I have now written a few stories and filmed footage around the current spate of Xenophobic violence in South Africa. I have had debates about whether its xenophobia or afrophobia, about the good King and the reluctance from our government to shame him and about self-hate/unemployment/ignorance being catalysts for the violence.
I have thought about and consumed information on this topic for the past three weeks but I still feel like there’s nothing I can say. The shame coupled with the guilt and anger and sheer despondency have rendered me speechless.
I have nothing intelligent to add to the “stop xenophobia” calls and campaigns – particularly because I feel that a lot of the talking is happening at a level that doesn’t speak directly to the guys wielding pangas and knives on the streets. The guys who are drunk at 7a.m. with the whole day ahead of them to burn and loot and terrorise. The guys who we rarely think about outside of their sins.
A lot of the rhetoric from the top said: no matter what your frustrations are, you have no right to mete that out with violence against others. Another reminded us of the moral debt we owe to those who sheltered us in our time of need. But within those same ranks we had people in positions of power saying the amount of “foreign nationals” in South Africa was reaching a problematic level.
On the ground the guys I talked to said they don’t want “foreigners” in this country because they steal their jobs, sell drugs and steal “their” women. I didn’t know I was a thing that could be stolen. The same guys who told me that are also the same guys who felt it appropriate to try to kiss me, despite my continuous and unwavering “No’s”.
All of that aside, they were the first people I thought of when I heard this quote last night: “You lose your soul when you feel like the world has forgotten about you.”
I just don’t understand how another person from this continent can be called a foreigner. To me anyone who calls them that has no proper scope of history – they obviously know nothing about the false colonial borders, efforts by those same colonisers to have us identify and discriminate on “tribal lines” and obviously even less about the Bantu migration, we’re from Congo yo (but that is a story for another day).
I don’t understand how we let everyone and their mother walk all over us for hundreds of years then have the audacity to touch another African just because we know we can hit them and nothing will happen. It’s like men who beat their wives when they get home after biting their tongues for several hours saying “yes baas”. He bottles is anger and frustration, knowing that saying or doing something to “baas” will have real consequences, consequences a coward like him couldn’t possibly deal with. So he waits, stores that anger, until he can reach a target he can attack with the conviction that no one will be there to back his victim.
For me the reasons of anger and frustration at broken promises decades after democracy are secondary – this is about our level(s) of self hate. It runs deeps and cuts wide.
I say we need new names because we can no longer claim to be true sons and daughters of the soil, when we treat our own like this – I don’t know which words they might be but any that speak to a deep betrayal and self-hate will suffice.
**Photo: Tracy Lee Stark/The Citizen