I’ve taken that first step towards becoming an author, still feels surreal that I’ve put my soul out there for the world to embrace or crush. The Webs We Weave is my first book offering. It’s three stories of almost novella-length each. They all explore our interactions as human beings in the relationships we form, the lies we tell and the webs we entangle ourselves in through the lies.
The book is available on Amazon Kindle as an ebook. Read, review, give feedback. Thank you so much for traveling this journey with me.
The direct link to the book is http://amzn.to/2fQsoUM.
South Africans go to the polls on the 3rd of August for what has been termed “the most closely contested elections” since 1994. Here’s why I feel everyone must vote, disgruntled or not.
South Africa is going through interesting times. An irate artist has produced some artwork that depicts the president in compromising positions. Question is: Is this justified. Read my take at http://www.citizen.co.za/1205293/the-emperor-is-very-naked/
My latest column:
Hello everyone, it’s been a while, haha. Glad to let you know that the writing hasn’t stopped, just changed to a new platform. I will continue to post here as and when I get the time.
My latest column in a local online title, The Citizen, can be accessed through the following link: http://www.citizen.co.za/1144183/the-poor-are-back-in-fashion/
Let me know what you think.
There are issues that I’ve avoided commenting on in my blog. The reason is mainly that they have not been resolved legally or because I deem them too sensitive for me to look at objectively. Today’s blog addresses one such issue.
On Valentine’s Day this year we woke up to the surreal(or unbelievable?) news that a top South African athlete had shot dead his girlfriend in a case of mistaken identity, thinking she was a burglar. It didn’t take long before we found out that the athlete concerned was the era-defining Paralympic and Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius. I was gobsmacked. No, not Oscar, he’s the brightest track star to have come out of our country in years.
His role in changing the face of athletics will be better appreciated in years to come when more disabled athletes take part in the regular Olympics competing against able-bodied athletes. The one person…
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It’s been seven years since you’ve been gone. Seven years! Damn, I swear it feels like it was just yesterday when I got that terrible midnight call. “Eish Ndoda, Kavani’s been shot”.
A lot has happened since that day. I’ve been meaning to write to you but I always revert to that self-censoring mode that makes me think I’m too focused on self. But when I realized that I might never outgrow that mode I threw caution to the wind and decided to let you in on what has gone on since that fateful night on 07/07/07.
Where do I start? Do you know you became an uncle five times over in the past six years. Your siblings have been a bit busy. The first one was born six months and 10 days to the day you left us. He bears your initials, MJ. Not only that, you share the same middle name. And the M name is a translation of that middle name. MJ huh? Bet you thought it was Michael Jackson. Oh but you loved that man and his music.
Sadly he has passed on too. I watched his memorial on TV and silently swallowed my tears for fear of being misunderstood. I don’t think anyone but you will understand the connection. Do you remember when you were just ten and I brought back my music cassette case during varsity holidays? Yes, the one I told you not touch under any circumstances. I cannot forgot the look on your face when you told me the tape player had messed up my Michael Jackson original tape of Dangerous.
When Michael Jackson visited South Africa in 1997 you twisted dad’s hand to get tickets for us boys to take you to watch him. I can’t forget the awe and wonder on your face when Michael Jackson did his almost falling over act. I have to admit, I too was convinced he had some invisible ropes holding him in place. And that euphoric feeling after the concert when you just want to buy everything Michael Jackson.
I still have a poster and his History World Tour Magazine somewhere amongst my belongings. They are not in good shape but I cannot get myself to get rid of them, I can’t clean out my closet like Eminem. Oh yes Eminem. My brother, I have to hand it to you, you influenced my attitude towards rap music more than any other person I know. Yes I liked a bit of Tupac’s music but you made me embrace his genius, to see beyond the profanities. Do you remember us rocking ‘Carlifonia Love’ as we entered the King David’s school premises in the Toyota Cressida?
Look, it’s one thing to navigate your way around a parking area teeming with top-of-the-range SUVs in Sandton’s King David School, but to do that in a Toyota Cressida with Tupac’s voice booming “…welcome everybody to the Wild Wild West”. I felt bad. The good kind of bad. And it was all thanks to you. I remember walking into a Look and Listen outlet looking for Marshall Mathers III and you schooling me on why it’s ok when Eminem says he wished his dad dead and a whole lot of other rap higher education besides.
