I know of some possible explanations, such as they take our jobs, their culture clashes with ours or even just that they’re different and that makes us uncomfortable, but they don’t really sound very convincing. I read the news and get very depressed when I see the amount of racism and xenophobia that is out there and the way people react to it. Last week I read an article, and then followed a link to another one, describing South Africans’ attitudes to foreigners. The results were not encouraging.
The older survey, also a News24 article with a misleading headline, claims “Survey: Most okay with foreign spaza shops.” Despite what it suggests it’s wrong. It actually says 46% of South Africans are okay with foreigners having spaza shops, 44% are against it and 10% are undecided. 46% is more than 44% but it’s not “most” and it’s depressingly low for such a simple question.
The newer one is more realistic with it’s headline, “SA does not trust foreigners – survey.” That one found a 7% increase, to 67%, in the level of distrust South Africans had against foreigners between 2008 and 2011! In addition it found that 32% and 36% would stop foreigners moving into their neighbourhood and running a business respectively. That’s even worse than before.
The question I then keep wondering is why? Is there really that much of a culture difference between people from neighbouring countries? I doubt it. It might be the jobs thing, we do have huge levels of unemployment. But then we don’t see that same distrust and hatred against people moving from other areas in the country, that I’m aware of. I just don’t see the difference between someone from inside or outside the border. Perhaps it’s just a perception of difference because there is distrust and a lack of contact with foreigners to dispel the delusion.
I can count myself lucky in that regard as I know people from all around the world. Among the people I look up to and who are there to guide me are my supervisors at university and my Japanese teacher. In that group I have people from Japan, Cameroon and, as far as I know, Zimbabwe, as well as a mix of races. The people I interact with on daily basis and count as my friends include Taiwanese, Namibians, Cameroonians, Zimbabweans, South Africans and many others as well as those with different cultural backgrounds. That’s not even counting people I know or have interacted with only through the internet, which would add even more countries like The Netherlands, Canada, the US, Mexico and Austria.
Through all that contact I’ve found people from all over the world to be very similar and certainly not impossible to relate to. Whatever the reason is I doubt it’s enough to justify the hatred. The saddest part is by forcing out the foreign-owned spaza shops we may just be making things worse. The shops fill a need which was obviously not being fulfilled by the locals and held the promise of providing employment. I doubt when foreigners are forced out that the people that pushed them away take over the running the shop.
If you want a less pessimistic view of migration you can at least read about the global movement of scientists. Unsurprisingly Africa barely gets a mention, though the SKA might change that in the future, but it’s interesting to see the amount of foreigners involved in some European countries. Switzerland has more foreign than local scientists and that only seems to have benefited them.