Xenophobia hurts South Africans more than others

People looting stores in Turfontein during the recent xenophobic violence
People looting stores in Turfontein during the recent xenophobic violence
Image: Thulani Mbele

Usually the most overwhelming thing about driving past and around Oakmoor Long Distance Taxi rank in Tembisa, on the East Rand, is the lingering stench that comes from discarded innards, as well as the volume of traffic.

At least that's the Oakmoor that I know but not the one I found last Wednesday.

Part of the texture of that taxi rank is the sight of Toyota Ventures that snake across the road, making it impossible to drive past. On that day, I found them eerily well behaved.

As I drove down the road, whose name I do not know because the signs have long been taken down, I understood why.

A week-and-a-half ago, that street had been a traders' haven, with shoppers bustling in and out of different shops. A sight completely different to what I would find that day. Buildings stood as mere remainders, half burnt, half smashed but nothing like what they had been before.

The streets were quiet and awkward. I understood, with much sadness, that nothing ever goes back to normal after the kind of violence that engulfed the country in the last two weeks.

It is a different thing to experience the aftermath of these "xenophobic" attacks physically, to physically sit in the collective emotional turmoil of the community.

There is something about the remains of that kind of event that no newspaper headline and or news bulletin could ever capture. The smell from charred buildings, the darting eyes of foreigners who no longer feel safe... and the unspoken, palpable guilt and sadness in the eyes of the locals. The people who were woken up by terrifying sounds in the early hours of the morning.

The lootings are definitely started by criminals. From what I understand, it is a bunch of men who arrive with chisels and machetes. Apparently they break the doors of foreign-owned shops and go for cigarettes, money and airtime vouchers and only then can the masses come in and take as they please before they move on to the next shop.

These are the people we see on TV news running and scrambling out of shops with stolen goods, it is so easy to label them criminals, as most of us do. We've created such unequal economic fields that people don't need a lot encouragement to steal or benefit from ill-gotten goods.

The hunger that our society breeds has convinced the rest of Africa that we are a horrible nation that's hungry and thirsty for blood. A tragedy.

The South Africans I know are loving and share with the people around them. The ones I have seen sit in the guilt of what they have been party to. They have contributed to the hurt of people who have shared lives and sometimes yards with.

The politicians have come out guns blazing against these attacks, but they need to have honest conversations about the economic climate that most South Africans exist within. People are hungry, and we are hurting ourselves more than we do foreigners.

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