When that midnight call came from my sister on that fateful night, in my mind nothing so terrible could ever happen to you that all I said was “Which hospital has he been taken to?” Even my subconscious could never associate you with such a violent end. Not my little brother, No, Not Him.
It took me a long while to be alone following the hurried, blurred and painful events of that night. But when I was alone, as I bawled my eyes out, I could not stop myself repeating : “No, Not my little brother. It was not your time.”
The dark period that followed, I’m still too mentally fragile to go back to the countless visits that I made to the police station to follow up on the case. My man, My main man. Oh but I tried. See, I felt really responsible for the failure of the police to apprehend your killer. I’m your big brother, I should have protected you, I should have. Protect. You learnt to do that quite early in your life.
I always admired the way you protected our little sister, the baby in the family. You were just a little baby yourself when you guys went to Cresslawn Primary, but I cannot forget how much she depended on you, how she wouldn’t do certain things unless you were there. How you had to wait for her in after-care when she had extra-murals. You never complained.
And when you changed schools to Midrand, you continued to protect her. I was deeply moved when she told me how when you were in varsity you sat down with her to help her make decisions about which subjects she should choose at school. You were a better bigger brother than I was.
Funny to think I was thought you were such a spoilt brat at one stage. You won’t remember this but when you were about three or four you came to visit us in the village. When our grandmother served you tea and bread you turned the slice of bread over and declared “I don’t eat unbuttered bread”. My jaw dropped. The cheek! And granny made a plan, ha! In my wildest dreams I would never have gotten away with such demands.
It must have had something to do with being the fourth child because damn, you always got away with murder. Remember how you called McGyver “my McGyver”. And Michael Night. Our father had to go and get you that talking car, Kitt was it?. I couldn’t understand why the world had to stop for you. You owned the TV in the house. We were all at your mercy.
At your funeral I wanted to tell everyone about all these things. To tell them that my little baby brother who had such a lazy manner about him had these qualities that made me look up to him. No, I did look up to you. When I heard you were the General Secretary of the Pharmacy Students Council at varsity my pride knew no bounds, that’s my boy I said. That’s my boy.
You made me want to be a better big brother. You made me want to impress you. Remember the one time at the Boulders Shopping Centre? You saw this pretty girl and looked at me? Yes, the time you wanted me to make a plan for you to chat to her. You were so impressed when I didn’t hesitate in approaching her and said my little brother wants to chat to you. I never told you but I had met her before, I knew her family so those were the easiest brownies I ever scored. I was heartbroken when I discovered she didn’t hear of your passing for up to two months.
When I told her older sister, she seemed more hurt than her little sister. That’s what you did, you touched more hearts than you intended.
Every once in a while I go back to that video of you giving a talk two weeks before your passing. I watch it and think to myself, he would have made a great pharmacist.
About two years ago I walked into a pharmacy to get some medication. The young man behind the counter stared at me in a very strange way. He continued to serve me whilst stealing these little stares at me, until he got the courage to say, “I don’t want to open closed wounds but are you in any way related to the Majoko kid who passed away in his final year at varsity?”
I assured him that he could speak freely. He said he had just had the freakiest moment of his career because he could see you in me. And after all these years he still spoke reverentially of you. I guess like me, he felt sorry that such a promising life had been cut so short.
That was me right after you passed on. I felt so sorry for you. So sad. I went in to a depression so bad that I contemplated ghastly thoughts of avenging your death. Crazy right? I mean, like really. But I feel you should know. I felt the people you called your friends betrayed you.
That night, you had done the most selfless thing by visiting your friend in hospital, and even taking along another friend(or friends) on the trip there. Sadly, the friend you visited in hospital that night passed away shortly after you passed on. I can’t understand why the people you sacrificed so much for could not feel indebted to you enough to volunteer the truth about that evening.
Officially your death remains unsolved. Unofficially we know you were shot in what we believe was a case of mistaken identity. Your friend’s family know what happened that night, but I figure self-preservation is a much stronger animal instinct than bringing closure to our family. If only they knew that our family’s beyond retribution by now.
