Tag: xenophobic violence

On African unity

A man holds a placard as he and others attend a silent vigil against xenophobia, held at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on April 21 2015. (Pic: AFP)
A man holds a placard as he and others attend a silent vigil against xenophobia, held at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on April 21 2015. (Pic: AFP)

Much has been said already about the xenophobic attacks in South Africa and I fear falling into repetitiveness by merely echoing the sentiments others have already expressed. However, it is an issue close to my heart and I couldn’t completely exempt myself from this conversation.

I and fellow Africans stood united under the banner of “Je suis kwerekwere” and this highly influenced my philosophy of African unity. But instead of discussing South African discrimination, permit me to say a few words on the politics of African togetherness.

There is little co-operation between Africans and a lack of encouragement towards discovering ourselves and exploring, accepting and celebrating our diversity. I see Africans from various countries insisting on cultural individuality and lack of familiarity, sometimes with people from neighboring countries, reducing them to mere “foreigners”.

Due to South African influences, I have a certain agility in associating and communicating with southerners from Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia.

I can switch quickly from greetings in Oshiwambo to Sotho to Zulu. We can talk about pap and vleis and connect through food, music, customs, parlance, and many other components of culture that bring us together yet when I say we are one, denial is common. I am not from South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia or Botswana but I have learned the things these peoples have in common and I can co-exist with them through my understanding of who they are as a people.

In my circle I also have West Africans, and they too deny their proximity. Classic examples are Nigerians and Ghanaians. They too speak of extreme differences yet my knowledge of one catapulted me into the world of the other with swiftness.

I am not denying individuality or stating by any means that African culture is uniform or perpetuating the myth that Africa is a country. What I am saying is that Africans have many similarities they refuse to accept. And although our distinctiveness varies from region to region there is something about being African that connects us all.

I blissfully switch from “jambo” to “mbote” depending on who I am addressing, and my articulacy and ‘chameleon’ personality always leads to this one question: “Clênia, where are you from?”

I have learned a couple of things with this frequent question. One is how we expect each other to not know each other’s culture and how much we have pledged to our countries but have not pledged to our identity. I say this because if we really knew and understood roots, we would be able to identify fruits. Our diversity is expressed through various forms but if we know origins we can understand that fufu, funje and pap are essentially the same concept translated in different ways. This realisation will aid us towards engaging with each other and stop seeing ourselves as mere “others” because we are under different flags.

Xenophobia is not only a South African concern, it’s a general African problem because we all have prejudices against each other, are ignorant of each other’s struggles and existence, and threatened by one another more than we would like to admit.

Time and time again I see impenetrable nationalistic cliques that are derided by people from certain countries – yet these same people cry out “South Africa why?!”…The hypocrisy!

Don’t use the hatred and confusion others have as a scapegoat to justify the just-as-filthy sentiments you harbour.

The xenophobic attacks that occurred in South Africa last month are beyond shameful and it’s painful to see the loss of respect for human lives. I applaud the media and the citizens of the internet for keeping us informed. However, the dexterity and rapidity with which we personally spread calamity leads me to believe that tragedy is sadly met with normalcy. The appalling images of dead bodies were shared far and wide on the internet. I saw it with the Garissa attack and now I see it with xenophobic violence. Our inability to cringe over such shocking depictions of fellow human beings reveals a sad truth.

The protagonists behind these killings have no respect for life, and in our act of “keeping others aware” by spreading graphic depictions of atrocities, we are showing that we have no respect for death. That is just as deplorable because if we do not respect these deaths we are unfit to defend and fight for these lives. So excuse your “We are one” speech when you are quick to broadcast a picture of someone being burned alive.

The anti-xenophobia marches and attitude that manifested are a fine example of African resistance, something we often believe is non-existent when we consider pacified African citizens and governments. This time, we also saw a rare example of solidarity, a harmony that seems to be imaginary; mere ideology and theory.

Let’s face it, we are scattered! As nations we all have experiences unique to us – apartheid, ethnic cleansing etc. – that affect and influence our philosophies and policies, but for the sake of our future let’s begin to recognise and seek similarities. Familiarity will lead to some empathy; in this empathy we will find tolerance and tolerance will help us walk together in unity.

