:: Xenophobia

By: The Unknown Author


Jasper writes:

In 1949, my father took me for a walk down to East Street, Pietermaritzburg. We stopped perhaps 50m away from the Indian-owned shops on the corner, where one turned toward Bishopstowe, a farming district named from the home and headquarters of Bishop Colenso.

A knot of Africans (they were surely Zulus in those days in PMB) stood on the other side of the street from the shops. As we arrived, there was little action. Then, after a minute, one man stepped forward and hurled a rock at the shop window. There was a tinkle of glass. Others from the group followed suit. There were more tinkles. I did not understand, and looked up at my dad. He looked immeasurably sad. A few minutes later, a plume of smoke curled up skyward from somewhere out of sight around the corner.

“They want to burn the shop down” someone near us said. My dad turned, and we walked the few blocks home.

I was four years old. At that age, and from my little experience, a Zulu face was a friend’s face. A white face, not so much. An Indian face, seldom. A coloured face, usually. These reactions must have been spawned by how much fear, or lack of it, I experienced on meeting the face-owners, up to that point in my short life.

This incident was the first violence I ever witnessed. It was not called xenophobia back then. It was referred to in the Natal Witness and by everyone I have heard talk about it ever since as “The ’49 Riots”. However, they were no different from current day xenophobia, in that they were attacks on and destruction and plunder of shops owned and run by non-local people.

The right questions provide the right answers. So what is the right question? Should we ask

Why are there no black owned bulk buying retailers in South Africa?

We know that foreigners are able to band together and buy in bulk, to reduce prices. It is common to hear of buying from non-locally owned spazas because they sell at lowev prices.

If there are indeed no locally black owned retail bulk buyers (let’s exclude businesses like Checkers-OK, PnP and all the others that we started before BEE was a thing), then why is that? It can’t be a matter of trust, because Stokvels are trust-based and they are a black thing.

We would love to know the answer.

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