I would much rather someone owned up. Apologize. That’s what people don’t get. It’s not about the law, jail, revenge. It’s about people. Living people. People who ask themselves the same question over and over and over again. That’s what that Pistorius boy doesn’t get, it’s about the mother, the father, the siblings, her people. It’s not about him. But that’s just me getting upset.
I think of the people in the house where you lost your life. There were at least two kids your age or younger in that house. The kids and their parents silence cannot be cheap. I hope at some point they know that they can get their freedom back by giving us our closure.
My little brother, I got side-tracked. This was about me remembering you. The spoilt you. The responsible you. The perfect brother. I intended to tell you about Kaizer Chiefs, Man United and a whole lot more. To tell you about Lawu, Rori, Ntwanano, Kona, Lwandle, Nalwo and Rofhiwa.
I wanted to tell you that I still live my life to make you proud because you were deprived of that chance. That our mom’s gotten better since that terrible time. And dad, I know he still has this question: “What had my boy done wrong to be killed like that?” I know because the weeks following your death we sat and spoke for hours. We never got an answer to that question.
But I also know that like me, he appreciates that the twenty three years that you spent here, could not have been spent better. I have gotten better too. I have my moments. Some good, some really bad but I’ve discovered ‘better living through chemistry’. More about that some other time.
A while after you passed on it hit me that our world stopped for you when you were a baby because your time was limited on this earth. You had to spread all the love you could in that twenty three years. And you did.
In the year that you passed on I didn’t celebrate my birthday. My birthday month partner was gone. I have toyed with the idea of celebrating my birthday on the 16th of August instead of the 11th, but it’s a little difficult to explain this to the world. I haven’t given up on this though, I mean, what’s five days between brothers?
I’m off to play Eminem’s “When I’m gone”. You were crazy about this song. Wish I could ask you, Did you know? I’ll throw in a bit of MJ’s “Gone too soon”. And Eternal too. Damn, I’ll play all the songs that I had intended to put onto your memorial CD back then.
07/07/07. Like I said in your obituary, our pain will get better, but we will never forget you.
Your Big Brother.
I think I’m getting old. No, really, I am. Oh, stop sneering. I know I’m only 40, (emphasis on only), and still have a good few months to lay claim to being that young.
One recent Sunday on a lazy drive contemplating another five-day interruption of my weekends, I had a moment of clarity. A revelation. See, I listen to talk radio on weekdays but on weekends they play crap music so I switch stations. This particular Sunday I quietly hummed along to a Rick Astley song, followed by Marvin Gaye’s “What’s going on”, Mike and the Mechanics and so on. At the end of my 30 minute drive I realised I had enjoyed seven songs back-to-back on a programme dubbed the Golden Oldies, and it hit me, OMG, I’m old. I listened to a Golden Oldies show on a talk radio station on a weekend, and enjoyed it! Death. By aging!
Look, I know some youngsters who listen to ‘adult contemporary’ music. But this was different. Enjoying seven Golden Oldies in a row is inconvertible evidence that Mother Nature has caught up with me.
Growing old creeps up on you, it doesn’t just happen. No. It starts with little things like that newspaper vendor whom you thought of as being in the same ballpark as you age-wise thanking you for a tip with the words, “thanks Malume!(thanks uncle!)”. The poor guy didn’t understand why I did a double take when he said those words, he had no idea he had gone to my core and made a tiny but visible crack on my fragile ‘youthful’ ego. When the petrol attendant does the same you know something about is not the same anymore.
Not that I’m in denial and think being twenty four forever is cool or anything, No. I just didn’t think I was “uncle” material just yet. It’s one thing to be excluded from applying for that business subsidy for the youth because you are over 35 but to be placed in the “uncle” category? Damn, that’s something else. Some bones in my body don’t take kindly to being “uncle” material.
The aging process is really sneaky. You stand a better chance of catching a six-year-old peeling off that one sugar crystal from your tea saucer than you do of catching the aging process in action. You don’t go to bed one night being young and wake up old in the morning. No it’s a process that’s eerily silent, insidious in a way.
Look I’d be lying if I told you the aging process leaves no clues along the way. You get plenty of clues. No, I’m not referring to 21st birthday invitations drying up. That’s not growing old, it’s just growing growing up.
