On Monday, Laz Nyamakazi ’13 presented his CAMD Scholar research on an issue close to home that has long intrigued him. His project examined the causes and results of the resurgence of xenophobia in South Africa after the fall of apartheid and explored potential solutions to anti-foreigner attitudes.
His presentation, titled “What Happened to the Rainbow Nation?: Xenophobia in South Africa,” was one of 17 workshops organized by the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
A citizen of South Africa, Nyamakazi was inspired to conduct his research after hearing reports of xenophobic violence just days after the FIFA World Cup in 2010. “I was so confused. Just a week ago, we were celebrating being African, we were all supporting African soccer teams, and then as soon as the World Cup is over, people are killing and kicking other Africans out of their country,” Nyamakazi said in an interview with The Phillipian.
In addition to reading articles in academic journals as part of his research, Nyamakazi interviewed a total of 21 people whom he contacted through his family and the South African Institute of Race Relations—13 South African citizens from a range of socioeconomic classes and eight foreigners.
Several of the immigrants Nyamakazi interviewed were undocumented and refused to be video or audio recorded for fear of deportation to their home countries, many of which, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are either unsafe or impoverished.
In his presentation, Nyamakazi recalled his difficulty interviewing a Somali man because of the language barrier and the man’s reluctance to speak about his traumatic memories of riots in Somalia. The man refused to be recorded because he feared being identified by the South African authorities.
After the apartheid government gave way to the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa opened its borders to immigrants and refugees from neighboring countries under its new constitution. During this short period of peace and renewal, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nicknamed South Africa the “Rainbow Nation” in reference to its new embrace of diversity, according to Nyamakazi.
However, the legacy of xenophobic violence under apartheid still affects South Africa’s immigrant population today. In his presentation, Nyamakazi summarized the devastating effects of attacks that have been occurring regularly in South Africa since its transition to democracy. In May 2008, one of the largest series of post-apartheid xenophobic riots resulted in 62 casualties and thousands of injuries and caused over 100,000 people to flee the country, said Nyamakazi.
He attributed this violence to the socioeconomic effects of apartheid, which left a majority of foreigners and native South Africans impoverished and living in townships, cheap housing, originally created for poor, non-white laborers, that is located on the outskirts of cities.
These slum-like, close-quartered conditions often breed resentment between the native and immigrant residents. Foreigners, derogatorily called “makwerekwere,” are often blamed for high crime rates, drug trafficking and unemployment. In an interview with Nyamakazi, a South African hotel worker said that her “children have been ruined because of the drugs [brought to South Africa by Nigerians].”
“Somalis should remain in their country. They shouldn’t come here to multiply and increase our population, and in the future we shall suffer,” said a South African citizen in a book that Nyamakazi read for the presentation.
Some South Africans believe that foreigners steal local trading and job opportunities with their entrepreneurial skills, said Nyamakazi.
Nyamakazi believes that although xenophobia in South Africa is too complex of an issue to be resolved by any one long-term plan, stricter border control would help the nation keep track of its immigrants. South Africa is currently struggling to find economic support for illegal immigrants, said Nyamakazi.
Despite prevailing xenophobic attitudes in South Africa, Nyamakazi said that activist support for tolerance is growing.
The presentation concluded with a video of Nyamakazi’s interviews with individuals ranging from immigrants to xenophobic South African citizens, as well as a slideshow of photos depicting scenes from both the May 2008 riots and anti-xenophobia protests.
“The pictures of foreigners being burned to death during the riots really showed how horrible things actually got,” said Cooper Hurley ’14.
Nyamakazi’s interest in xenophobia stemmed from his experience with classmates of many different nationalities at his previous school in South Africa. As many of his closest friends in South Africa are foreigners, Nyamakazi said that he was extremely disturbed by accounts of xenophobic violence.
Having grown up surrounded by anti-immigrant views, Nyamakazi remarked on his changed perspective after concluding his research. “When you speak to one [immigrant] and hear what they’ve gone through, it really makes you understand why they had to come to South Africa,” Nyamakazi said in an interview with The Phillipian.
“[Xenophobia] an issue that I think all of us here—not just Laz, not just South Africans—need to search for solutions for,” said Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty, who served as Nyamakazi’s faculty advisor for the project.
Nyamakazi hopes that his research will educate the Andover community on an issue many mistakenly believe ended with the fall of apartheid.
His research paper will be posted on PAnet this February.
_ **Editor’s Note:** In a previous version of this article, the quotation beginning with “Somalis should remain in their country” was incorrectly sourced to an interview conducted by Laz Nyamakazi. That quotation was actually sourced from research materials he consulted while preparing his paper. In the presentation, Nyamakazi correctly cited the quotation._