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April 22, 2015 / bswitaba

Nairobi – Jo’burg: Memoirs from Mzanzi (South Africa)

Mandela's Dream


Africa weeps
A genocide cloud billows,
Like a wind in the willows,
Cries giro from Southland,
Up across motherland.

Synched sons and daughters,
Brutally lynched,
Their lives pinched,
With such a cinch.

As the pain deeps,
Africa weeps,
For her lost children,
Killed by brethren,

From Africa’s utopia,
Mozambique and Ethiopia,
Malawi and Congo,
Somali and Nigeria.

Where is the ubuntu,
Our Madiba gave unto,
Semitic or bantu,
Is Killing fun too?

The xenophobic spirit let us bind,
Bitter memories let’s leave behind,
Let everyone be of African kind,
And to all mankind be nice and kind.

Bonface Witaba ©
Nairobi – Jo’burg: Memoirs from Mzanzi (South Africa)

I happened to visit South Africa in 2010 and 2011 respectively. I had long grown fond of this rainbow nation even before I could set foot there, thanks to Tata Madiba and SA’s long standing history for freedom, justice and fairness to all persons regardless of color, creed, and nationality.
My first visit was greeted with warm hearted and ever smiling South Africans, easy to get along with. I even managed to learn substantial isiZulu phrases in the shortest time possible just to go with the flow, something that really impressed the locals.

However, during my second visit, the warm hearts and the smiles had waned. Is it because the continent was no longer in the World Cup mood? I couldn’t help but wonder.
An incidence in public transport tipped me that something was indeed not right.
I had boarded a taxi (that’s how they call public transport in mzanzi), to make a courtesy call to my good friend and a fellow FOSS advocate Mark Clarke, who runs the largest Open Source training centre in Jo’burg.

My host saw me off to the taxi rank (he was unable to come with me as he was on duty at SABC studios). Armed with a map, I sure had to keep reminding the driver to drop me at the right rank (stage) lest I got lost. It’s during these reminders that some guy started a conversation with me “bro’ you must be from Africa neh!”. I was taken aback as South Africa happens to be Africa as well. “Tjo what do you mean bhuti (brother) vele am I not in Africa?” I asked. The other passengers curiously delved into the conversation. Someone retorted “Africa is the uppermost part…my mind went blank for awhile as they conversed amongst themselves. So this must be the reason why there’s a banner at O.R Tambo airport that reads “Out of Africa!”, I imbibed. By this time, the “foreigner” tag had sparked the other passengers to literally rap me for “coming from Africa” to “steal” jobs meant for locals. I wouldn’t let it go down without defending myself considering I was only there to conduct an ICT workshop to Youth in Mpumalanga, a province in the north-eastern part of the country. Later when I told my host about it, he was so concerned that he wanted to report the matter to the police but I had to calm him down. Down the line,I would then come to learn that that wasn’t just a “superficial” conversation as such but rather a verbal xenophobic attack that was metered on me.

Of Xenophobic Attacks

Recently, the media was awash with stories of the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini calling on makwerekwere (“foreigners”) to leave South Africa because they were “enjoying privileges that were meant for locals”. Similarly, the first son Edward Zuma would days later appear on TV echoing the King’s sentiments, adding that crime had skyrocketed because of the influx of “foreigners”. In a matter of days, the locals were reported to be looting and torching businesses owned by “foreigners” in Durban and Jo’burg, in what appeared to be heeding to calls from their endeared leaders. As if that wasn’t enough, a number of unfortunate “foreigners” from Mozambique, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Congo were set ablaze during the attacks! How can a nation that claims to stand for the tenets of Ubuntu (humanity) allow its people to commit heinous harm in such a blatant manner to fellow humans just because they are “foreigners?”Is the ANC government being negligent or the situation is just simply out of their control?

What I fail to understand however is how an African can be a “foreigner” in their own motherland – Africa! More so, where this whole nonsensical pride of South Africa not being “Africa” comes from.

O.R Tambo Airport
Just like in the apartheid era, South Africans need to be reminded that racial venom is like suicide dynamite. We must therefore collectively extinguish xenophobic attacks at all cost or they will simply extinguish us all.
I do not see the logic for calls to pull down a statue of one Cecil Rhodes, and then go ahead to lynch fellow Africans. This is utter betrayal to the very humanity principles freedom heroes such as Govan Mbeki, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli and others fought for.

In light to the increasing xenophobic attacks, there have been widespread calls by the African masses for the UN, AU, BRICS, SADC and other bodies that SA is affiliated with, to take action and expel them accordingly until they deal with the problem of the attacks in totality. Other African nations in what was deemed as a “Black Friday”, called on Africans to boycott South African businesses throughout the continent from airlines, chain stores, to pay TV. A similar move to this is said to have put pressure to the apartheid government and eventually led to the collapse of the infamous system thus paved way for Independence.
The same can be replicated and scaled today until the pinch is felt by the South African government and corporations for them to be compelled to act promptly to quell the “makwerekwere” attacks.
In Mozambique for instance, following the death of Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra, it has been reported that most South African owned companies have shut down for fear of backlash from Mozambicans. South African nationals working in these companies have also been repatriated for “safety reasons”.
We can only wait to see if this has the likelihood to spread across the continent considering social media has been full of messages of revenge from name calling youth from the rest of Africa.

Forging Ahead

The Citizens
We are all Africans not because we were born in Africa but simply because Africa was born in Us. Therefore as Africans, We have the responsibility recognize that regardless of our origin, we must collectively strive to attain the spirit of Ubuntu; You are because I am because we are. In the words of Booker T. Washington, “In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
Aluta continua! Let us therefore all cast down our buckets in the deep waters we are in, for working together for economic advancement is the only way to make the most out of the situation we are in if we are to make a better life for ourselves and the continent as a whole. Nkosi sikelel ‘iAfrika! (God bless Africa!).

The ANC government
It is high time you lived up to the expectations of the African millions as a responsible government. Use the media if you can to reach out and address the disgruntled youth. It is okay for them to be angry but never ok to be cruel nonetheless. Constantly remind the nation of the assistance ANC got from the rest of Africa during the struggle against apartheid – of the headquarters in Lusaka -Zambia, the military camps in Morogoro-Tanzania, Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique and elsewhere. If we (the rest of Africa) had been cruel to your leaders and refused to lend a hand in the struggle, you probably would still be under the yoke of apartheid to this very day.
So unto you ANC – Sound the call to come together and let all the people live in peace, love and harmony. Tata Madiba cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities… an ideal for which he himself was prepared to die for – stop the black genocide and save Tata’s ideal or ignore and lose it. The choice is yours!
A moment of silence for Emmanuel Sithole, the Mozambican national who was stabbed in full glare of TV cameras, and other “foreigners” who were brutally lynched in the xenophobic violence in South Africa. May the perpetrators of these atrocities never find peace within themselves until they own up and seek forgiveness from motherland -Africa.


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