“The only way to express ourselves in the new world is by being together. I don’t like to be a colony. If we do not get together, we will disappear from world history” – Romano Prodi, then president of the European Commission, writing in the Guardian, 16 February 2001
Last month I promised to continue the discussion on whether or not we succeeded in the task we set ourselves at New African to help the African regain his self-confidence. But, sorry, we cannot do it this month because a serious emergency has arisen in South Africa to divert our attention. So to South Africa, and Namibia (the “mini South Africa” up north), we go this month. I hope our readers know where the Orange River is, or we may have to employ the wisdom of the Mexican-American comedian, Paul Rodriguez, who says, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography”. I agree.
Like him or hate him, the mercurial Julius Malema, leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, can speak truth to power – and to ordinary people as well. On 20 April, he went to Alexandra and told the people matter-of-factly: “Today, I’m not proud to be South African. I am totally ashamed, because today Africans are eating fellow Africans. We are all Africans. Africa, we are one. We must be ashamed. Unemployed people criticising foreigners for taking their jobs should rather ask the ANC. Go ask the ANC for a job. It protects white privilege and leaves you in poverty.”
The EFF leader has grown taller during this spate of madness that has descended in the streets of South Africa, if not in the heads of some South Africans. I agreed with Malema when, with President Jacob Zuma sitting only a breath away from him in Parliament, he told the South African leader that his body language was not right when he was condemning the latest spate of Afrophobia in Durban where four African immigrants had been burned alive, ostensibly in protest against the joblessness of the locals.
Let’s all agree on one piece of terminology. What we see in South Africa is not “xenophobia” – which, according to my dictionary, is the “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries”. What is happening is the intense or irrational dislike of people from other African countries – only! So whoever coined the term “Afrophobia” was bang on.
To buttress this point, in mid-April I saw a European TV reporter in Johannesburg interviewing two of these sorry South Africans who blame their misfortunes on “foreigners”. They were carrying crude knives, and when asked about the knives, they answered: “When I meet a foreigner, I will kill him.” But there was a “foreigner” standing right in front of them, interviewing them to boot! Yet because the TV reporter was white, the fact that he came from England or France did not matter. He was not a “foreigner” because he was white! May the good Lord help these wretched South Africans to see beyond their feeding spoons!
How, in hell, and for how long, do they think they can continue to burn alive fellow black Africans? How do they think they came to gain their freedom from apartheid? Didn’t all Africa stand together? Didn’t all Africa give them refuge in our countries, and look after them? Didn’t many Africans pay the ultimate price when their countries were bombed by the apartheid goons in revenge for harbouring black South Africans?
President Zuma knows this fact. He told Parliament in mid-April: “…Others came to South Africa as refugees having run away from conflict or wars in their countries of origin, in the same way that many South Africans left this country at some point and lived in other countries on the continent and beyond. We were treated with generosity, dignity, and respect by our brothers and sisters from the rest of the continent. We will never forget that hospitality and solidarity.”
My greatest disappointment lies with the South African leadership that has shirked the responsibility of teaching the generations under them the sacrifice other African countries made towards black emancipation in South Africa – to the point where today Africans are seen as “foreigners” deserving to be burnt alive in Durban and Johannesburg, to the point where “one wonders where some South Africans get their airs and graces from when the whole region paid the price for their freedom”, as the Zimbabwean writer, Paul Mangwana puts it.
Airs and graces – don’t they remind me of Ian Smith, once the prime minister of Rhodesia? He wrote in his memoirs, The Great Betrayal: “I must say that I have met the odd arrogant Englishman on a few occasions, never more so than when they carry with them the stamp of the British Foreign Office.” You can replace Englishman with South African. That is what they have sadly become in 20 years of freedom.
So, do something, President Zuma. Please do something! “Africa, we are one,” as Malema says. Don’t let the murderers in Durban who burnt the four Africans alive go scot-free. If you ask me, I would say, let them hang to set an example to future murderers like them. Let them hang so they know what it means to die a slow death. And those who stood by, cheering, ululating, and urging the murderers on, or pushing the victims back into the fire, let them get their just recompense!
Do something, President Zuma, including improving the lot of the black majority, in a country where no less than 88% of South African companies are in white hands. Do something more than feeble condemnation, otherwise, what is happening will continue with impunity into the future. To heal, South Africans need more than mere words.
Why do I say so? Because the condition they claim to protest against – joblessness and the general state of poverty engulfing black South Africans – is not likely to be resolved any time soon when white capital is in control, and the owners of white capital are not keen to share the bounties of the country. This is why the burnings are so misdirected. For example, 20 years after the end of formal apartheid, white farmers are still unwilling to share the land with their fellow black citizens. Some day very soon, the land issue is going to explode catastrophically in their faces.
The same, I dare predict, will happen in Namibia. I have just returned from Windhoek, the Namibian capital, and the news there is not good either (see this month’s cover stories). In Namibia, too, the minority white population is not being clever. They think they will find safety in total domination of the country – dominating the economy, dominating the ownership of land, coopting the black elite, and in the process forcing the black government to protect white privilege. They think this is an insurance policy for now and ever more.
Well, I pity them. The resentment building up in the black population against them is huge, and growing. They may be able to tame the current generation, but some day the current leadership will not be there and their successors may not be as docile as their fathers have been.
The English say, “A stitch in time, saves nine”. The Germans and Afrikaners dominating the space in Namibia should embrace the long arm of wisdom. Anything else will be tantamount to unnecessarily stoking a smouldering fire.