Xenophobia or Conditioning?

The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa have concerned me as much as any peace-loving citizen.

Having travelled a fair bit globally, though, I see a pattern that goes beyond xenophobia. On one hand,  South African society has been segregated for many years – a situation legally changed many years ago,  but psychologically still embedded in the subconscious mind of many.

I believe that years of focusing on what differentiates us,  rather than what unites us, is partly to blame. Apartheid disenfranchised the ‘other’ and advantaged the connected few. Affirmative Action,  though perhaps a necessary response, continued the trend. The new BEE codes seek to differentiate further based on race, or ethnicity. I am not judging the laws, simply noting how they further identify ‘us’  and ‘them’, forming silos of separation.

There is also no denying the work challenge – entrepreneurial opportunity needs to be seized and businesses started to employ the many who are deprived of the dignity of work. Where there is plenty of pie, we argue less about our slice of it, in my experience. We need to be bakers,  not consumers. And we are a bit behind overall – except for a few ‘outliers’ – in this skill.

These are just two facets of the complex issue of xenophobia, excluding the more obvious hatred of others, born out of fear, and ethnic nationalism, which may surface in various forms at the hands of traditional leaders asserting themselves. What concerns me most is the similarities between what I saw in the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda and some of the statements being expressed in certain quarters, and even potentially legislated.

I look forward to a time when the words of Martin Luther King JR in his legendary speech will be as true for our country as they have been, at least in part, for the USA:

I have a dream that my…children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

Here’s to a nation that sees our weaknesses and strengths and welcomes feedback on how we can all be better. Here’s to a nation built on love and belonging, because we ourselves have received love, grace and mercy, and are grateful. Here’s to greatness, an ideal of a united country that inspires us to focus on what we can achieve together, rather than who is to blame for us not having what we want –  or even need – tonight.