Xenophobic Fever

One could be forgiven for thinking that the 2010 FIFA World Cup has brought only excitement, revenue and publicity to South Africa. It is also not unreasonable to believe that the exposure Bafana Bafana players are enjoying ahead of a busy transfer window in Europe next month is a crucial step in their careers.

However, all is not well on the other side of the coin. A considerable chunk of the foreign population here in South Africa has been spending sleepless nights since the tournament kicked off. Local media and politicians have reportedly claimed the riots could happen again and past mistakes be repeated. The argument is that the invaders, foreigners in this case, have grabbed all the jobs, business opportunities and everything claimable from the natives, things the locals want back.

There is an almost tangible fear that xenophobic fever is going to rear its ugly head after the tournament’s curtains are lowered. People are terrified and many have no idea what to do or where to go.

The Mozambicans who own salons and bars in Witbank, a town east of Johannesburg, believe they have no option but to flee: “We shall have to rush home and wait for the situation to calm down after the tournament. We wanted to stay, but are definitely scared for our lives,” said Henrietta Joan, a roadside salon owner. She also says they have been threatened and told to quit before the tournament’s final ninety minutes are played or else risk their lives.

Most foreigners living in South Africa are Burundian and Mozambican. In Johannesburg, the situation was tense ahead of July 11. “For us, we hope those riots don’t happen again. Because we are all just looking for some money to cater for our families back home and here,” Nzikobanyanka Adam shared.

In May 2008, South African President Jacob Zuma slammed riots in connection to xenophobia after bloody fighting left many dead and thousands injured. The foreigners are hoping the president’s comments have softened the hearts of the willing-to-riot natives after the World Cup.

“We hope president Zuma helps us and provides enough security so that we are safe,” said Kalwira Jacob, a Congolese man who has been living and working in Johannesburg for the last 10 years.

Reports suggest that between 2000 and March 2008 an average of 67 people died in what were branded as xenophobic attacks. While in May 2008 a series of riots left 62 people dead, 21 of those killed were South African citizens.

The 2010 World cup kicked-off last Friday June 11, at the unparalleled Soccer City stadium, with Mexico holding hosts South Africa to a one-all draw. The month-long soccer festival ends on July 11. When the final whistle is blown, all eyes will be on the streets and all foreign immigrants in South Africa will be holding their breath