What­ever it takes – it’s a ‘no’ to xeno­pho­bia

The Africa Report - - BRIEFING - Llindiwe Mthembu-sal­ter Au­thor, Aut South Africa

There is a Zulu gospel song that says ‘ singaba­ham­bayo thina ku­lomh­laba, kepha siya ekhaya ezul­wini’, which trans­lates as ‘we are all for­eign­ers or trav­ellers on this earth, and we are all head­ing to heaven’. I am con­vinced that none of those xeno­pho­bic peo­ple and the cul­prits who com­mit­ted the April at­tacks against im­mi­grants in South Africa would want to head to hell. The ma­jor­ity of South Africans are peo­ple of di­verse faiths, and some of us also even hon­our our dead an­ces­tors that we be­lieve guide or pro­tect us. To some ex­tent, we are all re­lated as Africans. As a Zulu woman, my an­ces­tral roots in­clude a Malaw­ian grand­fa­ther who came to seek work in South Africa in the 1940s. At that time, no one even thought of at­tack­ing for­eign na­tion­als, as our en­emy was the op­pres­sor. My grand­fa­ther was a great tai­lor, and he cre­ated jobs for lo­cals. We have come a long way. Our late pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela once com­mented about the killing of Zu­lus and Xhosas in Boipa­tong. When he ad­dressed peo­ple who were griev­ing and those who did the killing, he re­minded them that when he came look­ing for a job in the gold mines as a Xhosa in what was then called Transvaal, he was wel­comed. Although the hos­tel dwelling he lived in was di­vided be­tween South African eth­nic groups – Zu­lus, Xhosas and Sothos – they were all min­ers. But the po­ten­tial of ten­sion was there, even then. Kwa-zulu Natal has had a very vi­o­lent past. The 2015 xeno­pho­bic at­tacks we saw start­ing in Kwazulu-natal Prov­ince echo how the 1980s ‘black-on-black’ vi­o­lence hit com­mu­ni­ties there. At that time, peo­ple were cre­at­ing home­made guns to kill each other. The only dif­fer­ence this time is the weaponry has been re­placed by knives and abu­sive words.

The lat­est at­tacks on for­eign na­tion­als have ex­posed th­ese un­healed wounds that were in­flicted by the pre­vi­ous racist regime: self­ha­tred, in­ter­nalised op­pres­sion and a state of vic­tim­hood. There is still a long walk to men­tal eman­ci­pa­tion be­cause the en­emy is in our hearts now. How­ever, we can­not jus­tify re­peat­ing the same crimes as the pre­vi­ous op­pres­sor. In part, the so­cial protests were in­flu­enced by raised but un­met ex­pec­ta­tions. There are lots of South Africans who have never vis­ited any part of this African con­ti­nent and who have never even been out­side of their home prov­ince. The ar­riv­ing for­eign na­tion­als are as­so­ci­ated with dis­gruntle­ment about slow ser­vice de­liv­ery and scarcity of jobs. Some for­eign na­tion­als ac­tu­ally cre­ate jobs for lo­cal peo­ple, but ad­mit­ting that re­quires hu­mil­ity. Some black com­men­ta­tors in the street and on so­cial me­dia have raised valid points that as South Africans we have been be­rated as if we are all ‘bad black peo­ple’. Th­ese la­bels on lo­cal peo­ple – that they are lazy and too de­mand­ing be­cause they feel en­ti­tled to strong labour rights – do not help. But maybe there is also a grain of truth in some of those la­bels that we have to work on. In the end, we all want one Africa and one love.

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