This is Part 1 in a two-part series:
A fair 21 years into the democratic dispensation and South Africa has entered another wave of an unfortunate history of discrimination and barbarism. In 2008 the flames, machetes, stones and usable instruments of violation at reach the reach of natives went high as attacks raged against foreign nationals in the state. Until recently, this action remained followed by other isolated incidences that were brushed off both by government, institutions and individuals leaders as xenophobic.
With the wake of what is ongoing — another flaring scenes of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, we not only question the litany of justifications behind this humans’ inhumanity to humans, but also what have become of the world? And, where are we heading to as a people? More specifically also, where is the rainbow nation, the nation of Ubuntu that united with support from other African nations and the world at large to end the reign of the dehumanising apartheid regime?
Where is the rainbow nation, the nation of Ubuntu that raised the flag of unity in solidarity to say we journeyed, we conquered, and we as Africans and humanity are one? Truth — the ideology culminated in the rainbow nation that we unfortunately ransack the street corners of South Africa to locate in 2015.
These detestable acts are appalling and undignified especially to what Nelson Mandela of blessed memory, and other heroes and heroines gone before us, stood for and represented. They are undignified not only because the actions are clandestine by a few whose claims of non-nationals stealing jobs are unfounded. Instead, the fact is, Emmanuel Sithole who was stabbed to death on the altar of stealing jobs, only sold apples in a wheelbarrow and on the street side as an occupation. Besides, which government provides such a job? And how was a single South African man or woman deprived of job by so doing?
While this has been categorized by the country’s leadership as a robbery gone wrong, there is no refuting that the attack portrayed the actuality of the xenophobic violence underway in South Africa. More disturbingly is the fact that the perpetrators remain the youth who instead of defining their paths as leaders, have convex so low as to disrespect the human and civic rights of their fellow humans – brothers and sisters – just to air their frustrations and dissatisfactions towards life. It is even more abysmal to say the least that the flames igniting the violence were provoked by the clear and contextualised pronouncements of leaders, who by right are expected to be the harbingers of peace and unity in society.
Even more so, it is embarrassing to witness that government and institution leaders in the immediate outbreak played the role of spectators and basically were inarticulate in establishing concrete mechanisms to address and put an end to these atrocious and dehumanising assaults on both our bodily and cultural integrities.
Indeed, we are faced with an enormous problem that needs our urgent attention as youth and as leaders. How do we mitigate this challenging situation, break the barriers and build on our freedoms and rights as equal humans with dignity and respect? On the basis of our human rights and freedoms, all lives are as important as the other and no life is more important than another. We are Africans therefore we belong as Africans. We are Humans therefore we are one and belong to the World as humans of equal rights and status.
However, with these catastrophic turn out of events once again transpiring in this supposedly rainbow nation, there is no gainsaying that it has come a time to rethink our Africanness in this 21st century; time for the government of South Africa to take decisive stance and rethink comprehensive policies for strategic solutions to this problem; and time to define our place and roles as youth, given youth are at the forefront of these perpetrations; and a time to increasingly take cognisance of the fact that no society can live in seclusion.
On our Africanness
And so “We are one”, “We are all Africans” – the more sentimental of us declare. This narrative seems to flow smoothly on African ears – especially those clad in a darker skin. When the same words are said by those clad in a lighter peel, there is a tiny pause… a slight hesitation, an awareness that “Africa as the home of black people” is no longer a contemporary narrative. After all, African politics is not about numbers but about presence obtained from political and economic might and privilege. These endowments ultimately enable some African bodies (black, white, green, purple or orange) to be counted four, five, six times during important deliberations, while others are discounted to zero, and even negated to liabilities – indeed liabilities made up of minority majorities.
This is the architecture of our Africanness through the lens of citizenship. At birth, most Africans will have a nationality but only a few will have citizenship. This is because nationality is the automatic identity of the birth event. So automatic it is that even misfortunes, both man made and those contrived by nature, fail to negate this ascription. Even as displaced peoples, the African born to a territory directly or indirectly through parentage, will maintain their designated identity as a national of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, or Cameroon. They will cross borders on this basis and struggle, just like they would in their devastated homes for citizenship.
What then is citizenship? It is merely the right to participate as a legitimate entity within a polity ascribed by economic and political inheritance or status. This therefore, also means that citizenship is not equal but varied according to the political and economic strata of designated polities. It is on this basis that most Africans are nationals, but so few of them are citizens even of their birthplaces. To be an African today is thus a lot less about the passports we carry on the path of national identity, however, it is about the clout that we have accumulated in only the strategic spheres of politics and economy. And this is why the African narrative continues to be a violent one.
The nationals have believed this lie and have turned into complicit agents of the political and economic hegemony. The hegemony requires artificial distinctions between and amongst nationals in order to hold. In countries where very few non-nationals live, these distinctions have taken the forms of regionalism, tribalism and ethnic consciousness, the African medication for these concepts is Ubuntu. In countries with large foreign contingents, these distinctions take the forms of “born-heres” and “born-elsewheres”.
But let’s not be over-simplistic; state rhetoric often mitigates the extent to which these distinctions manifest. Where the state has promised much, even though it remains uncommitted to fulfilling their promises, the “born-heres” are militant against the “born-elsewheres”, and where it is less, well, they all seem to get along within blunt stereotypes and suspicions, much like in Lagos or Nairobi those great West and East African cities, respectively.
“I am an African” – Thabo Mbeki’s said
“I am an African … At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito …
A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African …
Today it feels good to be an African … I am an African … I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa … The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi and Algeria is a pain I also bear … The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share …”
In reflection therefore, how then do we become citizens or define our Africanness? We will let you judge for yourselves.
To read part 2, click here.
Lukong Stella Shulika is an independent researcher, a contract lecturer with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and is pursuing a PhD in Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies at the university.
Moses Mphatso is a writer, a blogger, and contract lecturer with School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He also holds a Master of Social Science (MSSc) degree in Sociology.