The other side of the “Afrophobia” coin in South Africa


Afrophobia or Afroscepticism, can be defined as an Anti-African sentiment or a perceived fear and hatred of the cultures of peoples of Africa and the African diaspora.

It is a term that is often associated with xenophobia, and recently it has been used frequently in the South African context, particularly so after the Elvis Nyathi “neck-lacing” issue recently in Diepsloot Gauteng.

The brutal and unfortunate murder of Elvis Nyathi has been covered widely and will not be discussed further here.

Nevertheless an issue that I intend to discuss in the course of this article is whether or not the residents of Diepsloot exhibited “Afrophobia” in the way that they dealt with Elvis Nyathi, or is their frustration fueled by something else?

“Illegal” Zimbabweans have failed to integrate in South African Communities

When the 2008 xenophobic violence broke out in South Africa, I was part of a research team from the Centre of Human Rights at the University of Pretoria that steered a project titled “The Nature of South Africa’s Legal Obligations to Combat Xenophobia”.

The findings were published by the Centre and the report is still available online.

Nevertheless, one of the key findings that emerged from that project was that South Africans in certain townships were frustrated that foreigners were un-apologetically and arrogantly competing with locals for scarce government benefits and services including education, healthcare and accommodation in the form of “RDP” houses.

From this, one of the key recommendations made in that report was associated with the theme of “re-integration”; meaning that the foreign victims of xenophobia at that time were encouraged to re-integrate within the communities where they had experienced violence and abide by the norms, standards and values held by their South African counterparts.

Unfortunately, now, fourteen years later, I do not believe that Zimbabweans have generally and actively sought to live peaceably with South Africans within those townships.

Let me explain why.

When In Rome do as the Romans

Many will be familiar with the adage “when in Rome do as the Romans” which can be simply interpreted to mean: when visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of those who live in it, so that you won’t have problems getting along with the people there.

Unfortunately Zimbabweans have failed to follow this advice.

I recall in December 2017 on my way back to Zimbabwe after a visit to South Africa, I took some time in the notorious Joubert Park next to Park Station, Hillbrow, and what I saw and experienced during those hours was shocking.

Firstly, the area was inhabited by foreigners, predominately Zimbabweans, who according to my perceptions, are generally involved in drugs and various types of crime.

I noticed that there were Zimbabwean syndicates at every entry/exit point of Park-Station; syndicates that were waiting to pounce on diverse travelers when they arrived in taxis or buses from various parts of the country.

To put this into context, these gangs hang around park station robbing people of their money and luggage (including laptops, bags, and cellphones) at all times of the day, despite police patrolling the areas.

This was shocking to me, and makes me want to ask my Zimbabwean compatriots who have been repeating the “Afrophobia” slogan: imagine if you, your spouse or your family member experienced such violent dispossession at the hands of non-nationals in Harare or in Bulawayo- how would you feel? Not as a once off incident by the way, but imagine if such robberies were being committed by foreigners at all times of the day, 24/7 over a period of many years… would you not be frustrated?

Would you not want to effectively deal with the criminality problem?

The fact is that places like inner-city Johannesburg have become a gangster’s paradise inhabited by hardcore criminals mainly of non-South African origin, and arguably, the majority are Zimbabweans.

These crooks are not only limited to the park-station syndicates, but also include armed robbers, fraudsters, drug traffickers and others who have been preying on their South African hosts for years; not only in places like Hillbrow, but in high-density townships across Johannesburg too.

In that light, is it any wonder why the anti-Zimbabwean sentiment has now reached boiling-point? Is it any wonder why the “Dudula” and “Put-South-Africa-First” movements are gaining traction?

I’ll put it to you that if Zimbabweans had generally lived as law-abiding and well integrated citizens within South African communities since 2008, we wouldn’t be witnessing what we are seeing today.

The Drug Issue

Now to the issue of drugs.

When I was growing up in the nineties, the vices we often heard about in Zimbabwe were related to alcohol, cigarettes, and “mbanje” (marijuana).

This changed after the turn of the century for two reasons.

Firstly, the mass-migration of illegal Zimbabweans into South Africa exposed them to the drug trade and resulted in criminal-minded illegal-Zimbabweans becoming drug-dealers in South African communities.

Those people started off by selling narcotics predominately to their fellow illegal Zimbabweans who were residing with them within South African high density communities, and over time, this resulted in addiction haunting those illegal Zimbabweans.

One can perceive that over the years, it is drug addiction that is the main reason why those people have been terrorizing locals in places like Diepsloot.

For instance, I recall being told by a certain man in Joubert Park Hillbrow, that addiction to narcotics like heroine and Crystal Meth can makes addicts within that area rob or even kill another person for as little as 50 rand, and consequently, I’m convinced that it’s the same addiction issue that is root cause of that notorious criminality that is characterizing illegal Zimbabweans in Diepsloot.

In addition, those same unscrupulous drug-dealers who are selling heroin, nyaupe and Meth in places like Hillbrow and Diepsloot are the same people who are now exporting the stuff to Zimbabwe, where we now also have a rampant drug problem alongside violent crime.


In the place where Elvis Nyathi was killed, the community recently met South African Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoale and police minister Beki Cele.

During that meeting the Diepsloot community leaders stated that they do not have a problem with foreigners in general and they pointed out that they also had Malawians and others living in their midst.

However, they emphatically stated that their major complaint was against “illegal” Zimbabweans, who they feel have ‘terrorized’ them for long and that now they don’t want to see them anymore.

To me this means that the generalized perception of “Afrophobia” inspired by Elvis Nyathi’s killing is perhaps misconstrued.

Instead, perhaps Nyathi’s unfortunate death points to two issues that I highlighted earlier.

Firstly, that illegal Zimbabweans have failed to adequately integrate with their South African counterparts; and secondly, that drug addiction has become the haunt of illegal Zimbabweans in South Africa and this has led them into a life of unapologetic criminality.

Even here in Harare, violent crime and drug addiction are social phenomena that only became pronounced within the last 10 years.

Prior to that we were a relatively peaceful and sober society.

Now, a day doesn’t pass without us hearing a story of violent crime or robbery committed by Zimbabweans within Zimbabwe.

What more in South Africa?

Food for thought.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director