.

I find this ironic, because during apartheid, exiled South Africans found refuge in other African countries.

Akukho nkanga edubul' ingethi, means that everything under the sun has a season, a season to shine and a season to fade.

We have adopted what I would like to term the abuser's syndrome, whereby a person who was abused, once free from abuse, starts abusing people he or she should be sympathising with.

The third myth I am going to talk about blames immigrants for skyrocketing crime rates. Blaming immigrants for society's problems that were here long before they arrived is misguided.

It is sometimes perpetuated by the media when they mention the country of origin if someone from a different country commits a crime or by labels people from certain parts car thieves or drug-smugglers.

I am not saying that immigrants do not commit crimes because some of them do, but labelling certain people does not help the case against this immoral act.

Ubuntu philosophy teaches us Isisu somhambi asingakanani singangesentaka - a visitor's stomach is as small as a bird's. This simply means a guest will not deplete your food supply, so be kind and give them something to eat.

IsiXhosa sithi induku entle igawulwa ezizweni : This means a rare, beautiful stick is harvested from other nations.

If we do not want people from other places to be in South Africa then how are we going to advance as a society?

We need to take a good look at ourselves and admit that we have a serious intolerance problem.

Before killing or terrorising immigrants we were killing each other, there were killings in the hostels and townships for no other reason but a difference in a language, or a difference in political views.

Now we have found scapegoats and seemingly legitimate excuses to continue with our intolerance.

lLuswazi is a Fulbright scholar and ethicist


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