A motorbike accident two years ago in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton left Pascal Kassongo with a leg fracture, multiple cuts and a written-off bike, crippling his courier business.
Two weeks in hospital, followed by several more of physiotherapy and recovery, drove the father of four into near destitution.
Too weak to buy and deliver goods to clients, his opportunity to earn R300-R400 ($24.40-$32.60) a day was gone.
Originally from Uvira in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Kassongo fled the war there in 2007, and had only a few friends he could call on for help in South Africa.
One of them was a pastor who took him to Scalabrini, a centre that helps migrants settle and find an economic foothold in South Africa.
As well as receiving regular food parcels, Kassongo was recruited for the “Amandla!” Project, whose name means “power” in the Xhosa and Zulu languages.
The scheme trains unemployed people, especially migrants, to run small businesses using a solar-powered kit called Ecoboxx.
Inside the box
The Ecoboxx is a lightweight, portable power supply, charged with two solar panels, that can provide 50 hours of power. It comes with two LED lights, a USB-driven fan, hair clippers and a charging cable for cell phones and other devices.
The kit was designed for the Amandla Project, with the intention of giving entrepreneurs a tool to power their activities, said Merle Mills of Community Chest, the organisation that came up with the project.
Using the kit, an individual can make up to R1 600 per month cutting hair five days a week, or at least R1 400 by charging up to seven cell phones at once with the device, Mills added.
Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids said a Dutch investor had backed the Ecoboxx as a way of helping Africans access economic opportunities.
“Getting into green or solar technology is the ideal platform to ensure we give our people low-cost and sustainable resources so they can develop the economy for themselves,” Davids told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Community Chest started Amandla in January after getting funding of almost 2 million rand, on condition the kit would be made available at a nominal cost of R200 to keep people out of debt.
Davids said the Ecoboxx would help entrepreneurs in townships and rural areas “electrify” their homes, and set up businesses to generate income for their families and communities.
At first, it was targeted at individuals who find it hard to break into the mainstream economy, like African migrants and communities where small businesses lack access to electricity.
The solar device, which retails for R4 000, is manufactured by a technology company that also supplies to retail stores in South Africa.
So far, Amandla has distributed 300 kits – almost a third of the planned total – including 50 to foreign nationals.
Spreading the light
“After spending a month in Pollsmoor prison for selling pirated DVDs and CDs, I was determined to sustain myself through legal means,” said Papy Shereza, 31, a bio-chemistry dropout from a Congolese university.
After enrolling in the Amandla programme, he was given an Ecoboxx, which he uses to run his own barbershop in the community of Du Noon.
“On weekends I make good money, but during the week I have to supplement my income by selling other hair products for women,” he said.
He also charges cell phones, and in a good week, he can earn up to 1,000 rand.
In the sprawling community of Gugulethu, Janet Bete, who came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in 2007, is equally happy. Her son, 24, uses an Ecoboxx to power a family barber shop.
“In my neighbourhood there is a man who runs a spaza (tuck shop) but has no electricity, so I hire out the solar lights to him daily from 5am when he opens, to 7am when it’s no longer dark,” said Bete.
The enterprising woman, who also manages a crèche, rents out the solar lights for evening church crusades and parties too.
“Whenever there is a funeral in my community and there is no power, I donate my lights – it’s my way of paying (people) back for living well together,” she added.
In Milnerton, Kassongo has adopted a different approach.
“I don’t own a barbershop, but I hire out my kit to local South Africans who do. We share the proceeds,” he said. “It helps put something on the table.”
Joe Pereira, head of strategy for Community Chest, said the Amandla project aimed to expand its opportunities to all “deserving” South Africans.
“Being creative around renewable energy will benefit many people,” he added.
On Thursday the 30th of April 2015, I stepped off a taxi coming from the Bree taxi rank in order to make my way toward the MTN taxi rank. I was coming from Greenside, where I work as an intern for a consultancy firm.
