University of Zambia academic Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa says the savagery physical violence that regularly flares up against foreign nationals in South Africa is a result of extreme levels of inequality, mass poverty and unemployment. And Dr Sishuwa has observed that South Africa is bearing the brunt of failed and incompetent leaders in the SADC region, noting that one country cannot meet the aspirations and failed dreams of a sub region or an entire continent.

Giving a keynote speech in Cape Town on 22 May 2019 to mark Africa Freedom Week celebrations at the University of Cape Town’s Distinguished Speakers Programme (DSP) on the topic “Africa Day in the Age of Xenophobia: Another Perspective”, Dr Sishuwa dismissed the common narrative that xenophobic attacks reflect South Africans’ lack of gratitude for the sacrifices that other African countries made towards the liberation of their country.

“The argument that South Africans who attack foreign nationals from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and other African countries that helped South Africa attain majority rule are ungrateful rests on psychological explanations and is problematic for two reasons. First, it effectively approves physical violence against Africans from those countries that contributed nothing to the liberation of South Africa. It presupposes that the problem only occurs when these attacks are directed against Africans from countries that helped South Africa attain majority rule. No, the attacks are unacceptable regardless of the origins of those on the receiving end,” Dr Sishuwa said.

“Second, the argument that South Africans who attack foreign nationals from African countries are paying with ingratitude the sacrifices made by their African brothers and sisters overlooks the point that those who helped South Africa to attain majority rule did not do so out of expectations of rewards or benefits once the country was free. Leaders like Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and others in the region were motivated by selfless convictions and the need to offer solidarity to a sister country that was still under the yoke of apartheid. If an action is motivated by the expectations of an equal or greater reward, it can hardly be considered a selfless one. Would these violent physical attacks have been legitimate if South Africa had offered reparations or development aid to these countries as a thank you?”

He said instead of addressing the symptoms, South Africa and other African countries should attend to the drivers of xenophobia.

“The attacks are a result of structural issues, exemplified by a heap of undiluted poverty, mass unemployment and extreme inequalities within the South African society, the SADC region and across the African continent. This is not a justification for their occurrence, but helps explain why they occur. Statistics show that South Africa, for instance, is the most unequal country on earth. It is characterised by uneven development between one part of the country, mainly those inhabited by blacks, and another, mainly the urban suburbs populated by whites. People are flocking from rural communities to urban slums, which sustain extreme forms of inequality. Official figures also show that unemployment stands at 26 per cent. Of this figure, only about seven percent are white South Africans. The result is mass poverty, especially in communities inhabited mostly by black South Africans. Less jobs also means that the revenue generated from taxation is so low that the State cannot use it to sufficiently police poverty. It is under this pungent mixture of glaring inequalities, rampant unemployment and dehumanising poverty, all with a predominantly black face, that the physical violence meted by black South Africans against foreign nationals from Africa occurs, as part of the vicious struggle to survive,” he said.

“At a time when the black South African is struggling for survival, you throw into the communities where they live another layer of people who we say must be protected because they are coming from countries that helped free South Africa? No, let us find a more sustainable solution, one that tackles the glaring levels of inequality and would significantly reduce poverty and unemployment. The xenophobia attacks are simply symptomatic of these structural problems and the failure by the post-apartheid State to positively impact on the aspirations of many.”

He proposed free movement of people across the region as a possible solution that could help lessen the attacks.

“In addition to fostering even development, we should also consider implementing the policy on free movement of people across the region. What stops us from opening our borders is fear and the desire to preserve our differences. We must understand the modern world as a shifting realm of immigrants in search of sites for survival. Migrants are coming and we must come to terms with it. The whites who arrived in South Africa from Europe and elsewhere in the 1600s or soon after were fleeing from impoverishment and other forms of deprivation. Cecil Rhodes, for example, only brought his poor health and his ideas to South Africa, in search of survival and yet he made it. No one burnt or stabbed him or those that came before or after him on grounds of their poverty or place of origin. The Africans from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria and elsewhere are following that long-trodden route or pattern, one that partly defines South Africa as a land of immigrants,” Dr Sishuwa said.

“Wherever we are in Africa, we should get used to the idea that the immigrants are coming. The earth is our ecosystem. Ecologically, all races can live anywhere on Earth. I see no reason why I should be stuck in Maputo when I can go to Lusaka and make it. So let us blow away the borders that separate us and allow free movement of people, starting at regional level, SADC. The EU has already moved in this direction and there are several case studies that show the economic benefits that accrue to migrants’ countries of origin and the ones that host them. I know that there are those who will say ‘But if we open borders to everyone, then the whole Democratic Republic of Congo would move into South Africa’. This assumption proceeds from the erroneous assumption that some countries have only poor people to offer and no resources.”

Dr Sishuwa also said South Africa is being made to pay for the failures of leadership in other African countries.