I’m talking about realizing that current fashion trends are skinny this and skinny that, and if like me you’ve sworn you would never be caught dead in skinny jeans and pointy shoes, you’re in trouble. You know something’s not right when that clothing retail store that you were so loyal to in your twenties and thirties stocks nothing but skinny jeans and pointy shoes. As if that’s not bad enough, the shops on either side of your once-favourite shop stock even more skinnier jeans and shoes so pointy you can walk right into a circus act.
And it’s not as though I own vinyl records or anything. I’m trying to stay relevant you know. Honestly, I try. It’s not my fault that I don’t think pointed shoes and skinny jeans look funny on a grown man. But the more I look around me, the more I realize that I have to hunt down that special shop that still keeps “normal” fit jeans. On the bright side, the aging process does give you clues.
The clues, just like the aging process are there for everyone to see. If you suddenly develop interest in mature activities that require a lot of patience then Father Time is announcing his presence in your life. Take going fishing for instance, at twenty-five I would have never given the activity a second thought. Recently I’ve taken to spending a whole Saturday trying to persuade very elusive fish that their interests lie outside their natural habitat. The fish haven’t taken a liking to me so far but I still get home to announce proudly that “I spent a brilliant day out fishing with the boys”. I suspect the lack of evidence in the form of fish makes it difficult for anyone to argue against suspect aging-related afflictions.
Some clues are just direct. I’m talking real life clues like your little sister saying to your face, “Damn, my brother is old”, and having a good old chuckle for effect. Or suddenly realizing that staying awake past 10pm takes a lot of effort and planning. That 10pm World Cup game will cost you plenty in the days ahead.
I thought something was not quite right when people whom I thought are my age always took a reverential step backwards for me at weddings and funerals and always seemed to have this little uncomfortable looks on their faces if I stayed beyond the greeting stage. Being politely offered a chair a respectful distance away made me a little suspicious, and when the young man said, ” there you are groot maan(old man), no need for you to stand like these young people”. The crack on my youthful ego widened.
The most conclusive evidence that I am old came from my own flesh and blood. It all happened one morning before our trip for school. We were running a little late and as I hurriedly dressed up in the bedroom I overheard the following most painful conversation between my four-year old daughter and her six year old brother. And you thought they were just innocent little children, ha!!
“My brother, you are six years old, right?”
“Yes, and you are four years old”, my little boy responded with confidence.
” Do you know what I’m gonna do when I’m very old, when I’m twenty four – ”
“You want to be twenty four? I don’t want to be twenty four. That’s grown up”, my wise six-year-old boy said. I could only imagine the look on his face.
“Don’t you ever want to grow up, like mommy and daddy?” His little sister asked.
” No, I don’t want to be grown up like them. Do you know what happens when you grow up to be as old as mommy and daddy? Do you know? You have to look after yourself. Just like the teenage mutant ninja turtles do. Do you want that?”
My little girl is silent now. Obviously considering the ramifications of looking after herself should she grow up.
“Ok, I won’t grow up. Do you know how old mommy and daddy are?” She asks.
“They are very old, very old – ”
” They are so old we’ll never know how old they are”, my little girl adds.
I was mortified. Listening to this serious exchange between the two little people who are the apples of my eye reaching the conclusion that I’m so old it’s beyond their grasp shattered any remaining notion in me that some people could view me as looking too young for my age. My own flesh and blood consigning me to that group of people who’ve ‘been there and done that’.
At that point I walked out of the bedroom before they got silly notions in the head of taking over the house because their old man’s past it. Not on my watch. Wait till you are ten. Me, very old, ha!
See, I’ve always harboured this silly belief that I look good for my age and I had ‘proof’ of this. Last November at the beginning of a 10k race I got into a conversation with a 50 year old lady. I know her age because we exchanged ages for the purposes of our discussion on ultra marathons.”F…k, you don’t look that at all, I was guessing you’re in you’re in your early thirties”. See, I told you I had proof. Sadly I had no camera to record the look on her face to cheer myself up every time I’m reminded that “youth” is not a category I should tick on application forms.
But as with all traumatic processes, acceptance comes after denial. And with acceptance, peace.
