The latest wave of Xenophobic attacks in South Africa have done a good job of exposing the ignorant attitudes many South Africans have, in relation to the rest of the African continent. Zintle Dolweni explores the concept of South African exceptionalism among Rhodes University students
South Africa has yet again been plagued by an ugly onslaught of Xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals in Durban. The violence has been perpetrated mainly by uneducated and unemployed South Africans, who blame immigrants for taking their jobs. Authors such as Heidi Hudson believe that the xenophobic attacks have also brought up important conversations about how South Africans as a nation view the rest of the African continent.
One would think that at an institution such as Rhodes University, where there is a large constituent of international African students, that South Africans would be will educated about their countrymen. However; the amount of ignorance displayed by South African students about other African countries is astounding. Last week, I overheard a conversation in my dining hall, whereby a girl asked her friend: “How come there are so many Zimbabweans here? How can they afford to be here, don’t people live in poverty in Zim?”
The concept of South African exceptionalism, the idea that South Africa is not similar or is superior to other African countries, is one that can be traced back to apartheid. It is 21 years into our democracy and considering the fact that we are living during a time where information is at our finger tips, why are so many South Africans blissfully ignorant about the rest of the continent?
Even the Rhodes University Student Representative Council (SRC) was recently criticized for their use of problematic language on their “Black Thursday” posters.
One way to tackle this ignorance, is by engaging in discussions with international students and finding out the most common stereotypes that they are tired of hearing.
3rd year Bcomm Law student from Blantyre, Malawi
“People like to jokingly ask if I’m adopted, because of the whole Madonna thing. But I think the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard is when someone asked me if Malawi is close to Malaysia.”
4th year LLB student from Harare, Zimbabwe
“People assume that Zimbabwean students come to South Africa because there is no University in Zimbabwe, or that the standard of education is lower there. When the reality is, it is extremely difficult to get accepted at the University of Zimbabwe, because their standards are much higher, so most of us settle for Rhodes or UCT.”
3rd year Sociology and Politics student from Rwanda/Uganda/South Africa
“People watch Hotel Rwanda and assume that the country is still in that state, which isn’t true. We have good infrastructure, plenty of businesses and great tourist attractions.”
4th year New Media student from Morogoro, Tanzania
“My warden likes to tell people that I’m aMaasai warrior and that I killed a lion for initiation.”