Xenophobia crisis – an opportunity to change


The escalating xenophobic violence and attacks in South Africa have drawn international attention and condemnation.

Much of the commentary has focused on the issue from a political perspective, but partisan approaches to the issue are likely doomed to fail and will only create a greater divide between already divided peoples.

In the face of such violent and vitriolic division, it’s hard to imagine a force that might unite the divided ethnic and racial groups. But a possible uniting goal does indeed exist if one takes the time to look at one driving force behind the conflict.

According to figures released by the South African government, unemployment rates in the country are at 25%. Additional figures show that unemployment rates increased by half a million between 2008 and 2014, and that young people are most likely to be unemployed. Economic growth has also slowed and desperation has spread like wildfire, leaving the disenfranchised and poor feeling their future to be hopeless, and their needs unmet and marginalised.

In this environment of disenfranchisement and marginalisation, emotions run high and the potential for violence boils under the surface, spilling over at the least provocation. The result? Violence, hatred, murder and more unrest, which in turn causes more economic instability, creating a vicious circle.

How can this circle be broken? Many people prefer to take the easy route, and spend time endlessly debating the politics of issue, or assigning partisan blame.

However, this achieves little other than creating more division.

To break the circle, one must go back to where it started. In this case the circle started with poverty, disenfranchisement, marginalisation and unemployment.

As said at former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral by Ahmed Kathrada: “It is up to the present and next generations to take up the cudgels where you (Mandela) have left off. It is up to them, through service to deepen our democracy; entrench and defend our Constitution; eradicate poverty; eliminate inequality; fight corruption, and serve always with compassion, respect, integrity and tolerance.”

In order to create an environment where the disenfranchised do not feel the need to lash out violently with xenophobia, poverty and unemployment must be fought with every bit as much energy as the current attacks are carried out with.

Africa has a war to fight — a war against unemployment, and economic stagnation and death. Investment and entrepreneurship is needed in Africa now more than ever, to create jobs and economic prosperity. With ample jobs, young Africans will no longer feel the need to leave their home countries for work and will no longer be incited to resort to violence to keep jobs available to them.

The situation is not limited to South Africa. Many countries globally are suffering unemployment and economic crises. For example, the currently unemployment rate in Greece is approximately 25%. In many European Union countries, refugees and immigrants are viewed with distrust and hate for similar reasons as in South Africa. With job rates down and economic difficulties rife, people in these countries see immigrants as robbing them of desperately needed jobs.

While the present situation might seem like an inopportune time to invest in Africa, the time in fact could not be better.

People are desperate for jobs. Investment and entrepreneurship in Africa now is not merely a business venture, it is a catalyst for social change and progress, which will in turn promote economic growth.

The time has come to see xenophobia in South Africa as a rallying cry for unity — to work towards a common goal of economic security. For Diasporans, the opportunities are particularly rich. Not only do they have the opportunity to secure their own economic future, but they have the chance to participate in rebuilding the economic and social health of their home countries. As Diasporans, they are in a uniquely advantageous position to facilitate and nurture multilateral trade and investment.

The solution globally is the same — only the generation of job and economic security through trade and investment will create an environment where people do not feel the need to resort to acts of xenophobia to secure their economic future.

At the Australia-Zimbabwe Business Council (AZBC), we feel the pain and fear for our brothers and sisters in Africa. We see the desperate need for economic change and we embrace the chance to be a part of that change. If ever there was a time for us to facilitate investment and trade, that time is now and we hope to be part of the changes that must occur if the current turmoil is to be halted and be prevented from recurring.

lSamuel Sebenzo is an entrepreneur and businessman based in Australia. He is passionate about supporting and encouraging others in their business endeavours, and is thus extremely committed to the AZBC and its members. Email: media@azbc.org.au


  1. Remove Mugabe and end xenophobia.
    Honestly Zimbabwe, a country where 25% of the population are assylum seekers in neighbouring countries.
    This is madness.
    The Mugabe demon is now haunting African stability.

  2. Mugabes long/short sleeve terror in 2008 caused millions to desert their homes and seek political refuge in neighbouring countries.
    This marked the beginning of xenophobia in SA.
    Let Mugabe go for our brothers to return to their peaceful homesteads.

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