Immediately, as I stepped onto the curb, I was stopped by an aggressive tap on my shoulder followed by loud commands of “Eh, I said stop”, “You must respect me”, “Look me in the eye” – from two black women.
I steadied myself quickly and realised that one of the women, the taller one, was dressed in the navy official uniform of the South African Police Services. The shorter one, with a bob-cut weave, was wearing an orange golf T-shirt and a reflective warrant officer vest. She was holding a clipboard and pen. They both had a threatening but smug look on their faces, like they had just caught a big fish.
“This is a stop and search. Open your bag now!”
Without really thinking about the legal procedure regarding bag searches or my ‘rights’, I hastily unzipped my bag and revealed its contents. The short one clumsily ran her hand through and asked: “Where is your passport?”
I panicked. In my now 19 years of living in South Africa, I had never been asked this question. I didn’t have my passport. I don’t walk around with it.
I did have my green book – my stamp of legality, the document that guarantees my status as a permanent resident of South Africa. I took it out, handed it to them and felt like I had narrowly escaped doom. Until a week before, I refused to carry my ID with me, for fear of losing it given how hard it was to get in the first place.
My ID was handed back to me. The two women seemed disappointed. Maybe I imagined this.
I moved to South Africa when I was three years old. I am now 22. I am Zimbabwean and my parents moved to the City of Gold in 1995 to realise what, for many Zimbabweans then, was the real potential of a South African dream.
My first experience with xenophobia was in primary school in the early 2000s. Names such as “Kwerekwere” and “Girigamba” were pelted at me like stones by children both my age and skin color. Even as a child I knew that these terms were meant for a select few. They were used to “other” and alienate foreigners of a specific kind. While the white French foreign student who visited was welcomed with curiosity and admiration, I, a black African child, was labelled Kwerekwere. I was taunted and excluded.
Throughout the rest of my school career, I experienced a dizzying identity crisis. In junior high, I spent time dreaming of living in Soweto, Diepkloof, maybe Orlando. In this imagined life, I spoke fluent Zulu. My friends and I took a taxi to Ghandi Square or MTN taxi rank to get home. I arrived at school on Mondays with news of Thabo, the boy from the opposite street, and how he asked for my number over the weekend. If anything, this dream bears witness to how profoundly I longed to become a South African citizen. Simply to belong, wholly and indisputably.
By the time I entered grade 10 in 2008, my delusions had been completely dashed. In May of that year foreigners were violently assaulted in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra.
Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave was set alight and became known as “the burning man.” The image of him on his knees and wrapped in flames appeared almost everywhere.
Pieces of land along highways in Johannesburg, Olifantsfontein and Midrand became lined with rows and rows of UNHCR refugee tents for the displaced and vulnerable.
Young boys and girls in my grade huddled in the cold autumn/winter mornings before class. There were conversations that sometimes involved making ‘arguments’ for why black, lower-class and African foreigners earned the contempt they were experiencing.
I was made hyper-aware of my identity as a black Zimbabwean. I wanted to simultaneously lash out and dissolve. I felt convicted in the symbolism of my decision to have taken Afrikaans instead of Zulu as my second additional language.
I felt frustrated, angry, disappointed, rejected.
Today, I proudly identify myself as a Zimbabwean and choose to describe myself as a Zimbabwean who grew up and lives in South Africa. I fully acknowledge the influence that being raised in South Africa has had on me. Given my familiarity and extensive experience in the country, it is, in many ways, home. Zimbabwe is, however, where I feel rooted, where I belong. I feel a responsibility to return there at the earliest opportunity in order to reacquaint myself with my country and contribute to its development.
My identity crisis has, in effect, been resolved.
I recently read a paper by Michael Neocosmos –The Politics of Fear and the Fear of Politics: Reflections on Xenophobic Violence in South Africa – in which he addresses the reasons for these xenophobic attacks.
While xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa is generally understood in terms of economics, there is good reason to believe that it is a product of political discourse and ideology. Neocosmos points to “state or government discourse of xenophobia, discourse of South African exceptionalism and a conception of citizenship founded exclusively on indigeneity”.
