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Xenophobia, xenomisia, and the failure of transformation

27 April 2015

Seven years ago there were outbreaks of xenophobic violence in various parts of South Africa, and this year we have seen more of them.

There has been some discussion about the accuracy of the term “xenophobia” to describe this, but it seems quite accurate to me, though I agree that we should perhaps add xenomisia. Xenophobia and xenomisia taken together mean “the fear and loathing of foreigners”, and that fear and loathing undoubtedly exists in some circles. This morning I saw a comment on Facebook, apparently intended in all seriousness, that the part of the Freedom Charter that reads “South Africa belongs to all who live in it” should be amended to read, “South Africa belongs to South Africans”.

South Africa is not the only country to experience xenophobia. It is found in most countries, and in some places it also leads to violence. See, for example, Neo-nazis are threatening an Orthodox community in Berlin / OrthoChristian.Com. In South Africa, the news media are generally against xenophobia, whereas in Australia and the UK the news media sometimes  actively promote xenophobia by using terms like “suspected asylum seekers”, thus implying that seeking asylum is a criminal activity rather than a human right.

xenogangQuite a lot has been written about the causes of xenophobic violence, though usually in terms of rather vague and abstract things like unemployment, poverty, or capitalism. This may be true, but it would be useful to have more specific studies of what prompted particular attacks.

In February 2008, for example, there were xenophobic attacks in Mamelodi in the City of Tshwane. These were not much noticed by the media, because they did not take place in Johannesburg. There was anecdotal evidence that the attacks were instigated by businessmen seeking to get rid of rivals who happened to be foreigners. A few weeks later there were similar attacks in Atteridgebille, and especially in the informal settlement of Brazzaville, on the other side of town. Some claimed to have seen combi-loads of people being brought in from Mamelodi who instigated the violence, in which some local people then joined. If these riots were started by businessmen seeking to get rid of rivals, then the cause could be said to be “capitalism”, but capitalism working in a particular way, and it is that way that needs to be examined more closely.

Perhaps such research has been done, but if it has, I would be interested in knowing the results — how many incidents of xenophobic violence were sparked off by this, how many by that? Other anecdotal explanations have been that someone was shortchanged in a shop run by a foreigner, an argument ensued, and it escalated from there. Or some crime takes place, and the perpetrators are heard speaking a foreign language. There is a hue and cry against “foreign criminals”, but how do you distinguish between criminals an non-criminals in such circumstances? And I don’t think hashtags or bumper stickers saying “Say No To Xenophobia” will do much to prevent it.

Some have asked why most of the xenophobia and xenomisia are directed at black immigrants from elsewhere in Africa, and not at whites in South Africa, who are themselves descended from immigrants, and have historically exploited black people in South Africa. I think this article, well worth reading, gives a clue to the answer If you come from another African country, you can never become fully South African | Africa is a Country:

The violence strikes at what is at the heart of post-apartheid South African identity. For all the talk of hospitality and “ubuntu,” xenophobic violence is a reflection of how the ruling ANC and most South Africans understand the boundaries of “South African-ness.” As commentator Sisonke Msimang suggests, what binds black and white South Africans together is a kinship based on their shared experience of colonialism and apartheid.

ethvio1I discovered that for myself when I went to study overrseas in 1966 at the height of the apartheid era. I met a black South African friend who had arrived a few weeks after me, and we compared notes about our culture shock on arriving in Britain, which were very similar, and we both found it hard to get used to not having to look up when entering a post office or railway station or other public building to make sure that we were using the ethnically-correct entrance.

But a shared sense of South-Africanness does not necessarily lead to xenophobia and xenomisia, nor does it necessarily lead to violence, though it does lead to prejudice, which I am sometimes shocked to find in myself. I’m introduced to a Nigerian and the thought “drug dealer” surfaces. I’m introducted to a Bulgarian and the thought “car thief” surfaces. My rational mind intervenes and says “Don’t prejudge people by their nationality. You know it’s stupid.” But the thought is there, and comes, unbidden.

But if we are looking for the big abstract causes of xenophobia, then I think one that stands out is the failure of transformation. There’s a lot of talk of transformation, but little has actually changed. And when I speak of transformation I’m not talking about cosmetic changes like defacing or removing statues.

