The disillusionment of a collapsing colonial regime in the post Apartheid era fractured multiple facets of the South Africa society, bringing rise to resentment and confusion for much of the population. Xenophobia has been one of the more prominent social ills in the land, culminating in a spurt of violence in 2008 as well as 2015. The consensus among locals is that foreign nationals are occupying jobs that would be theirs or using government resources necessary for their quality of life. The anti-foreigner rhetoric from politicians only fuels the hatred, inciting violent reactions toward informal traders and people from neighbouring countries.
Social media platforms have been ablaze with images and video from this past week. There has been a spike in Xenophobic attacks in the Johannesburg city centre and informal settlement communities, where foreigners have established businesses. The migrant trade in South Africa adds more than it subtracts from the country’s economy, according to Tanya Zack, town planner and academic at Wits University. Zack states that according to 2017 surveys done on the inner-city trade, affordable goods are made available to Africans creating a ten billion Rand turnover (676 835 000 USD). According to Zack, this is twice the annual turnover of Sandton city shopping centre, one of the biggest malls in Johannesburg.
Immigrants contribute to a large part of a healthy South African economy, yet these facts are not central to the logic of locals, who view them as aliens and leeches. The idea that immigrants are the reason that there are high crime levels and social decay is only exacerbated through the unconfirmed news pieces on social media platforms. On twitter videos unrelated to the Xenophobic attacks have been reposted with claims that this has been happening recently. Video footage from various incidents of mob justice in Johannesburg from the beginning of the year have resurfaced with misleading captions, stating that it shows violence between South Africans and immigrants.
The power of images is undeniable, the instantaneous sharing that takes place on social media knits a web of resentment and confusion. The refuting of these claims days later does not undo the damage of years of prejudice nor does it heal the wounds inflicted in recent times.
The relief that people may have felt reading that the horrific footage was unrelated to Xenophobic attacks was short-lived because of the array of equally disturbing images that are from these attacks. Immigrants are being physically assaulted, their property torched and their livelihoods threatened. The groups on the receiving end of the violence can hardly be labelled as such, they are brothers hailing from the same land, separated by invisible boundaries.
African states across the continent may be unable to reconcile these heartbreaking events to the stance that they have maintained to South African struggles. An example of this is Nigeria’s active participation in bringing Apartheid to an end, a clear example of the support that Africans can offer one another.
The cycle of hatred via discrimination has to be broken, menial forms of spreading information such as images have more power than we would assume. The responsibility to stop false information is with citizens and media outlets. The need to not only change the images shared online but those in our paradigms of other African nationals is vital to creating stronger communities between cultural groups. The time to believe that collaboration between Africans contributes positively to developing the society, is now.