The image of Ernesto Nhamuave kneeling on the ground, his charred body still engulfed in flames projected South Africa’s most vile face in the democratic era to the world.
The Rainbow Nation dream, already starting to wear thin, was now obliterated, lying in mounds of ash in places such as Diepsloot, Alexandra and Boksburg where the first wave of xenophobic violence was unleashed in 2008.
Nhamuave was brutally killed in the ironically named Ramaphosa informal settlement.
In 2015, South Africa’s hate for African immigrants was once again beamed across the world when award-winning photographer James Oatway captured the brutal attack on Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra.
Sithole was stabbed to death by a band of thugs whose only issue with him was that he didn’t share the same nationality as them.
Sadly, we have failed to learn any lessons from 2008.
Xenophobia, and more specifically Afrophobia, has not gone away since that cold, bloody winter in 2008. Today, it has a new name: “Operation Dudula”.
Our hatred of foreigners has become more commonplace, amplified by the echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook, and is even legitimised by both the action and inaction of our politicians.
In recent times, we’ve seen the Patriotic Alliance-led crusade on foreign-owned shops, the EFF’s “inspection” of the ratio of foreign workers in South African restaurants, ActionSA’s controversial local government election positioning on “borders”, the DA’s defence of its immigration policies in the election year of 2019, and the reckless comments of ANC leaders in government such as Defence Minister Thandi Modise and Gauteng Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko.
On top of that, for the first time in two decades, the ANC is actively drafting policy to chase foreigners from across the Limpopo, who have made South Africa their home and created lives and families here, away.
With what is likely to be the most contested general election in South Africa’s history only two years away, the fear is divisive messages will proliferate, as parties jockey for the slightest advantage at the polls.
While the politicians may be thinking about 2024, it is the risk the country faces right now that should be the concern of President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet. “Operation Dudula” must stop.
The reason for Monday’s violence in Alexandra and elsewhere are complex and the ANC isn’t without blame.
South Africa’s malaise is fuelled by high unemployment, hunger, rampant state corruption, a lack of accountability and broken trust.
Those who feel disenfranchised turn their anger to the only group more vulnerable than themselves: African immigrants.
On Monday, Alexandra once again saw splatters of blood on its streets when vigilantes, who perpetrate their scaremongering under the banner of the “Operation Dudula” movement, clashed with foreign nationals.
Thankfully, no one was killed. But the likelihood of that happening in future will only grow with every “operation” the group’s followers carry out.
South Africa is facing a dangerous uprising at a time when our collective wounds from the July unrests remain gaping and raw.
Our leaders can do the right thing and address the real issues of those disaffected, like basic service delivery and unemployment, or wait for more helpless, burning men on our streets.