With acceptance came new realizations. Realization that there are a few things that I’ve seen that some youths haven’t. I got to watch tennis before the ladies outfits came to resemble the Rio Carnival in terms of colour, way back when Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova always wore white and there was nothing to distract you when watching tennis. You know, when Andre Agassi’s hairdo resembled a drummer from a heavy-metal band. These days a tennis player looks odd when they wear all-white.
When watching soccer I can excitedly shout to my wife during a game, “see that guy there, yes, the one in the suit, yes yes the Manchester United team manager, Ryan Giggs, I watched him make his debut, today he’s managing the team”. Come to think of it, most of my childhood heroes are now team managers, balding or TV soccer pundits.
It’s ok to age gracefully though, to look your age. It’s ok to be part of that generation of people whose childhood heroes and megastars are now into their golden years or have passed on, without making any “reality” shows on TV to hang on to their fame. That tells me I too can lay claim to having seen a thing or two in my time.
Although I have accepted my fate in aging gracefully, I refuse to understand that a normal human being can wear sun glasses indoors, carry on a conversation with headphones stuck in their ears, chat on their phone whilst sending that all-important instant message on their smartphone. When I see a “youth” carrying on like that, then I get a warm fuzzy feeling in my tummy that reassures me that it’s ok to be “uncle” age.
The other day I sat watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles with my six-year old boy. I could see the awe in his eyes. He thinks the world of those mutants and their Mutagen Gel that solves all their problems. And that’s when it hit me. When he said to his little sister that when you are old you look after yourself like the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, that was the highest sign of respect he could accord to his “very old parents”, so old that he could never possibly know our ages. So old that they can look after themselves and their kids, without Mutagen Gel.
I suddenly like being old. I am a Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle.
Hi, I’m pleased to let you know that I’ve finally decided to launch a new blog to focus solely on depression and mental health. Although I’ve blogged about depression and mental health on this blog under “Overcoming depression” I’ve always felt I need to give it more space. Also, on the new blog, things will be a little less formal, with very short posts about whatever’s on my mind concerning mental health. Here’s my first post, http://wp.me/p4hkw3-8. Looking forward to your support on http://www.battleofmylife.wordpress.com.
Spread the word.
In May 2008 I was standing at the entrance of the shop I run when there were sudden shouts of “They are coming!They are coming!” Only a few hawkers were left in the usually bustling market street. “They” were the marauding group of people who were supposedly rounding up foreigners, looting their shops and in some cases inflicting untold violence on them.
“Are you just going to stand there and do nothing? Close your shop quickly, they are coming!” This was a regular customer urging me to close up shop. The funny thing was he wasn’t going anywhere. His eyes were fixed on me waiting for my next move. I felt sorry for all the “foreigners” who were losing their livelihoods in various parts of our country but I had always felt a certain amount of comfort, albeit uneasy, in the fact that I’m a local. South African born and bred. This madness was about “foreigners” after all.
Yet here was this fellow waiting for my next move. “Make sure your car is safe, they are also burning cars belonging to foreigners”. I reluctantly moved to close up shop but I was a little annoyed and confused, why was this fellow giving me the looks and attention he was giving me? That’s when he said, “we may know you but we can’t protect you when they get here!” More confusion.
But then it dawned on me, he thought I was a foreigner! He was doing his bit in “getting rid” of the foreigners. I wanted to explain that he was wrong, that my great-great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents were all born in South Africa, what right had he to mistake me for a foreigner. I know of no other country in which I have family. But before I could relate my story to him he was gone, I was left deciding whether to act or stay put. Eventually I closed up and drove to safety.
As I drove, I understood the feelings of the main character in the movie Hotel Rwanda. His neighbours had suddenly decided he was a cockroach and shouldn’t be spared in the ethnic cleansing that was going on in Rwanda. His tribe was nearly decimated in the 1994 genocide. How did it come to this? That I, a born and bred South African had suddenly been turned into an object of hate, xenophobia to be exact? Are my fellow countrymen inherently afraid of foreigners?
I’m no different from most South Africans in terms of my place of origin. I have both a rural and an urban background. Born in the Northern province of Limpopo, I was also exposed to urban life in the Gauteng East Rand township of Tembisa. The majority of South Africans lead this dual existence, thanks to the migrant labour system that apartheid relied on to keep the racist wheels of commerce turning. We have an urban existence, necessitated by the need to earn, and a rural existence, the place we call “home”.
