Today is Africa Day and also the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, the forerunner of the African Union. SAEED FURAA, a Somali businessman who has lived in South Africa for 18 years uses the occasion to reflect on his experience of living here – and reminds us that, despite the xenophobia, it’s not all bad.
In the last couple of months South Africa has attracted a lot of bad publicity globally, and on the continent. It is viewed with contempt and shame by some people, by and large for the xenophobic (or Afrophobic) attacks. South Africans and foreign nationals were killed. This has shamed us as people of African descent all over the world.
This madness has left us wondering about, and in doubt of, our equal claim to humanity. It has affected us all in unimaginable ways. People I personally know live in constant fear that is visible in their eyes and we all sense a feeling of unease.
This undermines and defies the values that underpin South Africa’s great Constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Nelson Mandela’s legacy of ubuntu and tolerance, and many other instruments that articulate human rights in Africa and the world.
I was forced to flee my home country, Somalia, during the civil war. Afterwards, I was lucky and thankful to be hosted as a refugee in South Africa, where I have started rebuilding my fractured life. And despite these senseless attacks on foreign nationals, speaking as a foreign national from Somalia, I’ve known a different South Africa for the past 18 years,
I have been in this beautiful country. I have met kind and hospitable South Africans from all walks of life, all races, all provinces – and I have also seen the worst. Therefore, I refuse to paint everyone with the same brush of bigotry and hatred because doing so means inspiring a life of bondage, and to live in fear of being attacked all the time.
I choose to be hopeful and to live with the knowledge that I am free to engage in business and to enroll at any university I qualify to study at and to learn like any other South African.
This is a country of the freed – it is free from oppressive system of apartheid. And this is a country with leaders that were housed and supported all over Africa, and the world, while they were fighting for their freedom.
I refuse to accept that everyone is brutal and unsympathetic, like the killers of Emmanuel Sithole and the panga-wielding people we have seen in the media. This is a country that promised its people it shall protect their rights and freedoms through the judicial system and that has delivered – and continues to deliver – on that promise. So I refuse to be a prisoner in a country of the free and liberated.
Last month Donald Trump made uninformed and bigoted comments about this country and painted it as unstable to even invest in, and I must respectfully differ with him. He is simply speaking from an uninformed position. That’s understandable – even though it remains unacceptable.
Quite the contrary: South Africa is an investment destination for many investors abroad because of infrastructure development and general development. This is definitely at odds with Trump’s sensationalised comments.
We are thankful to the South African people, the government and civil society for their reactions against recent xenophobic attacks. We are hopeful that xenophobia and other social unrest will be defeated and not raise their ugly heads again.
We, as the Somali community living and trading in South Africa, will continue with community education and outreach programmes, engagements where we are exchanging business skills and ideas, and entrepreneurial skills with the unemployed youth.
We believe it is only fair to give back to a society and country which has given sanctuary and opportunity to so many Africans and other foreign nationals from countries that have been plagued by long, destructive wars, natural disasters, political mismanagement, corruption and so forth. Some of these immigrants, like people our community, come with skills, innovation and opportunities that need to be harnessed to benefit the host country and people.
On that note, I call upon everyone to have faith and hope in the fruitful possibilities that lie within our common humanity.