The reckless and quite frankly deplorable statement made by King Goodwill Zwelethini in which he called for all foreign nationals to return to where they came from is a prime example. It demonstrates the power that leaders wield in terms of influencing the perceptions and actions of certain groups in society toward African migrants in the country.
I remain disillusioned and disgusted by the poor show of leadership and lack of both urgency and agency displayed by key government officials and the president himself when it came to honestly and effectively addressing the recent xenophobic violence. An honest dialogue on why African foreigners are specifically targeted in xenophobic attacks in this country will not occur until the role that leadership plays in sparking, influencing, curbing or dealing with xenophobia is understood.
The fear/dislike of and violence against African migrants is not a new phenomenon in South Africa. The March 2015 attacks are also not likely the last we will see. That’s why it is important to address the role of leadership in the perpetration of xenophobia.
 MTN Taxi Rank and Bree Taxi rank are two of the main taxi terminals in the Johannesburg CBD.
 A derogatory term used in South Africa to refer to foreigners, particularly from Zimbabwe.
This post was first published on Brittle Paper, an African literary blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews, original work and in-depth coverage of the African literary scene. It is curated by Ainehi Edoro and was recently named a ‘go-to book blog’ by Publisher’s Weekly.
The events unfolded like a John le Carré novel: just minutes before South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma delivered his opening address on Sunday to the African Union summit in the glitzy Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, the Pretoria High Court ordered that the government should ensure that Bashir could not leave the country.
But incredibly, the government managed to “lose” the Sudanese president, insisting for hours after he took off at 11.46am on Monday that it did not know whether he had left or not, claiming that he may have gone shopping.
Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the ICC for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Allowing him to escape was a kick in the face of the 400 000 people who have died in the ongoing conflict – and the 2.5 million who have been displaced.
Over the past few years pressure from African leaders criticising the ICC has grown, with many claiming its cases target African leaders only. In December Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, said the ICC was a “tool to target” Africa. Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame has accused the court of “selective” justice.
This is in some sense true: since its establishment in 2002, the ICC has heard 22 cases and indicted 32 individuals. All of them are African.
South Africa, though a signatory to the Rome Statute through which the court was established, has lately joined this chorus, with the governing ANC saying on Saturday: “The ICC is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended – being a court of last resort for the prosecution of crimes against humanity.”
While this stance may have endeared the country to the rest of the African Union – where it seeks to be a significant player – it reveals a troubling contradiction: signatory to the Statute on the one hand, while flirting with those who seek to defy its precepts on the other.
But this isn’t the first time the country has displayed its ambivalence towards the ICC: in 2010 South Africa invited Bashir to the now scandal-mired World Cup, attracting plaudits from some on the continent and gaining street cred for shaking its fist at the west.
Many South Africans aren’t surprised by the weekend’s events. Over the past seven years the country has sided with the dodgiest leaders in the world in the name of “the national interest”.
The authorities have refused the Dalai Lama a visa to enter South Africa at the invitation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other Nobel laureates at least three times at the behest of China, with whom we have signed a 10-year agreement pledging “political mutual trust and strategic co-ordination”, while President Zuma is having a full-on bromance with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, remaining silent about the Kremin’s alleged assassination of opposition politicians.
Robert Mugabe, accused of the murder of thousands of his own citizens in the 1980s and the torture of many more in the 2000s, was wined and dined on a state visit here a few months ago. And Bashir? South Africa has defended him since the ICC issued its first warrant for his arrest in 2009, under the guise of building ties with the African Union.
In effect, the South African government has broken its own laws and acted in defiance of a court order. A government lawyer, William Mokhari, told the court that Bashir’s departure will be fully investigated. But that is academic. The government did nothing to arrest him.
Politically, this much we know: by protecting Bashir and letting him escape, our country has openly taken sides with the Africa’s tyrants, and not their victims.