“In a sense, South Africa is paying for the failures of leadership and policies of other African countries. Why would citizens of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Nigeria or indeed any other African country leave their countries for the slums of Kwazulu Natal or Alex, where they risk being beaten or killed instead of staying in Harare, Lusaka, Maputo, Lilongwe, or Lagos? It is because they feel that they have reached a dead end in their countries, that their national political leaders have failed them. For many Africans, the road leads to South Africa and most end up in impoverished or the poorest neighborhoods hoping to make it big and move out to better places, better jobs. Many never do” said Dr Sishuwa.

He noted that South Africa was being made scapegoat for the failures of other leaders in the SADC region.

“It is that sense of hopelessness and despair that drives the energetic segment of the population, including those without formal qualifications and the requisite papers, to escape from their territorial prions of destitution in search of a better life. Ineffective or incompetent leaders in the SADC region are putting a considerable strain on South Africa. The leaders of these countries where those on the receiving end of these barbaric attacks hail from must engage in critical self-examination before they hypocritically condemn South Africa for failing to take care of their citizens who ran away from such countries precisely because of the tragic failures of those who are complaining.”

“One country cannot meet the aspirations and failed dreams of a sub region or an entire continent. The trickle down effect of a good economy is now being thinly spread between the South African poor and that of the entire continent by having to share the little that ordinarily would be enough for them. And since Africa is never in short supply of the poor, the South African poor will always bare the burden. Now, the poor know the determination of other poor to escape poverty. They know that they can swallow indignity and insults to give a shot at a better life for their children. The only way to kick them out is threatening to kill them because when it comes to death, even the poor can’t take it. The hostility that the South African poor show towards other poor Africans is similar to the resentment that ordinary Zambian traders feel when they see Chinese selling tomatoes and chickens on the streets of Lusaka and other towns. While we in Zambia do not necessary fight and slaughter people, the root or underlying causes are the same. We must identify and attend to those structural causes, not the symptoms of effects of the problem, observed Dr Sishuwa.”

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29 COMMENTS

  1. This is one of the most ignorant statements I have ever had the misfortune of hearing. Sishuwa negates the lives lost by xenophibic attacks and the daily xenophobic inuendos experienced by foreigners living in South Africa. The black south africans do not appreciate the sacrifices made by other African Countries for them during the apartheid struggle.But who can blame them; there was an information blackout at the time.The only South africans who are aware of what other countries did are the older generation of freedom fighters plus Julius Malema who chooses to educate himself. Violent south africans are being shown by foreigners how to live amicably and work hard otherwise they have this great sense of entitlement.To cast blame only on failed SADC leaders is to tell a one sided story ,Dr…

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    • Hmm, mwati mwabelenga story I mwe? You clearly have not read the story, otherwise you would not be regurgitating the same argument about sacrifices and gratitude that Sishuwa is dismissing.

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    • On the contrary, this one of the most illuminating argument I have had the fortune of reading. If economies where thriving in most African countries, I doubt that people will move to Alexandria in search of a better life. And why are people moving? desperation and in search for self-preservation. Surely, and as Sishuwa argues, one country, just like one family, can not absorb the poverty of an entire continent or extended family. In short, call it what you want – xenophobia -South Africa’s poor are just fighting for the little that they have. Good piece Sishuwa.

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    • Too long but did this academic go there to suck up or to present an academic paper? He looks like he wants a job.
      Just a point ba Sishuwa it’s not exclusively SADC countries sending immigrants to South Africa. There’s a very large West African population there and also a large somali population. Stop superficial hypothesis ing. Lesotho and Zimbabwe are the only Major SADC feeders of immigrants

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    • @ex-moms. Please try to read through again. It appears you just browsed through.

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    • There were less than 10000 South Africans in Zambia during segregation period. Go back to your sh!Thole Zambia

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    • Sishuwa. a potential game changer for Africa has made his point very simple and clear. Some Africans, it’s easier to train monkey! Ex-moma is dumb!

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    • The motives of those who helped you doesn’t matter. You are indeed supposed to be grateful for the assistance

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  2. It does not matter whether i agree with your views or not but you are a thinker.This xenophobia thats been talked is practised even here in Zambia.It forms part of the explaination of the reasons for the death of the UNZA student in her hostel,mapenzi Chibulo,Sgt Choongwa and thousands of retirements in national and public interests etc.Its the truest explanations why the civil service is a preserve of only parts of the country.

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    • Mm wrong topic for your sentiments. Why don’t you write a column on this subject you have touched on.

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    • I agree Zambians are very xenophobic. Just go and read the comments on the story of the Somali man who wants to evict trespassers on his land

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    • This topic is very interesting. Let’s south africa help other african states to embrace democracy and human light .because of oppressive regime and injustices in some coutries,people will keep on coming in SA .

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  3. The writer must know that long before the African started to rule RSA and before the advent of SADC, Africans from the surrounding colonies always trekked to that country in search of fortune. What has caused the attack on foreigners is the failure by the black South African government to address issues adversely affecting the black people. These people had high with incoming black government but things have even got worse. .during white rule African movements were regulated especially rural urban migration. But today many Africans have abandoned villages for towns where jobs are scarce. Sorry sir this one is worse than a grade 7 drop out reasoning.

