I had not that much of a cultural shock when I first interacted with Kalangas on their home turf when I enrolled for “A” Level at Tegwani (now Thekwane) High School, a Methodist Church in Zimbabwe-run boarding institution, in 1972.
I initially found them different, but as soon as I realised that they also found me different, we got along with mutual understanding and respect. Sooner rather than later, I adjusted to my new surroundings after instinctively or subconsciously doing a good amount of re-examination of my assumptions and presumptions, which sociologists would term values and outlook.
Yes, there were accidents and incidents, but I soon discovered that I was no better than them and they were no worse than me.
Coming all the way from Salisbury (now Harare), I had some of the happiest, fulfilling and fruitful time of my life at Thekwane deep in Kalanga land.
It’s wrong and ignorant to make assumptions about people based on hearsay opinions about their general culture. My abhorrence of smearing and stereotyping of any group of people, especially minorities, endures from that time.
When you have floods of people jumping the border from Zimbabwe into South Africa, you cannot use any other term to describe them except as refugees. So, President Robert Mugabe’s apparent consternation that: “The majority of the people there (in South Africa) say they would not want to come back even when transport is provided”, is really missing the point or refusing to acknowledge that these people, because of the high numbers involved, are in a refuge situation; they have fled Zimbabwe. That they are not in refugee camps is neither here nor there. Iraqi refugees have resettled in urban centres across the world, rather than in refugee camps.
One may not necessarily agree with some of the sentiments expressed by South African President Jacob Zuma, but he tried to address as many aspects of xenophobia in his country as possible, including the internal causative factors as well as external ones.
Zuma correctly cited the apartheid legacy that has embedded a culture of violence in some South Africans, on the one hand. Indeed, there is a lunatic fringe which will unleash horrific violence at the slightest excuse at the easiest targets — foreigners.
On the other hand, Zuma cited political and socio-economic turmoil in some neighbouring countries which has driven millions into South Africa and on a collision course with nationals of that country. Conflict becomes inevitable. Palestinian refugees have suffered similar hostilities in fellow Arab countries like Lebanon and Jordan because there are there in millions. As we speak, tension between Syrian refugees and their Lebanese hosts is rising, and falling wages, rising rents, a tight job market and growing crime are increasingly being blamed on the refugees. These are fellow Arabs and the conflict cannot be narrowed down to mere Arabophobia; that is, fear, hate or dislike of Arabs.
Similarly, Zimbabweans are now in South Africa in refugee proportions and are facing similar accusations there as Syrian refugees in Lebanon. This cannot be reduced to Afrophobia; that is, fear, hate or dislike of Africans. Unfortunately, arguments can be popular even when they are not factual, sound and logical. That is why some uncritical, credulous, easily-led minds among us have bought the line at face value by Information minister Jonathan Moyo that xenophobic attacks in South Africa are essentially Afrophobic.
So, it was with Moyo’s defence of Mugabe in the wake of the storm caused by the President’s remarks about the Kalangas. Mugabe said word for word: “Some (Zimbabweans) are committing crimes like the Kalangas, who are notorious for petty crimes because they are not educated.” Moyo’s “explanation”: “. . . what the President said is a common stereotype. It should be said that stating, recalling or highlighting a stereotype is not the same as endorsing or recommending it.”
Well, first, Moyo, by not quoting Mugabe’s exact words, could be an acceptance that such remarks are not repeatable for their starkness and undeniability as DNA evidence. Mugabe can only be held to what he said, but Moyo will not do that because he very well knows that Mugabe blundered big time and repeating those very words would destroy his defence of Mugabe. It’s like a defence lawyer who advises his client not to be cross-examined in court because doing so would dispel any lingering doubts about his guilt.
Mugabe did not only state, recall or highlight the stereotype, but reinforced it by referring to the Kalangas as “notorious” and “uneducated” in the present tense. It’s not a “pre-independence” or “colonial” stereotype, but Mugabe’s very own stereotype. To stereotype means to make generalisations about a group of people — like saying Kalangas are uneducated. Often, we take something that a few people in a group do and generalise that everyone in the group does the same things — like making criminals of all Kalangas whereas each group has a criminal element.
Second, Mugabe has a track record of stereotyping. In 2008, he labelled Mbare residents as “totemless” people of alien origin. Prof, was it xenophobia or Afrophobia? In 2012, Mugabe went thus: “In Jamaica they have freedom to smoke mbanje (cannabis), varume vanogara vakadhakwa (men are always high on drugs) and universities are full of women. The men want to sing and do not go to colleges, vamwe vanobva vamonwa musoro (some are dreadlocked). Let us not go there.”
Jamaican reggae singer Tony Rebel replied: “That statement is not a true reflection of us as a people because not everybody wants to sing and a lot of our sons are in colleges and the President needs to do his research.”
Mr President, you can’t wriggle out of your latest stereotyping of Kalangas in view of your “previous convictions”. We cannot give you the benefit of the doubt. You are a repeat offender. There is no mitigation.
Verdict: Guilty as charged.