My sincere condolences to people who have lost loved ones and my support to the people living the struggle stories that are in obscurity.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. God bless Africa.

Clenia Gigi is a a student, avid reader, poet, spoken-word artist, Pan-Africanist, feminist and eternally a child at the face of education.

Ubuntu is dead and greed killed it

(Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

Botho is dead.

There, I said it. And quite frankly, it is about time somebody did. It’s about time we walked to the funeral of our most beloved product and allowed ourselves a few moments to come to terms with the reality that it is gone.

Botho or Ubuntu or African socialism or whatever name is now fashionable has always been a cornerstone of African societies or, to be more accurate, Bantu societies.

But now it is 2015. And in Botswana, Botho is a word so strong and loaded, that it has become the greatest political tool in the arsenal of the ambitious leader. A national address is incomplete without the speaker finding a way to praise us for upholding this core tenet of our civilisation and simultaneously admonish us for letting it slip away. It is the multi-purpose screwdriver in the toolbox of the mass manipulator.

Leaders in power shame us for having “lost” it, while leaders with ambitions to gain even more power praise us for upholding it. And this is not only a Botswana phenomenon, for South African leaders are also known to admonish wayward followers for losing their “Africanness”.

All over Africa, our culture, painted in the fantastic light of glamourised pasts, is waved in the faces of the ordinary Africans as some reminder that a different behaviour than that natural to all humans is expected from us.

Politically active youths demanding opportunity are said to be behaving without Botho, without respect for elders. Women asking for equal rights are said to be acting in their own interests and dismissing the needs of the community. Economically ambitious people are said to be thinking selfishly when they should be using their wealth to make the lives of their people better.

Well, I’m here to say that all of that is [expletive].

It is time we faced facts. We cannot foster societies that enable the greed of our leaders to be the driving force of our economies, and at the same time be expected to behave without that very same selfishness that is supposed to be at odds with our supposedly perfect pre-colonial societies.

At some point we have to choose between fulfilling the destiny Steve Biko believed was Africa’s responsibility (to bring a human face to civilisation) and following the rest of the world in letting capitalist aspirations shape our societies. And I’m afraid we have made that choice.

If the recent bouts of xenophobic attacks in certain parts of the continent are any indication, we, as African people, have chosen greed over Botho. We have chosen greed over idealism, over what Biko claimed was our special place in history. And we’ve done it without even knowing it.

At what point will we realise that our present acceptance of leaders who will do whatever it takes to gain as much personal wealth as possible at the expense of their people, is the very cause of the erosion of our belief systems? When will we realise these very same leaders are in no position to manipulate us with shame?

It is when we realise that greed is what is stripping our societies of their core beliefs, that we will see that the only way to move forward is to reject it.

We, Africans, have to ask ourselves everyday if this is what our ancestors fought for. Is this the freedom they died for? The freedom to steal? The freedom to kill? The freedom to die poor and without dignity? Is the right for politicians to steal without consequence, what Lumumba, Sankara, et al., died for? Is the right for the poor to murder each other over the crumbs of our GDPs what Nkrumah, Nyerere, et al. dreamed of?

Are the lives of the first Africans who died at the hands of colonialists to be honoured by our own individual obsessions with material wealth? Are their lives to be carried forward by ancestors who care more about emulating their warped view of western life than upholding the principles of societies that were alive for centuries before western interference?

Did we go through all of this for this? We have to ask ourselves these types of questions everyday if we are to arrive at the correct conclusion: Africa has to fight greed harder than we have ever fought anything else. We have to fight it like we fought off cruel colonialists, we have to fight it like we fought for freedom, we have to fight it harder than we have ever fought anything, because greed is Africa’s greatest problem.

And it begins today, by refusing to accept corruption. By demanding harsher anti-corruption laws, by seriously thinking about what role mindless consumerism has played in the decaying of our cultural principles, by a number of ways we have yet to discuss.

