Hello. My name is Hakizimana. Haki in short, for all those who find my full name to be a tongue twister. I’m Rwandan by birth, but also a naturalized South African. I arrived in South Africa way back in 1996, two years after the genocide in my country that claimed the lives of just under a million people, mostly of the Tutsi ethnic grouping. I consider myself neither a Hutu nor a Tutsi. My mother is a Tutsi and father Hutu, but they also had mixed parentage, so yes, I’m just Rwandan, and South African.
I arrived in South Africa during what my friend Thabo, a South African, calls their ‘honeymoon’ period. Those were the heady days when the father of the Nation, Nelson Mandela, was president. Their rugby team had just won the World Cup, and their soccer team were the Champs of Africa. The economy was going through a boom. It felt good to be South African, Thabo tells me. Life was good. The world hailed the political miracle that was a world-first.
But as with all honeymoons, real life came calling. There were murmurs of discontent. For the first time in my three years in this beautiful country I heard references to tribalism. There were questions about why the two top positions in the country were occupied by Xhosas, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. You see, as far as I, Haki, was concerned, South Africa was more than a miracle. Here’s why.
Thabo had told me about how the system of apartheid had been designed to create artificial barriers between between tribal groups in the country. The government had gone as far as creating ethnic homelands for the various groups of black people. So you had a homeland for Xhosas, Zulus, Pedis, Tswanas, Tsongas etc. They even set up ‘governments’ for the various groups. But somehow, the wonderful people of this country overcame these artificial divisions, putting to shame those who had dreamt up such a system.
In my country of Birth, Rwanda, the Belgian colonialists had succeeded in putting a real wedge between the Hutus and Tutsis. By setting up Tutsis as better than Hutus way back in the 1916 Identity system, they had sown the seeds of the genocide. By the time the genocide happened in 1994, the Hutus were convinced that Tutsis were lesser people, cockroaches, and what good is a cockroach for except to be killed. Shivers run down my spine when I recall the blood churning acts I had to do to stay alive, simply because some foreign government had decided it was to their advantage to exploit the physical differences between our people to plant such hatred.
So it was with this in mind when I got alarmed at people suggesting tribalism in any form in my adopted country. See, I have learned that it can take up to a million lives to get to a point where people see each other for what they are, one million lives! Thabo says he watched Hotel Rwanda and found it interesting but had no idea that at the base of the war depicted by the movie was a lie planted way before in the 1920s, that Tutsi’s were better than Hutus.
Thabo and I work for the same company. Last week Thabo came to work driving a new car sporting a “100% Pedi” sign on the rear window. I congratulated him on the new car but was concerned about that sign. Lately, I’ve seen plenty of these on the road, 100% Zulu, 100%Venda and so on. All good and well, but I remember that in the days leading up to the genocide, there was an artificial pride that ran through the Hutu community in my country. A pride that suggested that yes it was good to be Rwandan, but even better to be Hutu. On the downside it was a curse to be a Tutsi amongst these 100% Hutus. I only hope that in their mistaken show of pride in their tribal or ethnic identities South Africans are not now posthumously paying homage to the architects of apartheid. After all, it took a couple of decades for the seed of hatred planted by the Belgian colonialists to bear horrible fruits in my country of birth.
Thabo says when our current president, President Jacob Zuma, was facing some charges in court some of his supporters showed their support through “100% Zuma” T-shirts which soon morphed into “100% Zulu T-shirts”. Why this is necessary no one has an idea. I remember that time quite well. Murmurs of tribalism could be heard, but mostly in hushed tones.
Enter Marius from accounts upstairs. Marius lives in a place called Kameeldrift just outside Pretoria. Their community is one they say is based on the Afrikaner culture and they would like to keep it exclusively Afrikaner, because they prefer to live amongst themselves. Much like they did in the old days, only then they had camped off everybody else into their own homelands and took 87% of the land for themselves. Now they only want a small community based on their Afrikaner values, no blacks, no Indians, no Portuguese etc. in other words, 100% Afrikaner.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If the 100% Zulus and 100%Tswanas and the 100% everybody else started demanding their own little enclaves, all of a sudden Thabo’s innocuous little sign takes on another meaning. I’m Rwandan by birth so I should probably be last person to stick my nose in anybody’s business because I’m not a 100% anything.
Recently a new political formation has hit our shores. It’s primary focus is to woo people by promising to ‘reclaim’ the land of their forefathers without compensation from the white population who didn’t ‘bring any land’ with them from Europe.
Now, I, Haki, from Rwanda have noticed that this pride, this 100% this and 100% that has started thriving only now that economic conditions are tough. Add Marius and his Afrikaner homeland, Thabo and his 100% Pedis to the mix as well as those wanting to ‘reclaim’ the land to the mix, you have a potentially explosive situation. And the architects of that vile system will celebrate from hell, like the colonialists must have celebrated the Rwandan Genocide. Their seeds would have shown signs of germination.
But I was encouraged by Thabo this week. His new car is no longer sporting that 100% Pedi sign. He says he watched the movie Hotel Rwanda again and this time got the message. No one person is inherently better than another. To believe otherwise is stupid, and could lead to genocides.
I rejoiced inside because that spared me the unpleasantness of having to recount to Thabo and Marius the harrowing details of people I had to hack to death to get to be part of the South African miracle. By the way, my name Hakizimana, means God protects. I want to play my role in “protecticting” South Africa’s people from the horrors of tribal strife. I hope my story gets to show someone that misplaced pride and tribalism should have no place in our country. I hope you are not such a 100% South African so as to be unsettled by me calling South Africa ‘my country’. I would rather we all became 100% human, like we are.