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Xenophobia: not only a South African problem

Xenophobia is not only a South African concern, it’s a general African problem, because we all have prejudices against each other and are ignorant of each other’s struggles and existence, writes CLÉNIA GIGI.

Much has been said already and I fear falling into repetitiveness by merely echoing the voices that have already spoken so far. However, xenophobia in South Africa is an issue close to my heart and I couldn’t completely exempt myself from this conversation.

South African xenophobia was an impetus for my spirit of African unity. Myself and fellow Africans stood united under the banner of “Je suis kwerekwere” and this highly influenced my philosophy. But instead of speaking about South African discrimination, permit me to say a few words on the politics of African togetherness.

There is little adherence and stimulation towards co-operation between Africans and 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 even distancing themselves from people from neighboring countries and 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 swiftly switch from greetings in Oshiwambo to Sotho to isiZulu. 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 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. A classic example is Nigeria and Ghana. They too speak of extreme differences, yet my knowledge of one culture 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 – 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 comes down to this: Clênia where are you from?

I have learned a couple of things with this frequent question. One such thing is how we expect each other to not know each other’s cultures. Another 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 into 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 and are ignorant of each other’s struggles and existence. We are threatened by one another more than we would like to admit.

Time and time again I see impenetrable nationalistic cliques that disdain peoples 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 harbor.

The recent xenophobic attacks 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 calamities, leads me to believe that tragedy is sadly met with normalcy.

The widespread appalling images of dead bodies on the internet! I saw it with Garissa and now I saw it with xenophobia and it has occurred to me that our inability to cringe over such shocking depictions 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 emerged are a fine example of African resistance, the one we many times believe is non-existent as we are used to pacified African citizens and governments. We also saw an example of (scarce) solidarity – this harmony that seems to be imaginary and mere ideology and theory. As I look at us and feel the ardent disconnection among ourselves, things fall apart.

Let’s face it, we are scattered! As nations we all have experiences unique to us: apartheid, ethnic cleansing and so on 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.

This article was originally published on Voices of Africa, and is republished with permission of the author. 

Clenia GigiClênia Gigi is a a student, avid reader, poet, spoken-word artist, Pan-Africanist, feminist and eternally a child at the face of education. She also happens to be a cup of tea night-time philosopher. You can follow her on Twitter at @Clenia_Gigi.
– Featured image: By Pontsho Pilane.

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