Protestors take part in an anti-xenophobic march in South Africa last month. More can be found on
Protestors take part in an anti-xenophobic march in South Africa in May. BBC News
Today a country once separated by Apartheid has become the center stage of xenophobia. The headlines have been filled daily with the ongoing killing of foreigners in South Africa.

When we think of South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s strength and fight for freedom are what come to mind. This contributed to making South Africa the nation that it is today.

But now we see South Africa becoming the nation killing their own neighbors.

For those who do not know, the actual definition of xenophobia is “the intense fear or dislike of a person from another country.”

For 50 years, South Africa was under an all-white government that ruled the nation by implementing a segregation rule to separate blacks from whites. Regulations such as The Population Registration Act of 1950 were put into place to classify blacks, mixed-race, and whites.

Though there is some progressive history in South Africa, including a peaceful period led by its first elected black president, Nelson Mandela, the country has turned away from its morals. This has stripped the African continent, South Africa, especially, of its image of unity and reconciliation.

On every cable news channel these days there are reports on the gruesome attacks on foreigners in South Africa  But the question is: how has mainstream media handled the reporting and the presentation of the issue to the public?

Let’s take a look.

Millions of readers and viewers need to know about the issues behind this major attack on foreigners. Why aren’t the media looking at South Africa’s economy and seeing the missing components of the story needed to explain to the public how and why this began?

Some news organizations have gone into the streets and classrooms of South Africa to bring news to the other parts of the world. In this video we see a BBC news correspondent in a classroom in South Africa, interviewing the children of foreigners in the country.

We are told by others that xenophobia is linked to the extreme poverty being faced by many citizens in South Africa.

In 2008, the Associated Press explained the root cause of the problem at the time, saying, “South Africans are struggling to buy food as prices rise amid stubbornly high unemployment, and many complain the government hasn’t worked fast enough to build houses, schools, and hospitals for the black majority.”

Then, they pinned the blame on the South African government, saying “failure to deliver enough jobs, housing and schools” seemed to be a part of the problem.

In this great write-up, the Huffington Post gives us the Why to the What about the recent events. The analysis is more in-depth, which makes it easy to understand what is actually taking place.

Yet many others failed to explain why these foreigners are being blamed and killed.

According to the World Bank, South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle-income country. It is a country with the second-largest economy in Africa, but citizens say there are not enough jobs to support foreigners and the locals.

Research performed in 2012 by an organization called the Migrating for Work Research Consortium concluded that 82 percent of the working population were non-migrants and 14 percent were domestic migrants.

With a population of about 33 million people, this means around one to two million of them are international migrants. These facts are not presented by news organizations so that the audience can decide what the issue at hand really is.

Meanwhile, the facts presented by these organizations show that there are deep economic and historical issues that should be examined beyond the superficial portrayal of foreigners taking away local jobs and painting it to be a war between Africans.

From a local standpoint, The Denver Post, which usually provides a fair amount of foreign news, this time disappointed. There is little or no information about the recent killings in their reporting. What is available is the information that they recycled from the AP.

Still, the attacks have not been addressed and there have been no articles about the attacks. Compare this to coverage of the Nigerian election. In that case, The Post had more content, which supplemented with material from other news organizations.

From the Voice of America, the nature of the events is captured by writers Thuso Khumalo and Anita Powell as follows:

“The anti-immigrant violence erupted again in recent weeks. Somali and Ethiopian nationals owning grocery shops in Soweto township were the first to be targeted. They were beaten and chased away by locals who took over their businesses.”

There is no explanation for why this is happening, except the explanation that “South African authorities have denied the country is experiencing xenophobic attacks, preferring to call them “criminal acts.”

The question then becomes whether it is just the  BBC, New York Times, or the Huffington Post for example, that fill all the gaps in the coverage of this important subject.

Why is this, one might ask?

One reason could be that the BBC and New York Times have more resources to gather information, much more than the smaller and more local news organizations in our backyard.

Sources with more resources have been able to produce more deeply informative pieces on the underlying causes of the attacks. For instance, The World Post explained, “The Zulu monarch undeniably made inflammatory remarks in which he compared immigrants to fleas or lice — comments clearly heard in recordings of his speech. These are powerful and disappointing words from a leader many hold in high regards, not least because of their reminiscence to terms used during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.”

This is a great example of how the media should be covering the news. In this case, The World Post gave information that no other news station was reporting on. This shows the influence leaders hold in the thoughts of their citizens. This information is often not presented to the public for them to understand the source of anger which citizens feel.

Media must research every corner and every little lead to ensure they are giving the public a fair chance to analyze how this started. Moreover, there needs to be a light shined on the real reasons behind xenophobia and other societal ills, including genocide.

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One thought on “More Complete Story Needed Behind South African Xenophobia

  1. What is the media's response to President Mugabe's comments towards the leadership of the late Nelson Mandela? Is it truly the fault of Mandela? Since his main focus was freedom for the people according to President Mugabe?

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