Dear Black South Africans,
May you please give us a break?
By 'us' I mean non-South African Black Africans.
It seems a lot of us suffer from selective amnesia but it wasn't long ago that many of you were fleeing South Africa to head to Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and other places during the horrendous apartheid regime.
Many of us accommodated you during your time of turmoil.
It seems the tables have changed. We have been flooding South Africa for various reasons: education, so-called 'greener pastures', refugee status as we are fleeing other African governments.
As both a Kongolese and a Zimbabwean 'my' people are represented in their millions I believe.
So what is this rant about? Well let me get onto it:
A number of times when we get onto taxis, a fair number of you insist on speaking to us in your spoken [native] language- that is: Zulu, Xhosa, and other African languages spoken on this side of the world- because of our shared Blackness- which by the way isn't homogeneous. And yet, when we reply in English, which is the language we have either come to learn as a third or fourth language, or as an official language from where we come from- we get given the cold shoulder we are responded to in a local South African language.
The irony is that: we may at times would have been in your country for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, a few years- and yet you do not [seem to] expect the same from your white South Africans whom you have "shared" this physical space for centuries.
A white South African gets into a taxi, you speak to them in English. A white foreigner gets into a taxi, you speak to them in English. A non-South African Black African gets into a taxi, you speak to them in your local language and give them so much shade for not understanding you.
Would you give us a break please? Africa isn't homogeneous. We speak other African languages and unless we come from the neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe (read South of Zim), we would most likely not be able to communicate using an African language-yet.
I understand this is your home ground and you expect us to adapt to your ways. And a lot of are trying. We are hustling hard- to the point of being murdered for being other'ed by you as job and wives thieves- which is not true.
Many of us work our butts off to send money home to loved ones, working as car guards, trying to have a spaza shop here and there, yet we- the most vulnerable ones- get systematically oppressed by the already oppressed.
I understand the socio-economic realities of this country makes us- Black Africans- easy targets to unleash your wrath and anger that you hold towards your government, country, concerning unemployment.
We most likely have it worse because the majority of us do not have ID's, then there are those of us who are here illegally- not by choice (well we do have agency, but) the reality on the ground in a place like Zimbabwe has pushed us to do unthinkable things such as 'jumping the border'. It isn't right by law but we think we do not have another choice- other than to starve and die.
We are not the enemy.
Allow us time to integrate and learn some of your ways in order that we may temporarily 'co-habitate' in this land whilst we are sorting our shit out.
Give us a break. Abeg o.
Shingai is a Congolese and Zimbabwean, passionate about ethnochoreology, dance, technology, and politics within Africa.
In two years, Cape Town has experienced two rather rude awakenings in the form of “poo protests” in normally sanitised areas meant to represent the best of the Western Cape’s development. The first protest, organised by the disenfranchised Ses’khona People’s Rights Movement, was meant to highlight the deplorable conditions of toilets in informal settlements and townships across Cape Town. It was a clash of two different and highly unequal worlds as the stench and rot that many have to encounter daily was brought into the Cape Town Airport and Legislature in 2013 — an infringement of the cordon sanitairethat is often inaccessible in townships.
The second protest took place more recently at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and featured several students throwing excrement at the long-standing statue of Rhodes on Upper Campus. The exact details of those involved remain murky, but what is clear is that the protest was organised against “white arrogance” and the ways in which black students are treated at institutions of higher learning. At face value, it might seem that the only thing these protests have in common is the use of human excrement to highlight a grievance, and this may be true. In some ways, the UCT protests are a direct deviation from the initial protests organised by Ses’khona. Being at the university already places one in the ranks of educated elite. Many of those who make it onto the stage to accept their certificates are more likely to find employment than their counterparts with no formal post-high school education. A good number of students are recruited fresh from graduation by numerous South African corporates. Membership in this university elite is complicated, for many black students the reality of township life or being the first generation in university is ever-present. So too are the barriers seen and unseen that make timely graduation unlikely.
But being at an institution like UCT also comes with its own complex participation in Rhodes’ colonial legacy — as students benefit from the view from the mountain over the rest of Cape Town, access to flushing toilets, wi-fi and leading academic thinkers, a reality that is perceivable but inaccessible for South Africa’s majority.
But the class inequality created through increased economic and educational participation of formerly disadvantaged groups is representative of a positive trend. It points to further economic integration not possible during apartheid, and provides unimaginable benefits for the handful of students that make it through our universities. But it is also true that the harsh inequalities South Africa is witnessing are as much systematic as they are symptomatic.
It is no secret that compromises were made at the onset of our new political dispensation, many of which were less than desirable. This has also included the naming, upholding and celebration of historical figures — but often with exclusion of other historical narratives pertinent to the formation of identity among young non-white South Africans. Growing up in small mining towns in the North West, I was taught South African history from the arrival of Jan van Riebeek, and conquests of the Voortrekkers. Any knowledge I acquired of Steve Biko, Archie Mafeje or Albert Luthuli was through my own reading while the brutality of apartheid was inferred rather than directly addressed in my schooling curriculum. I can only imagine for some of my white counterparts that the formal curricula and narrative meant that discussions of white privilege and the structural consequences of apartheid were severely limited. Every year we continued to visit the Danie Theron monument outside of Fochville, without consideration of the Hector Pieterson Memorial, or the Apartheid Museum.
This lack of direct discussion on contentious markers of history bears direct consequence on how we envision our society going forward. Is there truly space for all narratives? For those calling Rhodes a part of their culture and negating the intention behind the UCT protests, a more serious question remains: What part of Rhodes and his legacy informs this association and what elements of that culture have you chosen to uphold and enforce? Because no one culture is better than the next, it is crucial that this choice be made with consideration of the great cost to human life and dignity that accompanied Rhodes’ conquests — some of which have consequences for today. It is important that we recognise all heroes of our tumultuous history in areas shared by all races, not simply in the townships where many of these commemorations currently stand.
Whatever our opinions of the poo-protest methods, the perceptions are important for engaging the debate about our history and the role protagonists of the past play in our common, complicated identity as South Africans. Perhaps if we better understand where others have come from, we can better address the symptoms of an economic and political system that thrives on great inequality.
By Masana Ndinga-Kanga
First published 11/03/2015 at M&G Thought Leader.
Image – Danie van der Merwe/flickr
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