We have to fight because Botho is dead, and only our actions can bring it back.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites

Tough homecoming for Zimbabwean migrants fleeing xenophobia

Zimbabwe migrants disembark from a bus on arrival at the International Organisation for Migration Reception and Support Centre in Beitbridge on April 20 2015. (Pic: AFP)
Zimbabwe migrants disembark from a bus on arrival at the International Organisation for Migration Reception and Support Centre in Beitbridge on April 20 2015. (Pic: AFP)

More than 2 000 Zimbabweans displaced by xenophobic attacks in South Africa have packed their bags for home. But Zimbabwe, a country teetering on the verge of economic collapse, is unlikely to offer them the means to restart their lives.

The attacks on foreigners – mainly Zimbabweans, Somalis, Malawians, Mozambicans and Nigerians – started in Durban more than two weeks ago following comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, suggesting that African migrants in South Africa were criminals who should go back to their countries and stop stealing jobs and opportunities from locals.

Machete- and gun-wielding South Africans burned foreigners’ businesses and homes, looting goods, and forcing their inhabitants to flee. Six foreign nationals died in the attacks, which spread from Durban to other parts of the country, including Johannesburg. The worst of the violence has, for the most part, subsided, but African migrants are well aware that they could re-surface at any time.

Several countries, including Malawi, Mozambique and Nigeria, have tried to evacuate their citizens from affected areas, but Zimbabwe, which has by far the largest number of nationals living in South Africa, is faced with the biggest challenge. Over years of political and economic upheaval in Zimbabwe, some 1.5 million Zimbabweans are thought to have made the trek south in search of safety and better opportunities. Zimbabwe has set up an inter-ministerial rescue taskforce to repatriate several thousand of them.

Labour and Social Welfare Secretary Ngoni Masoka told IRIN that the Zimbabwean government expected to receive some 2 400 returnees who had opted to return home following the attacks, but added the actual numbers returning could be higher.

“We are getting constant updates from our embassy in South Africa. There could be Zimbabweans who might have decided not to approach us for help for various reasons, so it is difficult to know how many are coming back exactly,” he said.

The first batch of 433 returnees arrived last week in government-provided buses at Beitbridge border post from a Durban transit camp where they were being housed following the attacks. According to Masoka, the taskforce is determining their needs, qualifications and destinations so they can be referred to provincial and district welfare officers for help with reintegration. The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) are providing returnees with food and other essentials, while specialists are offering counselling and medical attention.

Masoka declined to say whether the government had set aside a budget for the returnees.

Under no illusions

Jairos Mangwanya (36) is under no illusions that life back at home will be easy. He was among the first batch of returnees last week, but decided to hitchhike to Harare, the capital, after becoming impatient with delays getting on a government bus. He left his pregnant wife and two other children to follow on the government-provided transport and went ahead to organise them some temporary accommodation.

Mangwanya had worked in Durban as a teacher for the past eight years. He fled with his family when Zimbabweans at a neighbouring house were attacked and their belongings looted.

“We didn’t have the time to pack our belongings because the attackers were coming to our house. We only took some blankets and clothes and fled to the police station. We left our passports, educational certificates, money and other vital belongings behind,” Mangwanya told IRIN.

“That means we have virtually nowhere to start from. I can’t look for another job without my certificates and I know it will be a long time before the examinations authorities and birth registration officials here can replace my documents.”

Finding a place for him and his family to stay in Harare will be tough. Space at his two brothers’ homes is already limited.

“My brothers say my wife and the two children will go to one of the houses and I to the other. That must be for a short period, though, because they also have large families and dependants from the extended family,” said Mangwanya.

The other option is to take the family to their rural home in Mount Darwin, some 200km away from Harare. But going there will greatly reduce his chances of being able to provide for his family or of his two children being able to attend school.

Mangwanya left South Africa before receiving his April salary and is likely to forfeit his pension and other employment benefits.

Trynos Musumba (41), who was travelling from Beitbridge with Mangwanda, had been working as a plumber in Durban and sending part of his earnings to his 70-year-old mother and unemployed sisters in Zimbabwe. He left his South African wife and four-year-old child behind in Durban.

“With my return, it means no one will be able to fend for my family here. My wife is not employed and she will find life tough. I might have to look at ways of going back to a safe city in South Africa and looking for another job,” he told IRIN.

His mother, who is diabetic, and the rest of the family live in rural Mhondoro, some 50km west of Harare. The area is one of many in the country to have suffered crop failure this year following poor rains.

