Alexandra neighborhood is famous, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons; it was the heartbeat for xenophobic attacks and the soaring crime rate has not helped the image either.
I have been longing to go to Alex, as its commonly known, because every time I tell my South African friends that Soweto suburbs is probably better than most Kenyan middle class estates, they always advise me to go to Alex, apparently because its worse.
Many friends have said how they have never or can not step in Alex because of the way the place is infested with criminals and every time I passed by young men and women, I could imagine that they are probably honing their skills by mugging people or doing drugs, which is not exactly alien.
The idea I had about Alex was something else; maybe rivaled by the American drug and gangster movies and the idea of a crime infested neighborhood, that has been over dramatized in Hollywood.
I got a chance to visit by accompanying a friend who was going there on official duties; the fact tat I look South African worked in my favor although there was no significant threat that is out of the norm.
The visit was timely, I know understood the reason why foreigners like the place; and maybe the problem of xenophobia lies somewhere else but demonstrated through killing the hapless neighbors, just because you cant get to the real culprits.
First, Alex is not a slum by Kenyan standards (because thats what am familiar with) ; they have tarmac roads and if there was a fire, at least the fire engine would access the place; Alex is more like the upper lower class or lower middle class in many countries, if that makes sense.
So, what people think is appalling, is probably what foreigners are used to and maybe the rent is far cheaper. Plus for some people, they are used to places with no order or no authority e.g if you escaped war or poverty, then you don’t mind so much the place and besides for some of the criminal activities to thrive, chaos is vital.
Am only using the argument to understand why foreigners like the place; although that may not necessarily be the issue.
The bone of contention is the rising crime rate and the fact that some people dealing drugs are so rich, they are untouchable.
On my way back, I had a conversation with an old man, who made the issue clearer; he argued that there are some nationalities that are known for dealing drugs, perpetrating criminal activities and getting away with it, just because they have money or power to influence.
Just like in many communities where people feel frustrated by people or the system they can’t reach, they start fighting or killing with whoever is the representation of that figure.
So, in the old man’s opinion, the xenophobic attacks were more to do with frustrations with the system, rather than nationalities. He argued that previously, South Africa was very comfortable with other nationalities but that has since changed.
That is not to say that its guaranteed that if the issue of crime was sorted, then the animosity will stop; there are no such guarantees but that would be a start.
Then there is the argument that the animosity is all about jobs that are taken by foreigners. Who is to blame, the employer or employee? None. but the debate is far more complex than that.
There is not much you can understand by taking to people in an afternoon, but it helps!