The rest of the continent was even more happy that it could now share in the resources and opportunities available in South Africa. Indeed, the country itself promised to head an African Renaissance.
The upsurge in xenophobia has brought that into question. The vicious attack on foreigners, especially from Zimbabwe, is a major blot on the highly regarded Rainbow Nation. The whole continent celebrated when South Africa won its bid for the 2010 World Cup. Was it all in vain?
The thinking of ordinary struggling South Africans seems to be that the rest of Africa is now trooping in to enjoy the fruits of their sweat while they wallow in poverty. But fellow black Africans are not the cause of their misery.
They forget that foreigners working in South Africa are not only bringing in foreign exchange, but are enriching South African society with some of the best brains and experience on the continent. The rest of sub-Saharan Africa has indeed suffered a brain drain whose biggest beneficiary on the continent is South Africa.
Obviously, the Black Economic Empowerment programme led by Cyril Ramaphosa has not trickled down to the poor. Its benefits are confined to a small elite who have close links with the establishment.
Right now, there are more poor blacks than there were in 1994 when the country attained majority rule. The economy is still in the hands of the minority whites with a sprinkling of the black elite.
But attacking fellow black Africans will not bring about quick healing; instead, it will alienate the Rainbow Nation from neighbouring countries to which it owes so much in the fight against apartheid.
Frontline states like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania provided moral support and refuge for ordinary South Africans and it is disgraceful to repay them with violence.
The answer lies in a growing economy that can offer more opportunities to South African blacks. It is not coincidental that the violence broke out at a time when experts predict a slowdown in the South African economy due to power problems.