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    • @Nanje Khakis – Dr. Sishuwa has shared his views. What are your views as to why SA’s poor are fighting Africa’s poor? They are just bad people?

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  4. Well articulated Dr. Sishuwa. Babusi ba mwa Africa ba swabisa. Kibu mayi a pe ki butata!

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  5. Spot on Doctor. These foreigners also fail to integrate in the new country and are a source of Crime and Diseases . They tend to group into subsets of their countries of origins and speak their foreign languages , making it a potential security risk. Most of them may not even have proper resident permits and they stretch the national budget on Health and Education. I remember the Era of Senegalese invasion of Zambia during the late 1980s, our Sisters were the Victims lured into marriages which never lasted .

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  6. Spot on Doctor. These foreigners also fail to integrate in the new country and are a source of Crime and Diseases . They tend to group into subsets of their countries of origins and speak their foreign languages , making it a potential security risk. Most of them may not even have proper resident permits and they stretch the national budget on Health and Education. I remember the Era of Senegalese invasion of Zambia during the late 1980s, our Sisters were the Victims lured into marriages which never lasted .

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  7. Dr. Sishuwa Sishuwa made a point. We also see similar violent behavior to people trying to get to Europe from Africa. My other observations are:
    1. Yes we should not expect much from South Africa – that country has more problems than answers. Actually we are much better than them.
    2. Our leadership might not be the best, my question remains. Why is it that we are always thinking that things are worse in Africa or zambia? Zambia, for example, gives many refugees sanctuary from other countries and most are doing well in Zambia. We do not attack them.
    3. Our greatest challenge in Africa and zambia in particular is that we all seem to know the best way to solve our problems, we do not seem to establish a common ground. We are all pulling in different directions. Never, one sees the…

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  8. Poor and misguided analysis. The inequality in South Africa is due to Apartheid and its polluting aftermath. White South Africans have held on to the privilege of wealth, Land and power and manipulated it for their own purposes to maintain the status quo. Their control of media and invisible hand in politics has shifted the blame in the eyes of an uneducated black population that was denied free education at independence to the very people that helped them and gave them refuge and resources when they were oppressed by the same white people. The analysis of this good doctor is a mere export of the negativity he harbors against EL, his government and leadership at SADC. Tribalism is a bitter poison.

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  9. Animals travel relatively short distances to find food or more favorable living or breeding conditions.Most animals that migrate do so to find food or more livable conditions. Some animals migrate to breed. what do human beings migrate for, learn to handle your own problems and use your brains.

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  10. The tendency has been for us to find a scapegoat for our own failures. The truth is we have high corruption levels, failed governments, and failed economic policies. When that happens, people are likely to look for greener pastures elsewhere. We saw that in Botswana. Many foreigners trekked to Botswana for greener pastures. The same was the case with Libya when it was still Libya. Now it is South Africa. We can do better. We should have been doing better. South Africa, like the U.S., is feeling the burden of an influx of immigrants. Rich and powerful as the United States is, it is feeling the burden and has started reacting to it. Why can’t Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala be like Canada? And why can’t Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique be like Botswana and Namibia? Shame on us.

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  11. Can’t find anything to disagree with the Doc’s views , except the one on “Open Doors” i.e free immigration. The truth is that the competition for scarce resources and opportunities is the major reason for the xenophobic attacks; and the solution is to have fair and balanced regional economic cooperation coupled with regulated immigration.

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  12. Sishuwa, you have brought an exciting dimension to this issue where almost everybody accuses South Africans of being ungrateful to their neighbors who contributed to their liberation struggle. To help someone with a view of dictating on how they should repay the kindness smacks of a fraudulent, insincere and mercenary spirit. THIS IS NOT UBUNTHU! Any sincere helper must know that there is the attendant risk of ingratitude from the recipient, just as there is a risk of looking foolish when you laugh.
    YES, WE JUST NEED TO FIX OUR ECONOMIES, AND THERE WILL BE NO MORE XENOPHOBIA IN SOUTH AFRICA. THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA H.E. C. RAMAPHOSA CARES FOR HIS CITIZENS. CAN WE SAY THE SAME THING ABOUT OUR OWN LEADERS HERE? WHY HAVE THEY WHOLEHEARTEDLY EMBRACED THE CULT OF DELIBERATE…

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  13. Is Sishuwa looking for job?
    Looks like so, you never know when good academics are trib.alised like Sishuwa.

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  14. flag Corruption scandals: Social Security Cash Luxury Presidential Jet Ambulances Fire Trucks Mukula Trees Ndola-Lusaka Rd Malawi Maizegate Fuelgate Swaziland landgate Zesco Loans

    Well articulated!

    You can easily tell the people who haven’t actually read the article from their ill informed comments. Just see the headline and rush on to comment.

    Very poor reading culture… it is no wonder we are at the tail end of human civilization and development.

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