Friday, May 23, 2008


“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out because I was a Protestant. And when they came for me, but there was no one left to speak out for me.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer – 1906-1945 (executed by Adolf Hitler).

This poem always comes to mind when I hear leaders and authorities in Uganda and abroad making excuses for xenophobic acts and utterances to the effect that they are just vents for social frustration. What is happening in South Africa is xenophobia – period. The above poem shows that one of the characteristics of xenophobia is that it is like an insatiable animal that must always be fed.

The roots of xenophobia in South Africa grew deeper during the Apartheid era. What limited black-on-black prejudices was the bigger and common fight against Apartheid. Liberation in the mid-1990’s offered more distractions that kept xenophobia at a low. What we are witnessing now is the true South Africa that has been artificially suppressed by historical events, which we all know are not permanent.

The authorities and leadership in South Africa have for long exhibited disturbing levels of naïveté both domestically and internationally. They seem to have forgotten that descriptive phrases such as “The Rainbow Nation”, “Many Cultures, One Nation” and “A World in One Country” are merely publicity slogans and not necessarily reality on the ground. With Apartheid out of the way, the insatiable animal that is xenophobia is seeking to be fed. Today it has zeroed in on immigrants, tomorrow it will want someone else and what it wants, it usually gets