In the eighties, at the height of the civil war in Mozambique, our tiny village of Elim in Limpopo started receiving its first Mozambican war refugees. These are men and women who ran away from the civil war in their country to seek greener pastures in South Africa. Most of them were received into South African families to do manual work in exchange for a place to sleep, eat and live.
It was quite common for those rural families to have a person of Mozambican origin doing either housework if female, or field work if male. I’ll be honest with you, these people were not always welcomed with the warmest of welcomes, in certain areas of the then Gazankulu homeland, the refugees established settlements that were specifically meant for themselves. I suppose it was mainly for the purposes of being amongst people of the same customs. There may have been ill-feelings in the community towards them on a superficial level, but on the whole they were part and parcel of the community. No xenophobic attacks. In fact, we didn’t even know the word existed.
In the urban setting of Tembisa, one encountered a different kind of refugee, more an economic one than a war refugee, although the two were clearly linked. Mozambicans in the urban areas came this side with a clear purpose of earning a living and sending money and goods back home. They also went home as and when they could. Most started their own business and integrated themselves into their surroundings to such an extent that most have bought houses and built homes here. Again, xenophobic attacks were a foreign thing if you’ll excuse the pun.
So, when did South Africans turn from being welcoming hosts into monsters who burnt foreigners in the streets for merely being from a different country?
I want to suggest to you that South Africans never changed, but their country did. Most black South Africans have never felt they ‘owned’ their townships. In fact, some people in their seventies and eighties are only now receiving the title deeds to their houses. In apartheid years, black people were forbidden from owning land and property in urban areas. What does this have anything to do with xenophobia? Indulge me for a moment here. Let me play amateur psychologist or sociologist if you like.
Stephen R. Covey, in his bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People tells of how one of his children refused to share a toy he had received at a birthday party. No other kid could touch the toy. Parents with toddlers have experienced this: in your heart you are praying your child will play the gracious host to his/her little toddler friends. Instead, the child keeps all the toys and refuses the other kids access. On further analysis, Stephen realized that his child refused to share a new toy because the child had not internalized his ownership of the toy. How can he give away what he doesn’t think belongs to him yet?
This is exactly what is being asked of the average township black South African, share your resources, land and space with our newly arriving neighbours. Can South Africans truly share what they have no experience of owning?
Floods of economic refugees burst into South Africa soon after the onset of democracy in 1994. Black South Africans had until then lived a sheltered existence, save for entertainment brought through by the heavily-censored South African Broadcasting Corporation(SABC). The only images that average South Africans got of the economic refugees from the rest of Africa were those of foreigners involved in crime. No images of doctors or university professors.
Indeed, an average township person does not know much about what foreign nationals based in the inner city do except what they read in the news which is most negative, drug dealings and the like.
Lately, a second or third wave of foreign nationals has descended upon the country with the sole purpose of establishing businesses here. There are places in the townships where every second house is a foreign-national owned shop. South Africans are still grappling with the ins and outs of their newly-earned democracy, very slow economic growth and the effects of centuries of a system meant to kill off any entrepreneurial spirit in them. On top of that they are watching a large group of mostly undocumented refugees who seem to arrive with cash in hand and establishing businesses almost overnight on their doorsteps. South Africans, like the child in Stephen Covey’s example, are being asked to give away something that they feel is theirs but have never felt a sense of ownership towards it.
The super-educated amongst us tell South African Business owners to wake up and compete. With which skills and capital?
The economic refugee problem is a global one. First world countries tend to have a more defined policy towards economic refugees, albeit sometimes xenophobic, with laws in place to regulate the movements of people wanting to establish business in their host countries. In the UK the national health system is legally protected from from foreigners. In most African countries, South Africa included, resources tend to be applied to efforts towards Job creation rather than ensuring the safe integration of immigrants into society.
The battle for scarce economic resources takes an ugly turn when the enemy is no longer perceived to be a slow growing economy but undocumented immigrants. The lack of a co-ordinated policy leaves these things to fester resulting in these sporadic attacks every so often.
Shockingly, some of the culprits is the attacks turn out to be foreigners who have been here long enough turning against the new waves of economic refugees.