Take education.

Zimbabweans are a lot better educated than many South Africans, and as a result they tend to get better jobs. Because they are better educated, they often make better teachers, and we ought to welcome them with open arms, because they might be able to help us to transform education.

Why are Zimbabweans (and Congolese) better educated?

Because they never had Bantu Education, and the theory of Christian National Education, and the theory of Fundamental Pedagogics that underlay that.

I have been told that the one responsible for the transformation of education in Zimbabwe was Sir Garfield Todd, and his obituary seems to confirm that: Obituary: Sir Garfield Todd | Politics | The Guardian:

In 1946, Todd won the Shabani seat for the United Rhodesia Party, the most liberal of the groupings in the field. After rising through three ministerial postings, in 1953 he became prime minister and party president. He proceeded to introduce various progressive measures, including, in 1955, a five-year plan to give elementary education to every African of school age.

It seems that he left a legacy that not even Smith or Mugabe could destroy.

But at the very time that that was being introduced in Zimbabwe, South Africa was introducing Bantu Education. Yet in the last 21 years since the birth of our democracy, I am not aware of any serious attempts to undo the damage caused by Bantu Education and Christian National Education, which might bring about real transformation, rather than cosmetic changes. The people who might be able to initiate transformation in education, like John Samuel, were sidelined. See The disaster that is education in South Africa | Khanya

The other place where there ought to have been more transformation is policing.

We complain about xenophobia but we now see the police harassing foreigners as if they were conducting a 1950s pass raid.

And with armed mobs beating up foreigners, with comparatively few arrests, perhaps the xenophobic gangs get the idea that the police are conniving at what they do.

And then the police do the same to South Africans at Marikana.

Not much transformation there.




What do web designers have against the visually impaired?

19 April 2015

This morning I wanted to post a report on Fr Athanasius’s farewell service, but when I tried to do it, I could only get the new WordPress editor, which I find impossible to use, mainly because the designers have reduced the contrast between text and background so that it is extremely difficult to read. Young people with 20-20 vision might have no problems with it, but even if middle age now ends at 74 rather than 60, I’m still an old fart by anyone’s reckoning, having passed my 74thy birthday a week ago, and my eyes are not as good as they were which I was 60, the old end of middle age, or even at 45, the old middle of middle age.

It’s not just WordPress. Val said some people designing a web site when she was working wanted to do something like that, and she told them that if the background was white she wanted the figures in black, because she wanted to be able to read them.

I’d resigned myself to not using WordPress any more, more or less freezing this blog where it is, and going back to my old blogger one, which, for all their attempts to cripple the editor, is still easier to use than the new WordPress one (though a lot more difficult than the old WordPress one).

Then someone gave me a hint in a comment on my previous post on an undocumented way to get to the old editor (which I’m using to write this), and so I may be able to go on using WordPress a little longer, at least until they close that loophole.

But I really wish that web designers weren’t so hell-bent on making their sites difficult to read and use. It’s not as if we all need to be fighter-pilots or something, flying in and out of clouds at Mach 2. But, come to think of it, even when I was 24, and did have 20-20 vision, I still preferred puttering around the sky in an open cockpit Slingsby T42, with the wind in my face and a panoramic view, than in a streamlined closed-cockpit speed job.

Sam Barker (my instructor) and me in ther cockpit of a Slingsby T42, Oribyi Aerodrome, Pietermaritzburg, 1965

Sam Barker (my instructor) and me in ther cockpit of a Slingsby T42, Oribyi Aerodrome, Pietermaritzburg, 1965

Bright Saturday, farewell to Fr Athanasius

19 April 2015

I wanted to post this report here, but could no longer see how to access the old user-friendly WordPress editor, but only the new user-hostile one with its dreaded Beep Beep Boop.

So, unfortunately I have to post this on my old blog, Notes from Underground.

I started this blog because Blogger introduced a new dysfunctional editor, but now WordPress has introduced an even more dysfunctional one, so until they either fix it, or make their old editor accessible again, I will no longer be posting here, and stuff that I would have posted here will be on my Notes from Underground blog.

I will leave this blog up, so that links to its posts will still work, but will not be adding much to it in future.

