It was rather difficult to focus on the World Economic Forum on Africa this week and pay adequate attention to issues of inclusive and shared growth in the fourth industrial revolution when the country and the rest of the African continent was at war with itself following a number of clashes between South Africans and fellow Africans who live and work here. I find the timing of these clashes rather curious. Is it a total coincidence that these extremely violent incidents happen in the very week that SA hosts the rest of the continent to deliberate on matters of common interest, such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which could be key in bringing much-needed stimulus to get us back to winning ways?
Could it be that the forces at play are so hellbent on undermining any efforts being made to get this country back to where it belongs that they are manipulating the desperate socioeconomic plight of our people by selling the idea that it is OK to assault and even murder another human being?
How is it possible that we, black South Africans, could actually believe that the biggest problem in our lives - one worth taking a life for - is a fellow African who lives and works in this country?
Consider the statistics for a second.
The last time I read the World Bank report on inequality in SA, it said that the top 1% of South Africans own 71% of the country's wealth while the bottom 60% control only 7% of the country's assets. Also, 55,5% of South Africans, or 30-million people, live below the national poverty line of R992 a month, and this number has been increasing since 2011.
The research also states that the group worst affected by all this poverty is, unsurprisingly, black South Africans, who tend to be unemployed and less educated, and come from large families.
"How many South Africans are willing to do the work that many African foreign nationals do?"
Now pause for a second and think whether it is feasible that the Zimbabweans, Zambians, Nigerians, Malawians, Congolese and Mozambicans living in SA are the ones who have taken food away from our mouths and amassed enough, at our expense, to now become part of this 1% who control 71% of South African assets. Of course not. As a collective they are right at the back of the poverty-line queue.
So what in the world could make us believe that we should hate other Africans because they are taking economic opportunity from us? In fact, let's be really honest with ourselves. How many South Africans are willing to do the work that many African foreign nationals do?
A friend of mine owns a fine-dining restaurant and always bemoans just how rare it is to find South African applicants for jobs in his establishment. My gardener from Malawi missed his normal Saturday shift recently and texted to say that a friend of his who delivers for various food-delivery digital platforms was hit by a car and died. Only after a chat with him did I realise that the majority of the people who do food deliveries to my home are, in fact, foreign nationals, and so are the waiters and the Uber drivers - and the list goes on.
This is not a phenomenon unique to SA. It happens all over the world. Immigrants, especially those crossing the border in search of better job and life opportunities, are often more willing to start at the very bottom of the work food chain. They take on the work most locals don't want to do just so they can earn enough to eat, have a roof over their heads and send some money back home.
And here we are killing them for trying to earn a living. And we justify our behaviour by pointing out the even smaller proportion of them who are involved in criminal activity. Shame on you, SA.
This article first appeared in the Business Times section of The Sunday Times on 08 September 2019.