The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
MBO Mahocs remembers the first time she was stopped in public by a fan. It was an encounter that came a while after the Zimbabwean actress had made her debut on the small screen in South Africa, playing the vivacious Chichi on South African free to air channel e.tv’s flagship soapie Scandal.
An encounter with a star struck fan in a public place is always to savour for a relatively new star, but there was something about this particular experience that left Mahocs shaken. After convincing South Africans that she was Nigerian as she played a heavily accented West African, Mahocs discovered that there was more to the fan’s interest than just mere adoration of a new screen star.
“There’s one incident where I bumped into someone I didn’t know and they were excited to see me, I mean people get excited when they see someone from TV,” Mahocs told Sunday Life last week after the latest outburst xenophobic violence in her adopted country.
“So they said hello Chichi and I responded, because I speak isiNdebele, by saying Sabona Kunjani, and they were shocked that I was speaking in vernacular. That person acted surprised and said ‘at least awusilokwerekwe’ I didn’t know how to feel after that comment because someone says at least you’re not a foreigner when you actually are. There was no time to explain myself so sometimes you just leave things like that go. It comes from an ignorant place and it’s no one’s fault.”
The week has been a tough one for Zimbabwean performers, as many to come to terms with the fact that they have to perform in front of audiences that may have the same elements that are harming their countrymen in the streets. In addition, fear of reprisal that may follow their own successes in that country is ever present. In the past, showbiz folklore has it that Tich Mataz, a popular radio personality and business person in South Africa in the early 90s, was a victim of his nationality. Since his well publicised fallout with South African authorities, many have been wary that should they also become similarly successful, the same fate might befall them.
Despite all this, Zimbabwean performers had to face South African audiences during a tumultuous week, where violence and condemnation of the attacks was prevalent.
“It’s difficult because you get to the DJ booth and all that you see is a paying crowd that just wants you to give their money’s worth,” said South African based DJ Nizhe DeSoul.
“You begin to wonder how these people would react if they knew that the DJ that’s playing in front of them is a foreigner. Would a drunkard in that crowd also attack and smash me if I had a misstep on the decks because I’m a foreigner?”
Despite the violence on the street and fear amongst artistes, former Kalawa Jazzme signee Diliza said the music industry itself was not filled with people that haboured xenophobic sentiment.
“Personally I never came across the kind of xenophobia that we saw this past week. In the music business I was welcomed very differently and they took me as a brother,” he said.
This was a sentiment echoed by Mahocs who said that her time on the Scandal set was drama free as one of her directors in particular had made sure that she was protected from any aggressive behavior from fellow cast and crew members.
“To be completely honest with you I would be lying if I said I came across any hate speech or discrimination in the work space. On the e.tv Scandal set I even had a director; there was a lady who was a director who would constantly check on me in case anyone had said anything harmful or anything like that.
“She checked how people were receiving me and I never had a problem, not even one day. Even when I’m in public people receive me with so much love I think that there’s just an appreciation of something that is rare, that is different, that is foreign and I actually think that it’s something that is celebrated. In the workplace I have never come across any xenophobic sentiments,” she said.
The latest attacks came during a time when South Africa was grappling with violence of another kind. On Monday, the mutilated body of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, murdered by a post office worker, was discovered. This followed other incidents of similarly brutal murders of women. For Mahocs, the attacks only just increase her fears as woman who might not even be protected by her relatively newfound fame.
“It’s an ism and by that I mean it’s a problem like racism, tribalism, sexism, things that are a challenge and will take time for us to resolve. It’s funny how this week a lot has been happening in the country. There are girls that have been raped and killed and suddenly you don’t feel so safe being a woman going around anywhere and that’s besides the xenophobic attacks. So it’s a lot but this is a problem that we face across the continent,” she said.
While some might be looking for the resolution to the crisis, musician Bekezela poured out his heart this week, signaling that he had fallen out of love with a country that only last year was lauding him with some of its most prestigious awards.
“Standing in a corner in foreign lands with nothing, suddenly I realize the once greener pastures are not so green anymore in fact I am now scrambling for the little scraps that my hosts leave off the table. They accuse me of over staying my welcome and do I blame them? I am reminded of an old adage that says a son of a king is a slave in foreign lands…
“I miss home, a good orphan is one with a mother’s embrace so please go and tell my mother uMaMbedzi that I want to come back home for conditions here are no longer bearable. My brothers and sisters are being killed for trying to make ends meet.
My heart is no longer here, it is now back home where I come from, the land of my forefathers as I imagine it with streets made of gold flowing with milk and honey.”