The brunch was prepared by Grace & Hellen Malahlela

The brunch was prepared by Grace & Hellen Malahlela

refugees assaulted by police

17 April 2015

Originally posted on Durban Action Against Xenophobia:

Police assaulted us, refugees claim

By Mpume Madlala

“Where is our protection? Police have resorted to beating us for nothing.”

This was the lament of some refugees at Albert Park after several of them were allegedly assaulted by police officers at the weekend.

Frederic Eca Bakeni, one of those assaulted, said: “I was at my street hair salon in Warwick Triangle. A group of us were busy with customers when we suddenly saw a woman running past the salon and a casually dressed man chasing after her.

‘He continued to chase the woman and when he caught up with her, he beat her’

“The man had a black bag with him, which he dumped inside my salon. He continued to chase the woman and when he caught up with her, he beat her.”

Eca Bakeni decided to place the bag outside the salon.

“We did not know what was in…

View original 333 more words

Facebook – The Morning Offering

10 April 2015

On Monday morning (welcome to Holy Week), I discovered I’d been locked out of both my facebook pages, with the people at facebook citing their “need” to have proof of my legal name. Since I have not been addressed by my legal name since I was tonsured a monk more than thirty years ago, using my legal name now would mean nothing to my readers. All Ancient Faith Radio readers of my blog, as well as listeners of my podcasts, and the name on my published book, titled, “The Morning Offering”, seem to mean nothing to the people of facebook.


Abbot Tryphon

via Facebook – The Morning Offering.


I think Facebook is not a good place to try to blog. For one thing, only people who are registered on Facebook can see your posts, and that makes it difficult for others to link to them. I use Facebook to put links to blog posts, but the actual blogs are elsewhere.

It is, however, very silly of Facebook to demand that people use names that no one knows one by — almost as silly as the thing they did a couple of years ago of changing everyone’s e-mail address, and then ensuring that any e-mails sent to there address went to an “other” folder that no one knew about.

People join facebook because it facilitates communication with family and friends, yet by doing these things Facebook is hindering that communication. If I receive a friend request from someone I know, I’m not likely to accept it from someone whose name I have never heard of, and that because Facebook will not allow them to use the name that everyone knows them by.

Here’s a petition to Facebook to stop this stupid practice: Petition — Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Maxine Williams: Stop Stripping Orthodox Christian Clergy of Church Names On Facebook —

Youth: the story of my life, well, almost

8 April 2015

YouthYouth by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book off the library shelf and read the blurb, and decided to read it because there seemed to be parallels with my own youth.

What did I hope for? To make sense of my own youth? To make sense of things that happened to me?

The protagonist in the book is a mathematics student at the University of Cape Town who wants to go to London to become a, writer, a poet. In the 1960s he goes, but having arrived in London he needs to get a job in order to live, and with his mathematical qualifications he manages to get one as a computer programmer with IBM. In his spare time he sits in the British Museum doing research for his writing, and later for a thesis for which he is offered a bursary.

But gradually loneliness and mediocrity and boredom squeeze all the creativity out of him and he has less and less to say.

And I could see parallels with my own life. Why should I write about my own life? It’s not about me, it’s about the book. But I picked up the book thinking it was about me, or that it might tell me something about me, so in a sense it is about me, and I compare myself with the protagonist in the book.

I was a student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, and studied there from 1963 to 1965, majoring in Theology and Biblical Studies, with a minor in History. The Anglican bishop of Natal had found me a place for further study at St Chad’s College, Durham, for the post-graduate Diploma in Theology.

So, like the protagonist in Youth, I went to the UK in January 1966. The UK academic year only begins in September so I got a job driving buses in London to fill in the time, and I stayed in a lonely bed-sit, and for six months spent much of my spare time in my room in Streatham feeling alienated. Like the protagonist I felt a bit concerned about the Vietnam War. He wrote to the Chinese embassy and offered to go and teach English. I went to a couple of demos, one of them by accident.

So much for the similarities, But there were also differences.

