Imagine you live in a deprived Nairobi slum at the sharp end of the knife of inequality. Imagine you have no job and consequently no money but somehow have to keep body and soul together not just for yourself but for your family and other dependants.
Now imagine that as far as you are concerned, the government appears to have made it its job to keep the down-trodden down only remembering you and your plight when there is an election around the corner.
I would imagine that after many years of this uncaring treatment you would be pretty angry with life in general and any chance you got to vent this anger you would.
If a criminal living and operating amongst you was caught you would not bother with the police or the courts, you would lynch him yourself.
In fact to be honest there are many people living in Nairobi and cities across Africa and elsewhere in the world, where the above ‘imagined’ scenario is everyday reality.
In Kenya some years ago when some of us felt an election had been stolen, it was the last straw and all the injustices we felt at the system and the world in general caused neighbour to rise up against neighbour and chase them out of the neighbourhood if we didn’t kill them first.
Our actions were coloured by an unsubtle virulent tribalism that we had allowed to be woven into our society by the same politicians we seem to revere who are always talking about “our people” even though they were quite happy to marry, do business and live side by side with “those other people.”
When the troubles were considered to be “out there” our leaders were not too concerned, but when they threatened to spill over into the upmarket areas of Nairobi and other cities where our leaders live, then there was suddenly action and reminders of nationhood over tribalism.
For a few moments there we are urged to forget that we are one of the most unequal countries in the world where the rich, regardless of tribe or religion have little if any sympathy or empathy for the poor again regardless of tribe or religion.
Shortly after the peace marches and the words of wisdom on social media and the press, we are allowed to forget all the unity and return to our squalid little lives loving andor hating as before until the next flare up that threatens the ‘peace and stability’ of the middle and upper classes.
I was thinking of this cycle as the violent, shocking, tragic and unsettling xenophobic troubles affecting parts of South Africa raged with the coming of the month of April.
I have been fortunate in that living in a relatively middle class neighbourhood, I have been largely cushioned from the violence and also, at least by the time of writing, the monster of xenophobic violence has yet to raise its head in Cape Town.
However, as I write it is being reported that other foreigners in Cape Town’s less insulated neighbourhoods are “holding their collective breath, hoping against hope that the xenophobic attacks seen in KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg will not spread to the Western Cape.”
The anti-foreigner violence is not a new thing in South Africa, almost every week there is a report of an incident in which foreign owned shops (what in Kenya we might refer to as kiosks) are attacked, looted or whose owners are harassed in one way or another. But these are usually localised incidents. The problem as I see it, is that little is done about getting the people to sort out their issues when such attacks happen and so when it all gets too much and the situation like the current one occurs across the country nobody knows quite what to do.
While the violence against foreigners in South Africa and against those not of our tribe in Kenya and elsewhere, is tragic and deplorable what is needed to sort things out in the long term is not the parachuting of Elastoplast and moving on, but serious public discussion and debate about the situation we find ourselves in and practical ways to deal with the root causes of the problem – poverty and inequality.
Source : The Star