All lives matter

Last Sunday, a boat carrying an estimated 700 African immigrants capsized in the Mediterranean, while enroute to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Search and rescue teams feared the worst. Early reports indicated that less than 30 people had been found alive.

This is the latest in a grim series of failed crossings that could put the total number of casualties at a depressing 1500 in 2015 alone. Just days earlier, another boat had capsized in the same waters, killing 400.

Some outlets have reported that most of the immigrants were ‘sub-Saharan’ Africans, as if to make it clear that they were not North African. But a number of European leaders have come out to say that the international community needs to resolve the situation in Libya, a country that may otherwise become a failed State. So at least some of the escapees were Libyans fleeing from a nation that is reportedly descending into complete anarchy.

At the end of the day, whether ‘sub-Saharan’ or ‘Saharan’, all the immigrants on that boat would have identified as African, because Africans are from Africa.

It seems obvious, but to South Africans, it is not. Many South Africans refer to the African continent as if they were not geographically attached to it. When I worked for a South African firm, when staffers would fly into Nairobi from Cape Town, they would talk about “going to Africa”.

Africa for them was a distinct and separate entity, and they viewed it like a white tourist would – with lots of curiosity and a healthy dose of fear.

A few months ago, my niece submitted an application to renew her work visa. She works in South Africa and has been living there since her college days, way back in 2005. Last we spoke, her visa hadn’t come through. She is not in debt, doesn’t have a criminal record, is gainfully employed and pays her taxes. We scratched out heads wondering what on earth the problem could be.

It turns out that as the South African government was denying black foreigners visas, the South African people were burning them alive, basically for being black in Africa. Oh, the irony.

It gets better. It has been reported that it is mostly black – and some Asian – foreigners who are being targeted. The white ones have been given a free pass, which is so strange given the atrocities black South Africans suffered at the hand of whites in the apartheid years.

So is this more a case of ‘Afrophobia’ than ‘xenophobia’? It would appear that it is. Black South Africans hate black people.

However, “…while we can ascribe the attacks to sentiments of Afrophobia, we must be willing to agree that the attacks are fuelled by a sense of hatred, dislike and fear of foreigners – and that is xenophobia,” writes Sibusiso Tshabalala for Quartz in the article Why black South Africans are attacking foreign Africans but not foreign whites.

By channelling their frustrations with the shortcomings of their own government on black foreigners, South Africans are just manifesting their hatred and dislike for themselves. That plus a deep seated fear that the ‘Africans’ will snatch up what is left of their resources, after the white South Africans have taken their cut. Like crabs at the bottom of the bucket, they are dragging their fellow Africans down, instead of trying to rise up themselves.

It is interesting that this latest wave of black-on-black violence was sparked off by Goodwill Zwelithini, the Zulu king, and President Zuma’s son Edward. In this modern age, politics is the opium of the masses. That we can be so easily manipulated by our leaders is one thing that all Africans have in common.