Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brutality to Aliens

Karl commented that he's recently seen the film 'District 9' and jokingly remarked: 'Is it true that South Africans were so awful to aliens?'.

So I got to thinking about South Africans and why 'District 9' was made. You'll probably know some of this, but I'm hoping to give an insider perspective.

Violence against foreigners from elsewhere in Africa has been with us for many years. It was believed (though why I can't say) that it would decrease after liberation (1994). Perhaps I could have told them something different, but that's in retrospect, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.

South Africa is sometimes called the 'Europe of Africa'. We have the strongest economy, the best infrastructure, a concentration of natural resources. Its no wonder that we attract a lot of immigrants and refugees from elsewhere in Africa.

At the moment, for instance, we have over three million refugees from Zimbabwe alone. At the same time, we've got 40% unemployment, and once these foreigners are here, they want to work. Not only do they want to work, they're also willing to do so for less than the locals. So who gets the jobs?

Its no wonder that African immigrants are seen as 'cuckoos in the nest'. The other side of the coin is that some of these immigrants are good businessmen. They open shops especially in the poorer areas. They're helpful, they make life easier for people - Somalians are particularly well-known as shop-owners. Because they're good businessmen, they offer better prices. They're well-liked, but there are jealousies involved.

All of this festered into an almighty explosion in 2008, when riots in various parts of the country cost 60 lives, shops were looted, buildings were burned and African immigrants went in fear.

Give people a 'reason' to riot and loot (especially the looting), make it appear 'justified and noble' and there's no shortage of folks who'll participate. A worker on this farm related that she had to restrain her children from joining in the 'fun' during 2008. This is a woman who has raised her children to respect others, a person whose values are unsurpassed. How many others couldn't resist the urge to grab some free goods from the Somalians while the grabbing was 'good' and everyone was doing it?

When the 2008 xenophobia riots happened, I was in Sweden on an international course. Its one of the times when it was really hard to be proud of being South African. My co-delegates grilled me about the violence as if I was the sort of person who actually approved of setting people alight to make a point. I'd like to assure you that most South Africans don't approve of this sort of thing (in case you were worried).

The long and the short of it was that it fizzled out and there hasn't been any big trouble since, but its touch-powder. The wrong event involving the wrong people could set it all off again.

It was against this historic background that 'District 9' was made. Apartheid history was involved too (segregation and suchlike). It was about xenophobia SA style, and for once it wasn't only based on the intolerance of the apartheid years - it highlighted the intolerance of post-liberation South Africa - the oppression inflicted by the previously oppressed.

I suppose that such resentments will always be with us in one form or another. Most countries don't love their immigrants, do they?

Today's pic: I suppose one could say that it was taken between a rock and a hard place.


  1. That was an awesome history lesson.. thank you. I live in a small town in Canada and the last couple of years we have had an influx of doctors from South Africa... and I kind of wondered what was going on... I mean not that I am some redneck who doesn't watch the news, but quite frankly you don't always get a clear picture from the news.. some times things are sugar coated... Thank you for sharing that.


  2. I haven't seen District 9. I'm not much of a movie goer. I too appreciate the history lesson. It does seem very familiar. :-))
    Of course we never have those sorts of issues here in the States. We all get along marvelously. cough, arrgh, clearing of throat.

  3. I enjoy learning about South Africa from you but you now what is funny (well maybe not funny)? I think District 9 could apply to a lot of other places as well... here in the states the job market in the crapper people see immigrants working crappy jobs for little pay & because their jobs have been outsourced to some far away land they can't find on a map & so the people with the scraps are left fighting while the companies are laughing their way to the bands that had a tax payer bail out.

  4. I agree with Bakla that the same storyline could be applied to the U.S. If you look at U.S history, you always had a different group that was blamed for stuff. It used to be the Chinese, blacks,Arabs,Mexicans.

  5. Thank you 'Average Girl'. I'm sure you could tell me a thing or two about Canada too! Oh, and you inspired me to write about emigration.

    Pamo: Oh yes! Everyone loves an immigrant!

    Karl: Thanks for inspiring me to write that piece in the first place. I've heard that India is doing very well from outsourced admin for US companies. It seems a shame that people in the US are still on short time while companies 'save' in this way!

    Israel: yes, and further back in history it was the Jews and the Irish and... as I said, everyone loves an immigrant! I do sympathize with their lot. Many are refugees - Zimbabwe is not a good place to be, for instance! That's why I posted the pic 'Between a rock and a a hard place!'