A message has been doing the rounds on social media claiming “NO LIVING PEOPLE, BLACK OR WHITE, ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OTHER BLACK AND WHITE PEOPLE DID GENERATIONS AGO.” My response to it is always the same: We may not be responsible, but we certainly live with the consequences.
The senseless violence we as South Africans (I say ‘we’ deliberately since the damage done by a few must be repaired by us altogether – again, consequences) are meting out to our fellow Africans is no doubt a consequence of the spirit imparted onto this land by our forebears. Ironically, it is no different from imperialism we suffered at the hands of the likes of Cecil John Rhodes, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, and the Apartheid State. Black and white, we all fell under their spell, and responsibility set aside, even if we were to resurrect them, it’s highly doubtful that they’d realise the errors of their ways and undo their wicked deeds. As such, we’re left with the responsibility of undoing them ourselves.
More than twenty years into our democracy, a fierce yet unspoken contest for the title of “South African” is underway – from right-wing racists to the power-hungry political elite, middle-class taxpayers to the disenfranchised strikers; everyone is in on it. For the second time in less than a decade however, our fellow Africans have involuntarily sacrificed their lives for it (this I say, not forgetting countless other victims such as Andries Tatane, white farmers, and the martyrs of Marikana).
As to why there is a contest at all is perplexing, especially in a country with one of the most progressive and inclusive Constitutions in the world. Then again, one must remember that this was a Constitution negotiated at the behest of an erudite few on behalf of a nation desperate for the bread of freedom; many of whom have yet to taste more than a few crumbs thereof. And what good is a wordy, philosophical document when all your mental faculties are devoted to some of the most complex problem-solving known to man: ‘Will one packet of Iwisa, a head of cabbage, and seven diapers really be enough get us through the rest of this month?’
The various political occurrences of past few months have made it undeniably clear that njengabantu baseMzansi we are in desperate need of a shared sense of self-worth. These recent Afrophobic attacks would have been far less likely to happen, had our leaders esintu called for their people to learn from the entrepreneurialism of our fellow Africans. There would be no room for Afrophobic sentiments in the first place had we as wealthy South Africans been investing our socio-economic capital into the actual upliftment of our fellow citizens (as opposed to just offering mere charity).
Inkosi yamaZulu uZwelithini has renounced his remarks about abantu bokufika and called for imbizo against xenophobia. He has dealt with the symptoms, but now he and other leaders esintu must deal with the illness at their cause. His royal coat of arms bears the motto ‘iLembe Eleqa Amanye Ngokukhalipha’ (the Hero that Surpasses Others in Intelligence); let him then impart and encourage that spirit of surpassing intelligence and excellence onto his people, as an alternative to the rage and violence we possess.
On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum sit your ‘twitter-critics’ (like myself?) – always ready to decry the latest viral trend from behind the safety of their screens, but seldom prepared to take action when it’s needed most. When is action needed most? Says Professor Jonathan Jansen: “The problem is not what to do in a crisis; it is what you do in peacetime – that is, between crises.”
The Afrophobic stigma held by South Africans will not change until we learn to find the same opportunity and value that our Yoruba-, Igbo-, Akan-, Amharic-, and Tigrinya-speaking brothers and sisters see in these townships & CBDs that we find so miserable. Opportunities aren’t being stolen from us, they’re being created right under our noses! We have failed to teach ourselves the art of creating opportunity like our fellow Africans can. And don’t mind what some of us like to say about ourselves (or rather each other) – that we are all racist, lazy, uneducated, or savage – those are mentalities that belong on the other side of 1994. Spend enough time with enough South Africans from different walks of life and you will see how untrue that is.
Our Constitution charges us to “build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.” If we set our minds to this goal and make a deliberate effort to work on it every single day – pro-actively and not just re-actively – we will surely achieve it.
– Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (PDF)
– Jonathan Jansen: It’s not about the statues. (Source: TimesLive)
– Sibusiso Tshabalala: Why black South Africans are attacking foreign Africans but not foreign [white people]. (Source: Quartz)
– Achille Mbembe writes about Xenophobic South Africa (Source: Africa Is A Country)