How did we get here? Time for serious collective introspection

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Xenophobia

 By Witness Roya
The godfather of African literature, Chinua Achebe says Igbo people have a proverb which says: “A man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.” This means for one to solve one’s problem(s), one ought to establish their origin. As the affable Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi would sing in his husky voice,

Wongorora/tsvaga chikonzero chaita musoro uteme…kusimbirira mhopo iri pamusana iwe uine ziso rine mbonje” (Look for the cause of the headache instead of wasting time on a wart on your back). We are faced with a crisis, instead of burying our heads in the sand, we should put our heads together to find lasting solutions.

The “categorical imperative” which was propounded by Immanuel Kant is premised on the notion that we must do what is morally right as an ens per se, regardless of consequences. Naturally, we should be united by a sense of nationhood not only during predicaments.

I have always argued that xenophobia is not only physical, that it is probably more lethal in verbal form because, “words cut more than swords”. Xenophobia (or is it Afrophobia?) is so institutionalised in South Africa that a two-year-old can “innocently” refer to an adult, black foreign national by the derogatory term, kwerekwere (gibberish).

Many black foreigners complain that they are treated in a condescending way at medical institutions, a relative of mine said she was made to bathe with cold water at the onset of winter when she was about to give birth. Others say they were scolded for “always” giving birth. I was told by one South African librarian that I would be given a temporary library card because, “You are a foreigner here”.

Not that this information was wrong but the tone in which the words were said smacked of disdain. Some security guards seem reluctant to speak to foreigners. Cashiers often do not ask black people, especially foreigners for loyalty cards which enables them to get bargains. In what I regard as inferiority complex, these cashiers often go out of their way to offer white customers these cards.

One day, a few years ago I was left bemused when a black South African cashier swiped her compatriot’s smart shopper card with the grocery that I had paid for without my consent. Some South Africans of different gender and class are in the habit of asking for money as little as one rand from foreigners because, “It’s our money.”

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s denial of a crisis in Zimbabwe is blamed for the surge in the number of Zimbabweans who moved down South around 2007/8 at the height of economic challenges in Zimbabwe.

For many years, Zimbabweans have risked life and limb crossing the crocodile infested Limpopo River and some of them have been robbed and women sometimes get raped. Some have questioned the “logic” behind living one’s decent lodgings and employment in Zimbabwe to settle in squalid conditions and do menial jobs.

It is a common but essentially flawed argument because the number of unemployed, employable people in Zimbabwe heavily outstrips available jobs. In addition, the South African economy is designed in a way that people in low-paying jobs can afford to pay medical aid, insurance premiums and send children to good schools. In Zimbabwe, some people can hardly buy meals at fast food outlets such as KFC and Chicken Inn let alone pay for a low-cost flight.

The Zimbabwean government has been accused of not protecting its citizens. After the South African government’s decision not to renew permits for ZSP holders, many felt that the Zimbabwean ambassador, David Hamadziripi was supposed to engage the South African government. However, Hamadziripi reportedly said he would not do so out of “respect’’ for the country’s laws.

Some Zimbabweans have also bemoaned the fact that it took the government close to a day to issue a statement condemning the killing of Elvis Nyati, a Zimbabwean in Diepsloot on Wednesday, 6 April, 2022.

In 2017, a young Zimbabwean woman, Lydia Chimbirimbiri recounted how her husband, Isaac Sithole was chased, beaten and burnt because he was a foreigner. Another body was also discovered, and many Zimbabweans’ possessions were burnt.

Chimbirimbiri said she wanted to return to Zimbabwe but was unemployed and was struggling to repatriate her husband’s body. In 2008, images and videos of a Mozambican man who came to be known as the burning man, went viral.

To think that no one from the group that killed him tried to restrain others is an indictment on South Africa. Ironically, he had a wristband which proclaimed his support for Bafana Bafana.

As they say, love defies all boundaries. Several South African women and some men are married to foreigners while others have children with foreigners.

Zimbabweans suffer most from  xenophobic attacks because they are more than other foreign nationals in the country. There is need for education on the need for preserving human rights despite one’s nationality. Unfortunately, some intellectuals who are supposed to be enlightrened, justify attacks on foreigners. I watched an interview between an SABC presenter and a lawyer who said that is what happens when the South African government ignores citizens complains. Action SA leader and Nhlanhla ‘Lux’ Dlamini, founder of the Operation Dudula movement have echoed the same sentiments. In 2015, the late Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini was accused of making xenophobic comments.

Encouragingly, influencers like Cassper Nyovest, aka, Trevor Noah have all spoken out against xenophobia though some celebrities have endorsed movements such as Put South Africa First and Dudula Movement that are blamed for influencing the current spate of attacks on foreigners. I will never classify all South Africans as xenophobic because some of them have become so close that we celebrate successes together and console each other in difficult times.

To put into perspective, the connection between Zimbabwe and South Africa, I am going to cite a few examples. South African actress, Sophie Ndaba attended high school in Zimbabwe and has a daughter called Rudo (Shona for love).

Incidentally, Elvis Nyathi was killed on the same day that Nkosinathi Innocent Sizwe Maphumulo, better known as “DJ Black Coffee,” returned to South Africa from the United States where he had scooped a Grammy award which was celebrated across the world.

Black Coffee said one of his heroes and friends who is also known as Oskido, always reminds him that his mother (Maphumulo)’s name is Faith. Oskido’s father Esaph was Zimbabwean and his mother, Emily Molefi was South African.

I also learnt this week that Black Coffee has a son called Anesu (Shona for “He (God) is with us”) and another one called Asante (Akan/Kiswahili for “thank you”). Malaika Mahlatsi, a South African researcher often clashes with South African men due to her praise for Zimbabwean men.

She says she has resolved to date only Zimbabweans. The Economic Freedom Fighters and its leader Julius Malema have stood steadfastly by black foreign migrants.

One life lost is one too many. Stereotyping and profiling of black foreigners’ fuels xenophobic sentiment. Instead of condemning the brutal murder of Elvis Nyathi, some South Africans complain that he has received more prominence than South African victims of murder.

Though this seems like a valid argument, police have not confirmed the nationality of the deceased. South Africans should desist from apportioning blame for every form of immoral behaviour to foreigners.

As far as I know, Zimbabweans dissociate themselves from such behaviour and support efforts for such individual’s’ apprehension. There is need for an end to tensions between South Africans and foreign nationals, especially Zimbabweans.