The Sunday News
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 . . .”
The above is a quote from the famous speech by former South African President Thabo Mbeki which he made on behalf of the African National Congress on 8 May 1996, on the occasion of the passing of the new Constitution of South Africa. At the time Cde Mbeki was the Vice-President of South Africa under the presidency of Nelson Mandela.
Cde Mbeki’s speech echoed sentiments from the golden generation of African leaders who paved the way to total independence and preached brotherhood and sisterhood across the continent like former Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah and Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
Cde Nkrumah was one of the proponents of Pan-Africanism, a strong movement for African unity. “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me,” is one of the famous quotes from Cde Nkrumah’s speeches. At the birth of the African Union in 1963, he thundered; “The forces that unite us are intrinsic and greater than the superimposed influences that keep us apart.”
It is the same teachings that the young and the old should be reminded all the time. Teachings that tell people that there is more that unites African countries than administrative borders. It is the spirit of ubuntu that has to be preserved so that future generations do not get lost and depart from the teachings of our founding fathers who joined hands and helped each other to liberate the continent from the bondage of colonialism.
The recurring acts of xenophobia or black self-hate, as some call it, which has been witnessed in South Africa, should come to an end and should never be witnessed again. Similarly, citizens in other African countries who are said to be planning to retaliate or are retaliating by ill-treating South African nationals and businesses in their countries should not be tolerated. As the cliché goes, “eye for an eye makes the world blind.”
Foreign nationals in South Africa have been under attack in recent days with their property destroyed and some have lost their lives, as locals are said to be eager to drive them outside South Africa. The foreigners have been accused of taking jobs and resources meant for South Africans.
However, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned the wave of looting and violence. “There can be no justification for any South African to attack people from other countries,” he said last Tuesday. Attacks on businesses run by “foreign nationals is something totally unacceptable, something I want it to stop immediately,” he added. He called for the arrest of those involved in a spate of attacks.
Separately, the African Union (AU) issued a statement condemning the “despicable acts” of violence “in the strongest terms”. President Mnangagwa also slammed the senseless attacks and said he was working closely with President Ramaphosa on the issue.
“We strongly condemn all forms of hate-driven violence and applaud the South African authorities for the swift way they have responded. We are closely following the situation and are in regular contact with our South African counterparts and HE (His Excellency) Cde @CyrilRamaphosa,” said President Mnangagwa on his Twitter handle.
Xenophobic and anti-immigrant attacks are not new in South Africa. In May 2008 xenophobic violence broke out in Alexandra, Johannesburg, and spread to seven of South Africa’s nine provinces, resulting in 62 deaths, including 21 South Africans, 11 Mozambicans, five Zimbabweans and three Somalis and thousands were injured.
Demonstrators forced hundreds of foreigners from their homes and looted some businesses in Durban in April this year. They claimed that foreigners had taken jobs that should have been filled by locals. In 2017, violent anti-immigrant protests broke out in the capital Pretoria and in 2015, several people were killed and thousands fled after xenophobic attacks across the country.
We believe all this will come to an end if each person were to inculcate it into their minds that “Yes, I am an African”, and there is no basis whatsoever to maim or kill a fellow brother and sister simply because they hold a different nationality. Whatever grievances, they should be tackled in a peaceful and civil manner.