The media, both local and international chose to label the violent flare-ups Xenophobia: an “intense or irrational fear of foreigners”. South Africa has large groups of Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, Zimbabweans and other groups of people who chose to settle here long before the “Xenophobic” attacks of 2008. None of them have ever been attacked for merely being from another country.
In classic “some of my best friends are white/black” fashion I think most South African can claim “some of my best friends are foreigners”. We have Chinatown and other places that are almost exclusively communities inhabited by “foreigners”, so when did the people of South Africa turn into people with “intense/irrational fear of foreigners?”
The violent flare-ups of 2008 only happened in the townships and informal settlements. The places most affected by the violence are characterized by grinding poverty in most instances, inadequate services(sanitation, electricity, schools), terribly high unemployment and mostly uncontrolled shelters(temporary housing/shacks) and zero law enforcement. It is no cliche that in the informal settlement one shacks door opens onto another shacks window. With dirty water often meandering around the shacks.
The online DailyMaverick notes that “South African xenophobia has also been explained by the rate of socio-economic inequality in the country. Not for nothing has it been pointed out that the greatest scourge of xenophobic violence has been perpetrated in margins of formal society, where foreign nationals compete with the poorest South Africans to eke out a menial living”.
Those that live in such poverty and conditions can be easily misled into believing that the Zimbabwean fellow in the next shack took your job. That is not an intense hatred of foreign nationals, it is a twisted logic that has existed since time immemorial, “those that look different from you are the cause of you problems”. People with twisted motives and minds are very good at exploiting these conditions to suit their own needs. Criminals come into the mix and according to the media, Xenophobia is born. Really? So all this time, we’ve been secretly habouring an intense fear of Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Pakistanis without knowing it?
I beg to differ. I am convinced that what was characterized as xenophobia in 2008 was actually a desperate cry of a desperate people. People find themselves very marginalized by society, people who do not possess the skills to tell their own stories eloquently because they have been denied access to education by the “system”. And the rest of society stood back and watched in horror as these uneducated “barbarians” attacked foreigners. Of the 62 odd people killed in the attacks, about a third(21) were South Africans.
Xenophobic people will not be so random as to kill their own. Xenophobic people will hate the object of their hatred no matter where they are. Rich or poor, employed or unemployed. Xenophobia doesn’t exclude towns and cities, poverty normally does.
Nobody has a manual on what form of Uprising the poor will choose. The “educated” and privileged in the media and society need to be critical enough to assess situations for what they are. Critical thinking is free and leads to better and last solutions.
A better question to ask would have been why are these “xenophobic” attacks limited to poverty-stricken areas?
So far, I’ve come across very few articles in the mainstream media that have suggested a different reasoning to the causes of what they choose to label xenophobia.
The fellow who “threatened” me is himself not gainfully employed. I think he would have relished the idea of obtaining a few free goods from looting the shop of a “foreign national”. Does he have an intense fear of foreigners? I doubt it,I believe he’s just a normal South African who got criminal intentions by capitalizing on a situation in which foreigners are made vulnerable by a mixture of conditions and circumstances beyond their control. Xenophobia? I’m not convinced.
Maybe I should give the last word to Kerry Chance, a PhD student who wrote for Slate in 2008:
“What’s more, it is important to note that the wealthy of any race or nationality were not among the attacked or displaced. In South African cities—in all cities—the rich work, live, and play in separate areas from the poor. Even when the attackers left their home turf, they didn’t head to the nearest wealthy Johannesburg suburb nor to the international airport adjacent to the epicenter of the attacks. Busloads of foreign tourists, ubiquitous in many townships, were unharmed.
But South Africa’s poor aren’t counted among the victims—they are cast as the perpetrators, the embodiment of xenophobia.
The New York Times declared, “Those left behind by the nation’s post-apartheid economy commonly blame those left even further behind, the powerless making scapegoats of the defenseless.” While some poor South Africans—like some politicians and elites—are hostile to poor foreigners, the attackers cannot be construed as representative of “the powerless.” Many township- and shack-dwellers across the country rushed to protect foreign migrants, organizing community watch groups and anti-xenophobic protests. At times, they worked with police (for whom there is no love lost).
Maybe instead of calling it Xenophobia, the mainstream media should have labelled it “Broke-on-Broke violence” as comedian Chris Rock is reported to have labelled it.