Stranger Danger; Let’s Talk Xenophobia

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“The dislike of or prejudice against that which is perceived to be foreign or strange”. It is natural for us as people to be fearful of things that are different, but in many instances throughout history, this dislike of people from another country or culture has escalated into cultural conflicts, typically between the native residents of a country and refugees or immigrants. As the bigger and often more vindictive sister of racism, xenophobia manifests between those who are not merely different in physical appearance, but those born of different cultures, religions, and languages. This problem has manifested in the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Colombia, South Korea, and largely the world over, but most recently in poster nation for historic racial tension, South Africa.

This is counter-intuitive, as the rhetoric of the African continent since the 1950’s, in an effort to repair the rifts driven by Colonialism, has been one of “pan-Africanism”. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, advised that reparation could be sought through “shunning the atomistic nation-state and zero-sum sovereignty”, towards a stronger, more united future.

So, what happened? South Africa, having failed to work towards solutions for the countries many systemic problems of poverty, unemployment, and violence, have leant on the large percentage of foreign nationals as the root of all their troubles, with ripple effects of this tension reaching the full breadth of the continent. What began with lootings and ransacking foreign-owned shops in Johannesburg has escalated to violent attacks on immigrant communities, burning of homes, and 12 deaths in Johannesburg and Pretoria within the last month alone. The rest of Africa has responded with attacks and threats to South Africans working across Africa, with South African trucks being sieged in Mozambique and South African officials facing public backlash at consulates across the continent.

With the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement having been launched earlier this year, and with South Africa lining up to Chair the African Union, these intracontinental rifts highlight the existential threat to pan-Africanism which could be one of the continents best chances for rapid, sustainable and inclusive development.

Hayley Mole, Associate

The Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria met this week to seek out solutions to the violence which has resulted in 600 Nigerians being repatriated for safety. The outcome: early warning mechanisms for impending violence and fostering people-to-people dialogue in both countries. In the current global climate, we appreciate that two leaders can have an open and positive discussion towards a common goal. In practice, let’s see…

The root of xenophobia is lack of understanding. The remedy? Inclusivity and diversity throughout industries and education systems, and perhaps most importantly, media and entertainment. Mohammed Salah, an Egyptian footballer and practicing Muslim now playing for Liverpool Football Club in northern England, has been credited with an almost 19% decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the city since he joined the club in 2017.

Fiction without borders: From Somalia to Moldova, Felicity Castagna, author of “No More Boats,” recommends eight fictional reads based on true events surrounding global migration.

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