The book tells nothing of the protagonist’s journey, how he left, his first impressions on arriving, or anything like that. Just that he was glad to be in London, and glad to be out of the stifling restrictions of South Africa, and planned never to return. He went by sea, because he landed at Southampton. Though he seems to have been uninvolved in political activities in South Africa, he did not approve of the Nationalist government, I wondered how, having majored in Mathematics, he was allowed to enrol for postgraduate studies in English literature, with a thesis on Ford Madox Ford. In my experience South African universities don’t work like that, but J.M. Coetzee was a professor of English literature at the University of Cape Town for several years, so perhaps he knows something that I don’t.

I was a bit more involved in political activities in my final year at university than the guy in the book, and in the middle of my final exams got an official warning under the Suppression of Communism Act that if I did not desist from activities that “further or are calculated to further any of the objects of communism” action would be taken against me. Most of my friends who had had such warnings got banning orders a few months later, so, in view of my plans to go and study in the UK I dropped my idea of a political holiday, and after my last exam went to Johannesburg and worked as a bus driver, saving money to pay for the boat fare overseas. Like the protagonist in the book, I wanted to go by sea.

I drove buses and did as much overtime as I could to save money for the boat fare. Nevertheless, one afternoon as I was about to go to work I got a phone call from a Detective Sergeant van den Heever, of, as he said, the CID. He wanted to come and see me. I told him I was going to work, and would arrange to see him in the morning, after my overtime. I thought he could only want me for one (or both) of two things: to confiscate my passport or give me a banning order, either of which would scupper my plans for overseas study.

After consultation with friends, I decided it would be best to be out of the country when Detective Sergent van den Heever wanted to see me the next morning, so I drove through the night to Bulawayo in UDI Rhodesia in my mother’s car, with a friend who would bring the car back. We crossed the border at Beit Bridge when it opened at dawn, and by the time we got to Bulawayo there was a message from my mother to say she had booked me on a flight to London. So I boarded the plane late in the afternoon, and arrived in London the following day, feeling homesick, like an exile.

Unlike the bloke in the book, my alienation set in right away. I hadn’t expected culture shock, because after all they spoke English, there, didn’t they? But it was all so sudden and so strange. I suspect many South Africans who left South Africa in a hurry in the 1960s had similar experiences to mine, but the book mentions nothing of that.

One of the first things I had to do after arriving was to apply for an Aliens Registration Certificate. And when I got it, it said that I was not permitted to take employment, paid or unpaid, without the permission of the Minister of Labour. So how was I to survive for eight months until the university term began? The protagonist in the book faced nothing like that.

So I began to ask how I could get that condition waived, so I could get a job. Well, they said, if you come to us showing you have a written job offer, you can apply for that to be altered. But no one was prepared to offer a job and then wait for the bureaucracy to grant permission. It was the classic Catch 22, just like black people in South Africa had to face under the pass laws, but there it was in their own country. I knew about the effexta of the pass laws from being told about it and from reading, but now I was experiencing it first hand. Useful experience if one wants to be a writer and write a book. That’s what the protagonist in the book says too.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts, I worked out how to play the system. I went to London Transport, applied for a job as a bus driver, noting that there was a labour exchange just across the road. Once I and the other applicants had been definitely offered the job, I asked the bloke at London Transport to sign the paper from the Ministry of Labour saying that employing me would not deprive a British citizen of a job. That was unlikely — London Transport had more vacancies (about 7000) than the entire running staff employed by the Johannesburg Transport Department (about 1700).

While the others all went off to tea I scuttled across the road to the labour exchange, showed them the paper with the job offer, and the application form from the Home Office for permission to take employment, and said “please sign there and put your stamp on it”. The bloke behind the counter looked at me as if I was mad, but did what I asked, and I went back across the road and joined the others for tea.

Having passed out as a driver (and yes, driving double-decker buses on the skid pan was great fun), I had to choose a garage. I said Peckham or Lewisham, which were the closest to some South African friends I might want to visit in my time off. But they said, no, it has to be where you live. I said I don’t live anywhere. I’m staying with a bloke who put me up out of the kindness of his heart, but now wants me out of his guest room. But that didn’t wash. Brixton was closest to his place so I must go there

I looked at the notices offering rooms to let. There was one with an Indian landlord. I went and knocked on the door. While I was waiting for someone to answer the door of the next door house opened (the houses were all built up close together — I hadn’t yet learned that they were called terraces), and an English woman asked what I wanted. I said they had advertised a room to let. She said, “They’re Indians, you know. I wouldn’t like you to stay there.” I was gobsmacked (well, not really, “gobsmacked” only came into the language about 20 years later, but you know what I mean). I thought I’d left such racism behind in South Africa, and one of the cool things about being in Britain was that I could have an Indian landlord and the government wouldn’t do a thing to stop me. I hadn’t taken nosy neighbours into account.

