“In the desert of life the wise person travels by caravan, while the fool prefers to travel alone.” ~ Unknown
On celebration days, days when our nation or the entire world focuses on certain issues, we become very passionate individuals. Yes, when a lot of people are talking about one cause or matter, it is easy to be carried by the wave and give courage for those hiding to come out or make the previously silent speak. We make resolutions and vows to ourselves and others, but why are we so quick to go back into our shells, so quick to break our word, so quick to let go of our passion once the special day, week, or month is over?
25 May, we wake up, dress up and make that last minute call to get free tickets to a concert by the city park. But during all that, do we ever think, that there is a child in Ethiopia who hasn’t had food in a day, a week or so; that a new commando is being made in Somalia out of a kid who, instead of being a soldier, should be playing football or with toys; that dictatorship driven leaders are driving people into insanity and you, yes you, you are living with a xenophobic, more specifically, an Afrophobic mindset?
We might argue that the hunger crisis in Ethiopia is that country’s logistical problem; that the child services in Somalia, the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), and the United Nations, (UN), will deal with the affected children’s welfare and war crimes. We could further defend ourselves by going on to argue that we have never physically attacked any foreigner living in our country. The truth of the matter, however, is that once you live with an Afrophobic mindset, even when you are not actively enforcing Afrophobic attacks, you are also playing a role in the division of Africa.
Afrophobia… I have, for years, like the rest of our society, used this term interchangeably with the commonly used ‘xenophobia’. It was only recently, when I took the time to do some research, that I realised our mistake – the two are related but do not describe the same fear.
Xenophobia is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a strong feeling of dislike or fear of people from other countries”. The Cambridge dictionary further describes it as “an extreme dislike or fear, of foreigners, their customs, their religions, etc.”
On the other hand, Afrophobia, the less commonly used and known term, is defined by the University of South Africa, (UNISA)’s Professor R. S. Tshaka, director of the College of Human Sciences, as the fear of a specific other, the black other from north of the Limpopo River [in the case of South Africans]. Professor Tshaka goes on to expand on this by stating that, “if foreigners generally were the main target, those who are anti-foreigner would no doubt have sought out ALL foreigners and made it known that they are not welcome in this country.”
Think back to the year 2008 and the infamous nationwide xenophobic attacks and the years following that. Was the hate, the killings, and the attacks, directed at all foreign nationals? No. Not back in 2008, not in 2014, 2019 or now, in 2020. We attack the specific other with whom we share the continent with. We exhibit an extreme hatred for the other blacks who do not come from our nation. We hate and ridicule other African cultures. The big question is: why?
Afrophobia is a direct result of the socio economic state of our country that is experienced and stationed with those who suffer material deprivation. Saying what they are trying to bring across is not valid will be failing them even more. I am afraid these attacks, that have become a part of our mutated DNA, will continue in a stop and go manner until, as a nation, our leaders included, properly address this.
In no way do I condone killing and vigilantism. I am saying is that Afrophobia is wrong and the crimes by both foreign and South African nationals is also equally wrong.
I also acknowledge that I am speaking from a point of privilege. For the two weeks in 2019 that there was, once more, a surge in the xenophobic attacks, for myself and many others in Pretoria East , we were living in our bubbles without being affected. Perhaps this privilege is what enables me to look at this situation objectively and see how the way we have allowed our mindset to be framed as a people, is dragging our country down.
Africa Day is a day of celebrating Africa and being African, but what are we truly celebrating, if we are not taking responsibility of the problems in Africa up our shoulders? Is it Africa we celebrate or is it just the tribes that lie within our borders? Do not get me wrong, I strongly advocate for being proud of our roots and keeping our cultural practices alive. I merely wonder why, in embracing ourselves, we do not embrace others as well.
Africa, we are the beginning and home to mankind. Africa, we preach the Zulu proverb, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, our stake on our beautiful ability to be united as a people and to be tolerant of each other’s cultural and economic differences. Today, start by practicing ubuntu in earnest and show humanity to all. At this turbulent time we are all going through, show compassion to everyone, be they Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Khoisan, Egyptian, Afrikaner, Tsonga etc., let “I am an African” be your mantra.
The aim of this letter is not to convince anyone to start a foundation, charity or join an organisation – you can however do so if you can. The message of my letter is that the essence of Africa Day is to celebrate unity!!!! For us to earn the right to celebrate Africa Day, let’s burn away all our Afrophobic thoughts, pray for the people in all African countries and help out our brothers and sisters any and whichever way we can. The thought counts. Today is not Africa Day, but that is not the only day we get to talk about it now is it? We are Africans everyday because we are born of this land. Let us not just be Africans by name, let Mama Africa identify herself in us.
Africa Harambe, Nkosi sikelela i Africa, ons Mooi land.