“This is a very bad situation being made worse for the migrants,” said John Robertson, an independent economic analyst. “They fled Zimbabwe to look for better opportunities and are returning home to the very economic crisis they tried to run away from. The situation could actually be worse than when these people went away.”

He added that unofficially, unemployment in Zimbabwe is close to 80 percent, despite official figures putting it at 11 percent.

Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), told IRIN: “Most of the companies have closed down and the few that remain are struggling. Worse still, government cannot absorb [those being laid off] because it doesn’t have the money to employ more people.”

Government too broke to help

Robertson said it was unlikely that the social welfare department would help the returnees in any meaningful way. “Our government has never had an unemployment benefit scheme or social security policy and is too broke to fund any intervention to help the returning Zimbabweans re-integrate. It will thus leave everything to the extended family, hoping that relatives will cushion the returnees.”

Musumba said that on the bus he took home with other returnees “many said they will never return to South Africa to look for jobs, but I know as soon as there is peace, they will go back because the situation in our country is so bad.”

Gabriel Shumba, a South Africa-based human rights lawyer who heads the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), said some 2 000 Zimbabweans remained in camps near Durban. Although churches, NGOs and the South African government are providing some aid, many are still in need of food, clothing, counselling and medical attention.

“The situation remains precarious. There is need for the humanitarian community to scale up support for the people in camps,” he told IRIN.

Shumba said his organisation was working to provide legal assistance to those who had been attacked or their property looted in an effort to ensure perpetrators could be arrested and brought to justice. South African authorities have a poor record of prosecuting perpetrators of past attacks.

He added that he did not believe repatriating victims to Zimbabwe was the answer, arguing that it “would embolden the attackers and encourage more attacks”.

South Africa deploys soldiers to anti-immigrant hotspots


South African soldiers deployed overnight to tackle gangs hunting down and killing foreigners after at least seven people died in a wave of anti-immigrant violence. (Pic: AFP)
South African soldiers who were deployed overnight to tackle gangs hunting down and killing foreigners after at least seven people died in a wave of anti-immigrant violence. (Pic: AFP)

South Africa sent soldiers on Tuesday to help stop anti-immigrant violence in areas of Durban and Johannesburg where at least seven people have been killed in the past three weeks.

South Africa has been criticised by governments, including China, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, for failing to protect foreigners as armed mobs were shown on TV looting immigrant-owned shops and front-page photographs in a Sunday newspaper showed a Mozambican man being beaten and stabbed to death in broad daylight.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said a Zimbabwean couple were shot in the Johannesburg shanty town of Alexandra on Monday night but survived.

Briefing reporters on the deployment of troops to Alexandra and to the coastal town of Durban, where the violence started, she said: “There will be those who will be critical of this decision but the vulnerable will appreciate it.”

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini defended himself on Monday against claims that previous comments he made about foreigners sparked the anti-immigrant attacks.

On Tuesday, four men, aged between 18 and 22 years old, were charged in Alexandra’s Magistrates Court with the murder and robbery of the Mozambican man, Emmanuel Sithole, a street vendor in the low-income area.

The men covered their heads with hoodies when they were brought into the court. They are set to appear again on May 4.

Outside the court, protesters picketed and locals gathered.

“It’s not right this thing, they shouldn’t have killed him,” said Fulufhelo Ravhura, a 37-year-old Alexandra resident. “That guy was selling sweets and cigarettes, how was he stealing anyone’s job?”

Periodic outbreaks of anti-immigrant violence have been blamed on high unemployment, which is officially around 25 percent although economists say is much higher, widespread poverty and vast wealth gap.

Hundreds of Malawians marched on South Africa’s High Commission in the capital Lilongwe on Tuesday, demanding charges be laid against King Zwelithini amid calls for a boycott of South African businesses.

Malawi’s Information Minister, Kondwani Nankhumwa, said on Monday two Malawians were killed in the attacks and that efforts were under way to repatriate about 3 000 of its nationals.

In Zambia, two private commercial radio stations have stopped playing South African music.

In 2008, South African troops helped to end violence after more than 60 foreigners were killed in similar unrest as locals vented frustrations, particularly a lack of jobs.