Now is not the time to turn our backs on fellow Africans
Decision to leave your country of birth to seek shelter, or work, is not an easy one to make for immigrants
ACOUPLE of days ago, I read an article in the Washington Post about the increasing number of Venezuelans flooding the border towns of Brazil and Colombia in search of food and work.
Venezuela, once an oil-rich country, is suffering from food shortages and its people are facing starvation. And they are now fleeing their native land.
When asked about the increasing number flooding to Colombia, its top immigration official Christian Kruger said: “We can’t turn our backs on the Venezuelan people at their time of greatest need.”
This made me think about the situation in South Africa and how we have come to characterise immigrants, fellow Africans, from poverty-stricken and war-torn countries. Colombia is not a rich country; it has its fair share of challenges, but it has come to view the inward migration from Venezuela differently and with notable respect.
The story of Venezuela is not different from Zimbabwe, a country that was once the bread basket of Africa but is today reduced to a basket case by its leaders. Many Zimbabweans are getting poorer by the day, and those that have some means to leave the country have done so, all in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Others have left their jobs as public servants, and teachers and now working as car guards in South Africa and other countries.
It is not only Zimbabweans that have fled their country to the southern tip of Africa. Fellow Africans from Mozambique, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria and many other states had to leave their homes, running away from poverty and wars.
Each year we read of the number of Africans who die as they try to reach Europe. I believe that this is not an easy decision to make, having to risk your own life and flee your native land out of pain and despair.
I am a South African, and not once have I contemplated leaving the country to settle somewhere away from my family, my people. The decision of many Africans who leave their countries of birth to be in South Africa must have been difficult, for they are leaving their families, culture and tradition. Most of them will not have an opportunity to attend to many family rituals and burials – the sacrifice they pay to earn something to send back home and for themselves.
Of course, there are times as well when as government we must draw a boundary in the category of immigrants allowed into the country, as citizens can be made to feel disenfranchised in their own home town. Nonetheless, before we characterise people as criminals or job thieves, let’s take a moment and think of the reasons that led fellow Africans to leave their countries of birth. I suggest that we do not characterise “some” African people who come to South Africa as criminals, for we do not know that for sure.
Hitherto, I don’t believe that people should stay in war-torn countries to die of hunger or to be slaughtered like animals. Undoubtedly, there are criminal elements, but a number of Africans migrate to South Africa in search of a better life. They are in this country to earn some income to send back to the families they left behind – families that they might not get to see or attend their funerals.
Therefore, it is my belief that as South Africans, a country that experiences a relatively higher pace of development and better way of life compared with many other African countries, we have a bigger responsibility to assist our fellow citizens of the continent.
Most of them will not have an opportunity to attend many family rituals