The trouble with South Africa is a problem we've all experienced

While South Africans are currently getting all the bad press, scratch the surface and you’ll see that we are not so different after all

In Summary

• South Africa condemnation has an element of the pot calling the kettle black

South Africans with crude weapons
South Africans with crude weapons

I spoke to a South African university professor this week about the afrophobia that has yet again reared its ugly head in this beautiful country, which many foreigners like myself from all over Africa would like to call home. 

But first, let me give you some background. Almost exactly a year ago, a Pew Research poll found that 62 per cent of South Africans viewed immigrants from Africa as a burden on society by taking jobs and illegally benefitting from the country’s welfare state system. Meanwhile 61 per cent believed that “foreign nationals” from north of the Limpopo were more responsible for crime than other groups.

This reminded me of growing up in the early to mid-1980s in Nairobi, when all criminals were Ugandan. I also recalled that Ugandans and Ethiopians were almost always the usual suspects when Patrick Shaw and his Black Maria crew rocked up outside any nightclub on a Saturday night.

Because of course Mr Shaw was always right and anyway, he was supporting the afrophobic policies of his political superiors, who pretended in public to be great pan-Africanists, except when they wanted someone to blame for the failings happening on their watch.

The learned professor told me that in his view, African foreigners were targeted over white ones because, “Firstly, the apartheid mentality, which locates whites at the top of the social hierarchy, has not dissipated among many South Africans. Secondly, whites are accorded the investor and/or tourist status and are, therefore, left unharmed.

“Thirdly, white people from other countries do not seem to pose a threat or competition for jobs, compared to Black Africans.” 

Meanwhile, I have been on social media, mainly Twitter, reading the reactions of Kenyans to the xenophobic, or, more correctly, afrophobic, attacks that have recently resurfaced across South Africa. 

Many of them are so self-righteous and judgemental, you’d think Kenyans were paragons of pan-Africanism and did not actively discriminate against Somalis, let alone people of Indian heritage. There are still too many Kenyans who would cheer when Martin Shikuku and Kenneth Matiba spoke of “paper citizens”. I won’t even talk about our tribalism.

A number of Kenyans have also been quite smugly vocal about the gender-based violence that is all over the news in South Africa. Again, from some of the sanctimonious remarks, you would think Kenyan men were the personification of feminist allies instead of the persistent violators of female bodies that they really are.

Even as I write this, I can almost hear that heckler in the back shouting, “not all Kenyans” while their friend mutters, “not all men”, as others whisper those logical fallacies known as “whataboutisms”.

I can even see the finger pointing at me, saying I, too, am guilty of being priggish when I point out these defects in my fellow Kenyans. The only difference between us is that I don’t deny that I have fallen short of the glorious behaviour I wish we could all display.

While South Africans are currently getting all the bad press, scratch the surface and you’ll see that we are not so different after all. By the way, don’t get me wrong, just because we are as bad as each other doesn’t make any of right, it doesn’t.