I was at a primary school in my village, Sekororo, about 60 kilometres east of Tzaneen, in the former Lebowa homeland (now part of Limpopo Province in South Africa) at the time when Mozambicans were fleeing the civil war into the neighbouring South Africa in the 80s. At that time there was no need to integrate the Mozambican refugees into the communities because they lived side by side with the locals. It was easier for the refugees to relate to the local languages and cultures. In addition, the traditional leadership was aware of their presence and some were lucky enough to be given land to live.
The stories of Mozambican refugees were horrifying. They were able to relate stories of how they crossed the Kruger National Parks into the Limpopo and Mpumalanga lowveld. Geographically speaking, the Kruger National Park is the only thing separating Mozambique from Limpopo and Mpumalanga lowveld. While crossing the Park, there are those who succumbed to diseases and starvation; others fell prey to the big cats, etc.
What was disturbing in my community was that the locals, especially those that are in business, took advantage of the vulnerable refugees. Some were subjected to hard labour without compensation. Some of them were subjected to hard labour, paid with a plate of food. I hate slavery in all its forms and this trend was very disturbing. However, the majority of the locals have accepted the refugees as part of the community.
I disagree with the notion that at the heart of xenophobia in South Africa is the competition for scarce resources between the locals and non-nationals. My view is that government should build the capacity of the communities to hold their public representatives accountable for failing to deliver basic services. Lack of service delivery and jobs cannot be blamed on our fellow Africans. I reject the view that foreign nationals “are taking our jobs”. I don’t think a Mozambican national who fixes diesel engines on the side of the road is taking someone’s job.
As South Africans we should be worried that our education system does not prepare us to be job creators. We continue to benefit from other skills that these people learned in their countries. Skills like bricklaying, welding, carpentry, motor mechanic, among others, are some of the skills that our government should be investing in. They are critical in that they provide an opportunity for people to create their own job opportunities to earn an income and sustain their livelihoods.
Also in my community there are people who were originally born in Malawi. The community know where they come from but the most important thing is that they are regarded as part of the community.
According to South African History Online, there were approximately 350 000 Mozambican refugees in South Africa in the 80s. Sadly, Apartheid South Africa did not recognise refugees until 1993 and when it became a signatory to the United Nations and Organisation of African Unity Conventions on Refugees in 1994. The big question now is: if we were able to live side-by-side with non-nationals during apartheid, why can’t we live with them in a democratic South Africa?
Fast forward to 2008, South Africa witnessed widespread xenophobic attacks which resulted in the killing of 62 people. While the media created an impression that the 62 victims were all foreign nationals, truth is there were South Africans among the causalities. But it does not matter whether the victims were nationals or not. What matters is that the South African Constitution guarantees everyone rights, including foreign nationals.
The bigger picture; when are we going to STOP looting stock from small businesses that owned by the Somali nationals?, when are we going to STOP calling foreign nationals as “makwerekwere”, “makirikampa” and other derogatory names used to describe our African brothers?, when are we going to STOP torching houses belonging to Nigerian nationals in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg?, when are we going to STOP the brutal killing of fellow Africans like the brutal killing of Emmanuel Sithole, a Mozambican national, in a blatant xenophobic attack in Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg?, when are we going to rebuke leaders who make xenophobic statements?
The xenophobic tendencies displayed by our law enforcement agencies also add fuel to the fire. We cannot forget an incident in which white members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) ordered dogs to attack three Mozambican detainees in what they claimed was part of a “training exercise”? The killing of Mido Macia, a Mozambican taxi driver in by members of the SAPS in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg, are also worth mentioning. Macia died when police allegedly drove off and dragged him for about 100 metres.
On 25 May, Africans from all walks of lives commemorate the annual Africa Day. While Africa Day presents an opportunity for South Africans to reconnect and recommit themselves in support of all government interventions to develop a better Africa and a better world, a better Africa would be the one in which Africans accept each other as “human”. However, I am disappointed that the South African Government continues the obsession with music concerts on the day, while real issues remain overlooked.
I’m happy that my community is still embracing non-nationals. Today, I am encouraged to see Nigerian, Zimbabwean and other African nationals living side-by-side with the locals in my community. There is a lot that the few xenophobic South Africans can from my village.
I have nothing to celebrate during the Africa Day for as long as our African brothers are subjected to all forms of discrimination. South Africans, including our government, should continue to frown at the ill-treatment of fellow Africans.
As Africans we should always remember to UNITE against xenophobia in order to give Africa Day a real meaning. Xenophobia is not unique to South Africa. Our governments should work with civil society and donors to support efforts of civil society aimed at tackling xenophobia.
As Africa Month draws to an end, I urge fellow Africans to stand up against xenophobia and forms of violations against fellow Africans.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Nomad Africa Magazine or 2414 Media Group (Pty) Limited. Examples of analysis performed within this article (if any) are only examples. They should not be utilized in real-world analytic products as they are based only on very limited and dated open source information.
This article was written by MOSHE SEOKOMA.