OPINION | #BlackLivesMatter, but our brothers and sisters' lives matter too!

11 June 2020 - 07:00 By Masego Seemela
Foreigners in South Africa have been constantly under attack due to xenophobia.
Foreigners in South Africa have been constantly under attack due to xenophobia.
Image: Mike Holmes

First thing's first: we as a nation, as South Africans, can be hypocrites sometimes.

When it comes to racism - or almost any other injustice, for that matter - we're ready to mobilise, and rightfully so. But why don't we channel that same anger and energy into fighting xenophobia?

Since the killing of George Floyd in the US in an incident of police brutality, black people around the globe and many others of different races have joined forces to show support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, against racism and police brutality towards black people.

I applaud South Africans for taking a stand and mobilising against racism. An age-old saying comes to mind: “United we stand, divide we fall" - but how do we stand together against racism while we “stand apart” against each other? 

Where did it all go wrong that some South Africans feel it's OK to look down on our fellow African brothers and sisters?  

I bet some of you are even reading this now and are making excuses for xenophobia.

I've often heard: "Xenophobic attacks are due to an underlying belief that foreigners are to blame for SA's social and economic woes."

But just like with racism, what right does anyone have to look down on another human being?

Why is it so wrong that there are seemingly more hair salons and spaza shops owned by foreign nationals? Do you think it has more to do with them "taking up space" in SA or with us being a lazy generation that expects handouts from the government? 

If you really believe “these foreign nationals” are taking ALL our jobs or potential business opportunities, why don't we look at what they are doing right - instead of damaging or burning down their businesses and violently attacking them?

I've also often heard people say, "there's so many foreign nationals dealing in drugs and criminal activities".

But that still does not give anyone the right to take law into their own hands. We should allow the law to take its course. If the system is taking too long to deal with those criminals, we as South Africans need to redirect our frustrations and take it up with our government.

Victimising a specific group of people based on stereotypes is unfair. Isn't this what racism has done to black people for centuries?

Earlier this week, actress Pearl Thusi found herself at the centre of a debate after she stood firmly against xenophobia and the killings of our fellow Africans brothers and sisters.

“Killing African nationals that reside in SA is something I will never defend. Defending borders drawn by colonisers will never be something I limit myself with," she tweeted. 

Many social media users accused Pearl of commenting from a place of "privilege" but she stood by her stance. 

I'm still struggling to understand where Pearl was wrong in what she said. Will I now also be accused of being in a place of privilege?

I just don't understand why it's so hard to comprehend that we are ALL Africans - not Nigerians, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Malawians or Zambians. The list of our beautiful ethnicities goes on.  

Despite the backlash, Pearl made it clear that she will not be bullied.

And while there is a disproportionate economic standing between indigenous people of SA and those with colonial ancestry, why have you made another black man your enemy when it’s your government that has let you down?” she asked.

As I try to understand this continued divide we place among ourselves, I'd like you to introspect and question your belief system. What is it that you really hate about your fellow brother or sister? Is it the way they speak? The way they walk? The way they look?  The food they eat? The way their culture isn't similar to yours? Or the way their skin looks?

Once you've answered the above questions, you will quickly see the correlation between racism and xenophobia. 

This makes us hypocrites.

I plead for us to change as a nation. Let's stop screaming 'Black Lives Matter!' (with our fists in the air) until we can do the same when it comes to the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters. Down with xenophobia!