Friday, April 17, 2015

Xenophobia—South Africa's ticking time bomb

(My 15th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

I have been listening carefully to commentaries and news items on the terrible xenophobia crisis in South Africa. One piece of information seems to be missing. I am not hearing any news on why black South Africans are killing foreign Africans in their country.

Somewhere in the fine print I finally found the reason. It is lack of employment. Black South Africans at blue-collar jobs level feel that Africans from north of the Limpopo River are taking away their jobs on the farms, in the factories, on construction sites, etc.

This begs the question: Why do South African employers prefer foreigners to indigenous South Africans? It is because foreigners are harder working, more faithful in their jobs, and more satisfied with low salaries. That makes a lot of business sense, doesn’t it?

That is happening all over the world. Go to the USA and you will find almost all blue-collar jobs taken up by Latinos. Go to Western Europe and you will find almost all hotel cleaners are from Eastern Europe.  They are harder working and that for less pay!

The reason why there is less xenophobia in the USA and Europe (notice I said “less”) is because unemployment levels there are almost zero. Now go to South Africa and see the tens of thousands of people from the townships standing by street corners begging for work.

These men often return home jobless and hungry. The few who get jobs find people there who cannot speak Xhosa or Zulu. The message is clear: These foreigners are the people taking our jobs. The rest is bloody history. As we say, a hungry man is an angry man!

We have a similar situation brewing in Zambia with the tens of thousands of Chinese nationals who are taking up jobs as watchmen, cleaners, drivers, construction site and farm workers, etc. Sadly, the voices that are saying, “These Chinese should go!” are getting louder.

Notice, we do not say that about Europeans and Americans in Zambia because they are occupying jobs that people in the compounds only occupy in their dreams. That, by the way, explains why this xenophobia in South Africa is not against white foreigners!

So, what is the solution? The first is that the government of South Africa should address the problem of unemployment in the country. It should protect its job market. Black South Africans will remain angry as long as they are hungry whether we like it or not.

Xenophobia is a ticking time bomb. Merely condemning it does not diffuse the bomb. Citizens must have jobs. So, job-creation must be high on the minds of our leaders. Sadly, African politicians spend too much time thinking about themselves and not their citizens.

The Christian church in South Africa should also educate its members and the general public about the biblical teaching on human beings made in the image of God. God will demand an accounting for every person whose blood is shed. We must never forget that.

Church services that comprise hours of singing and dancing to endless and mindless choruses followed by popular “witchdoctor” sermons that promise people jobs if they “sow a seed” will not stem the tide of xenophobia. We must help our people to think biblically!


  1. Thanks to Dr Mbewe for penning this. It addresses the core of the matter. Joblessness.

  2. You have hit the nail on the head. I personally employ a man from Malawi because he is reliable and hard working and I am prepared to pay him well. I sometimes wonder whether SA with its increase in Ancestor worship is not facing the judgment of God, that God has given our leaders and our people over to a reprobate mind. Only the gospel can change this. We need to do all we can to plant biblical churches in our townships.

  3. I was referred by friend to read and possibly comment on your well written piece. I am Christian black pastor currently studying in the US. I was (still am) very much involved in both political and theological discourse of racism and "xenophobia", particularly the 2008 attacks.

    I think your piece highlights the core problem, which is unemployment in SA. In fact, the proper categorization to analyse S.A's problems is rooted on the outcome of the "Diagnosis document" produced few years ago, naming it "triple social challenges" - poverty, unemployment and inequality. I'll came back to this issue later.

    The other point your piece depicts as factual information is that the above mentioned social challenges are not unique to S.A (living in the US clearly points out to that reality, particularly with reference to both blacks and Hispanic people). Foreign nationals tend to grab and/or explore possible work opportunities and in most cases they face exploration.

    In S.A foreign nationals are perceived as hard workers, while in fact they are being paid badly and because many don't have proper documentation they get abused and exploited. This has major ethical and theological implications.

    Were I sharply disagree with your piece is when you interpret "Xenophobic" attacks as "time ticking bomb". With all respect sir, the real time bomb in S.A is inequality (reversal racism after 1994); unemployment and land problem.

    The history of S.Africans living together with foreign nationals speaks for itself, people coming Mozambique; Zimbabwe; Malawi; Zambia;Ethiopia; Somalia and Nigeria, the list goes on. In fact, S.A probably "host" many African foreign nationals that any country I know of in Africa. So, I think your piece was good, but it also lacked other important aspects.

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  5. Just wait is just a matter of time south african will suffer more than before let the white south african rule you will hear how whites will start to treat them like dog and no african country will come and rescue them like the past. Thanks all.
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