That one fell through, but the next one I tried advertised an African landlady. That felt like closer to home. She turned out to be from Sierra Leone, which is a long way from South Africa, but at least halfway home. She was Mrs Emily Williams, and her daughter Joyce was in her last year at high school and hoping to start at an English university at the same time as I was. The next door neighbours there were English too, but a lot more friendly.

So the book was my story, but not my story. Perhaps another book needs to be written. Perhaps several other books need to be written.

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Palm Sunday Vespers

5 April 2015

Palm Sunday Vespers last night at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg, was also the parish’s farewell to Fr Athanasius Akunda, who is leaving after being the parish priest for 7 years. He will be leaving after Pascha to teach at the seminary in Nairobi. There will be another diocesan farewell gathering for him on 18 April 2015 (Easter Saturday) at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, where people from the other parishes and communities that he has served will be able to say goodbye to him.

Orthodox Church of St Nicholas of Japan, Brixton, Johannesburg, Palm Sunday 2015. The ikons on the ikonostasis were painted by a parishioner, Cathy MacDonald. One of the features of the church is the pressed-steel ceiling (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Orthodox Church of St Nicholas of Japan, Brixton, Johannesburg, Palm Sunday 2015. The ikons on the ikonostasis were painted by a parishioner, Cathy MacDonald. One of the features of the church is the pressed-steel ceiling (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

We had a couple of visiting priests: Fr Gerasimos from St John the Baptist Church, Primrose, Germiston, and Fr George (Coconos) from the Cathedral of SS Constantine & Helen, Joubert Park.

Fr Athanasius, Fr Gerasimos, Fr George (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Fr Athanasius, Fr Gerasimos, Fr George (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

At the end of the Vespers service was the Litiya (Artoklasia) and the blessing of palm crosses (and a few palm donkeys).

Litiya and blessin of palm crosses (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Litiya and blessin of palm crosses (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Usually at Vespers there are only one or two altar boys, but this time a lot of them turned out

Altar boys, a study of postures (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Altar boys, a study of postures. In the backgrounds is an ikon painted for the millennium of the baptism of Rus in 1988 (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

After the service Fr Athanasius spoke of his time in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria over the last 13 years, and several people presented gifts to him.

Azar Jammine, a former chairman of the parish council, presents a gift to Fr Athanasius, while Fr George Coconos and Stephen Reynders look on (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Azar Jammine, a former chairman of the parish council, presents a gift to Fr Athanasius, while Fr George Coconos and Stephen Reynders look on (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

And here are pictures of some of the parish people.

We were very pleased to see Costa Neocleous, a former parishioner who moved to the USA to be closer to his daughter and her family. He was back on a visit when he had a heart attack, so we were pleased to see him back after a stay in hosptial (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

We were very pleased to see Costa Neocleous, a former parishioner who moved to the USA to be closer to his daughter and her family. He was back on a visit when he had a heart attack, so we were pleased to see him back after a stay in hosptial (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

And one of the younger members of the parish is Angela Krunic

Angela Krunic, age 11 (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

Angela Krunic, age 11 (Photo by Jethro Hayes)

And after Vespers we had a feast in the hall. Since Palm Sunday fits in the gap between the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, we had fish.

Nicky Reynders, Fr Athanasius, Basil, Stephen Reynders. Young Basil goes everywhere singing Alleluia, so perhaps he will grow up to be a successor of Fr Athanasius, though, to judge by his interest in my camera, he might end up as a photographer instead (Photo by Steve Hayes)

Nicky Reynders, Fr Athanasius, Basil, Stephen Reynders. Young Basil goes everywhere singing Alleluia, so perhaps he will grow up to be a successor of Fr Athanasius, though, to judge by his interest in my camera, he might end up as a photographer instead (Photo by Steve Hayes)


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