What makes us Africans? Is it the colour of our skin, the value system we have been taught, the geographic location of where we reside? These are but a few questions that have been going through my mind as I sat and pondered on the recent spate of Afrophobic violence in South Africa, which we refer to as xenophobia-related violence. But, it cannot be xenophobia since it’s not all foreigners who are targeted in South Africa. It is only the poor African immigrants, who feel the wrath of their unhappy hosts.
Back to my question of what makes us Africans. Reading on Africa and remembering my grandmother’s teachings, I learned a few things. I learned that African core values are compassion, hospitality, honesty, and collectivism. That in Africa, a person exists because of people; that a child is raised by the whole village. African folklore is full of anecdotes of how when on a long journey and you need a place to rest before continuing with the journey, you go to the nearest household or homestead and simply introduce yourself and your host will provide you with accommodation and will ensure you are fed. When you have run out of food to feed your family, you simply go to your neighbour and they will assist. The same goes for working the grain fields, villagers work as a collective until everyone’s field is attended to.
Today, it appears as if we have forsaken the spirit of Ubuntu. It feels as though the colonisers have done such a good job in enslaving us that we still remain in mental bondage. We loath being African as well as everything that reminds us of being African. Unfortunately, this self-hatred means we have resorted to killing each other.
I would like to go on a rant about how wrong these xenophobic attacks on Africans are and how we should treat South Africa with the eye for an eye doctrine. Also remind South Africa of where their freedom fighters were accommodated and hosted during their fight against apartheid. But unfortunately fighting fire with fire only causes further distraction.
I would rather want to address the root cause of this problem, which has become endemic. I say this because no one is born loathing their neighbour, hatred is always caused by something.
This is where our governments come in. Destitute citizens who have lost hope in a future or a chance to sleep with something in their stomachs and shelter, are angry and often seek out the soft targets to blame. In this instance, it is the poor foreign nationals residing in the poor communities of South Africa. What those baying for blood don’t realise is that these foreign nationals are in South Africa because they found themselves in the same or worse conditions in their countries of origin. No one voluntarily leaves their home for fun to go and spend their days living at the mercy of others in a distant country. Here we are talking about the free movement of people and the integration of the African continent. How will we get it right if we loathe ourselves as Africans?
There is no easy solution nor a quick fix to this problem, but I am sure the answer lies with us starting with respecting good governance and ensuring that we run our countries with accountability and transparency. Because the status quo points to citizens who are frustrated with their government’s failure to bring them the promised prosperity. As a result, Africans become collateral damage. To answer the question above, I am convinced we have lost our Africaness and we need to do something before we also lose the African geography as well.