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Understanding the Meaning and Practice of Xenophobia
Xenophobia is the fear, hatred, or prejudice of which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It stems from two Greek words, "Xenos" ( which can mean either "stranger" or "guest") and "Phobos"( which can either mean "flight" or "fear"). Though xenophobia has been around for a long time, the word itself is relatively new to the English language, its earliest citation being around 1880.
Just like people who practice any other discriminative act, people who practice xenophobia lack understanding or blame foreigners for certain issues in their communities. Xenophobia causes natives to hate or act aggressively towards foreigners.
Many acts of xenophobia are rooted in biases about a certain group. For example, native-born people often have mistaken ideas about the many Indian and Congolese doctors in the province of KwaZulu Natal in the southeast of South Africa who studied in their own countries and came to look for work in South Africa because of the better working conditions and salaries. Many of the natives took this as a sign of the foreigners coming to steal their jobs.
South Africa's Past
South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa, has over 60 million people and is the world's 23rd most populous country. As of 2021, about 79.4% of South Africans were of Black African ancestry, 9.2% were of white European ancestry, 8.8% were colored or multiracial individuals, and 2.6% were Asians.
South Africa is a very vibrant and beautiful country, each province having its unique attractions. South Africa offers superb beaches and rivers, sunny weather, game reserves, fascinating mountains, Africa's oldest botanical garden, numerous sugar cane plantations and relics of the great battles in South African history. It also has one of the world's most informative archeological sites filled with the history of the existence of humanity.
South Africa truly is a wondrous place, but just like most of Africa's countries has a tragic past, in which the European settlers who chose to colonize it made the lives of millions a constant struggle for peace and survival. Apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation, existed in South Africa and southwest Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. The uprising against it caused the death of more than 700 people and injured up to 4000 people.
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It didn't help that tribalism (which existed even before apartheid) among the Black Africans made the struggle even harder to conquer as the Europeans used it as one of the many strategies to ensure that the people were controlled. While apartheid truly ended in 1994, it has scarred the people of this country, making them quite a bit suspicious of foreigners.
South Africans as Foreigners
Most of Black Africans' ancestry originates from the Bantu speakers who came from what is now the border between Nigeria and Cameroon and spread throughout central and southern Africa as early as 2000 BCE. Evidence suggests that they settled in Southern Africa about 1500 years ago. The Bantu were not a single ethnic group, as they came from and settled into many different countries, tribes, and regions. The word Bantu is an artificial term based on the reconstructed Proto-Bantu term for "people" or "humans".
The original inhabitants of South Africa were in fact the Khoisan, so when the Bantu speaking people, arrived most of them intermingled with them creating the major ethnic groups: Zulu, Xhosa, Bapedi (North Sotho), Tswana, South Ndebele, Basotho (South Sotho), Venda, Tsonga, and Swazi, all of which predominantly speak Southern Bantu Languages. Each ethnic group has multiple clans and tribes. The Zulu are the largest group and the Xhosa come in second. Both groups are present in the more populated parts of the country such as Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu Natal; many of all 11 groups live in less populated provinces as well.
The Lives of the Foreigners
The point is that most people's ancestors are not originally from the countries they are currently staying in. For example, White Americans' ancestors are Europeans and the original inhibitors of the United States of America are the Native Americans. So why does immigration cause controversy when it happens in modern times, even though in most cases it is just people looking for a better life for their families and the generations to come? These days it is not people looking for war but people just moving to a country that is not ridden with Ebola and malaria, or a place where your children won't be forced to work in a factory, become a child soldier, and work in a mine. They want to go to bed with a full stomach and a reassurance that if sick they can go to a fully equipped medical centre; the women never worried that they will get sexually assaulted. A life knowing that in your future you will have a well-paying job.
Despite what people may want to believe, people are hurt by inequality. This is especially the case with these foreigners as many of them left their countries and homes because they feel that their basic human rights were being abused. They came looking for peace in a land that had decades of hurt and loss and instead caused a misunderstanding that they wanted to steal everything that the natives worked so hard to build.
As Black Africans, our predecessors have been through so much for centuries all over the world but we are stronger than ever despite that. We have many brave women and men who risked all to fight for us. As humans regardless of race, nationality or gender, we should stand together for a "brighter tomorrow" as the superheroes on TV say. I leave off with a quote from an unknown person, "Diversity and inclusion are about giving value to every human being, no matter our differences."
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Kenayah Hades