Xenophobic wave is deformed egalitarianism

Sunday September 08 2019

Zulu residents of the Jeppe Men Hostel scream waving batons in the Johannesburg central business district on September 3, 2019 after South Africa's financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. PHOTO | MICHELE SPATARI | AFP


When people are subjected to a long period of difficult conditions of oppression and exploitation by an invading community, chances are that they internalise the situation; hence, even after they are eventually liberated, a trend of suspicion persists among them.

Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, in his masterpiece Pedagogy of the Oppressed, argues that the best system of education for the marginalised is one which aims at transforming the oppressive structures by engaging the oppressed to participate in their own liberation process.

This can only happen if the oppressed are made aware that their vocation is to liberate both themselves and the oppressor. It’s only the oppressed who can liberate society.

The xenophobic attacks being witnessed in South Africa are indicative of a society emerging from an oppressive regime. It is a complex that manifests a deformed kind of egalitarianism.


Since the Great Trek of the Voortrekkers in 1835, the indigenous South Africans have been subjected to dehumanising conditions of oppression and exploitation of their economic resources.


The struggle for independence has characterised their lives, and even after they attained independence, they still suffer from the hangover of the struggle.

Similar behaviour was witnessed in France during the 1794 Reign of Terror (The Terror), a period of violence during the French Revolution incited by conflict between two rival political factions — the Jacobins (radical republicans) and the Girondins (moderate republicans). The underlying purpose was the struggle for egalitarian justice.

The Jacobins were driven by suspicion and fear that persisted after the Revolution, leading to serious effects among the aristocrats. Many of those targeted ended up guillotined.


The Congo crisis was an upheaval that characterised another African state immediately after independence in 1960.

It was a situation of unpreparedness of the indigenous population by the Belgians, whose political and economic interest was to promote their self-interest.

The xenophobic crisis Down South results from a long period of a struggle by the people against marginalisation.

Attention to acquisition of essential economic skills were suspended and even education was constantly disrupted during the Apartheid regime to the extent that, at independence, the indigenous Africans were ill-prepared to develop themselves economically.

Therefore, people from other African countries that attained independence earlier were already very industrious and taking advantage of a country considered as the largest economy in the continent.

It’s unfortunate that despite the economic resources, African nations continue to be arenas of struggles for economic independence.

Bodies such as the African Union and, especially, Comesa, should address this persistent menace of the xenophobic complex before it becomes a full-blown catastrophe for the entire Africa.

Fr Soi is a religious scholar and high school history and CRE teacher. [email protected]