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.
* Understanding does not mean condoning
The current state of affairs across the world has made peace and security a pressing concern not just in policy circles, but also in public discourse. Issues of marginalisation and violence continue to plague numerous parts of the world, with often dire results: The rise of Isis in the Arab world, the prevalence of social unrest in South America and European countries grappling with challenges in their political economy, or poor policing decisions in US. The trend globally has been that intrastate conflict has escalated while there has been a notable decline in interstate conflict. This means that South Africa is not unique in having to deal with what seems like a sharp rise in domestic social tension, in an increasingly democratic and globalising world. The very nature of our international political economy has heightened internal tensions, while limiting the options available to states for reform given the prevailing values of a democratic world. Much of the conflict we are currently witnessing is owed to structural challenges that alienate a broad spectrum of people in different ways.
Psychosocial precursors to violence
What explains violent and high-risk behaviour, particularly among the young? Jim Cochrane and Gary Gunderson have developed a multi-disciplinary model to explain the five psychosocial “leading causes of life”. In order for a human being to make sense of the world, they need a sense of hope, agency, connections, inter-generational relationships and coherence. If these five aspects are not provided through positive channels, prevalent negative channels step in to allow people to make sense of the world and their place in it. This explains the appeal of gangs — they provide hope, agency, connections and a sense of coherence much needed by our young men and women. Similarly, drug abuse, domestic violence, and even racism, a sense of privilege or xenophobia are passed on as learned behaviour to younger generations through observations and narratives about the world. While not set in stone, unless there is an intervention, children closely observe how their parents respond to conflict and imitate that behaviour. In order to deal with the consequences of marginalising power structures that lead to violent behaviour we need to address the psychosocial concerns that make them possible.
Continued structures that perpetuate injustice
Despite its importance, it would be a farce to address only the psychosocial concerns that lead to violence. This is an important factor in full development and rehabilitation, but the material concerns that give rise to violence and negative behaviours are pervasive. Controversially, I would like to argue that townships and informal settlements should not exist, they were created forcefully on systems of injustice. To remedy a neighbourhood entrenched with such complexities without addressing the historical challenges that make it possible for negativity to thrive is like putting a plaster on a rotting wound.
The violence of apartheid has been restructured in development discourse as inevitable given the conditions that many South Africans were facing. With the advent of democracy the discourse and language surrounding violence shifted, and was reframed as deviant and unwelcome — particularly by those in power who themselves had been part of a violent struggle. Instead of being understood as an outcome of injustice, violence was interpreted as something to be squashed — as Marikana highlights.
But as it was then, so it is now, violence represents an expression of desperation for channels of engagement and reform, articulated through learned behaviour. Characteristic during the apartheid era, and early years following Nelson Mandela’s release, was how violence was concentrated in areas of stark deprivation aimed at accessible targets instead of the expected perpetrators of injustice. People incorrectly channelled frustrations about the world to those within reach. This bears a strong resemblance to the recent xenophobic attacks targeting false enemies to express a misplaced frustration at the slow pace of transformation in the country. It cannot be accepted by any means whatsoever. But unless the root causes of these violent outbreaks are addressed, the future does not bode well.
The conditions that gave rise to violent and disruptive behaviour and marginalisation have barely shifted. While this is not to say that nothing has been accomplished in democratic SA since 1994, it is perhaps pointing to Frantz Fanon’s ominous predictions for post-colonial states — the structures have stayed the same, while the faces have changed colour.
It is also important to ask if development as we now frame it can take place without social disruption. Development might be a zero-sum game if we do not change the rules that determine it. In this way, South Africa is least unique. The global political economy is hostile to the kind of transformation envisaged in our Constitution: free flowing capital, low trade barriers and fluctuating exchange rates might cause established multinational corporations to thrive but have dire outcomes for unemployment, labour and small enterprises — the backbone of any economic development. China’s poor labour conditions and environmental challenges point to this. We need to ask who is paying the ultimate cost for our development, and who is reaping the ultimate reward of our current policy regime. It is a misconception that the political economy is governed by an invisible capitalistic hand that cannot be shifted. But how it should change is still to be answered.
Masana Ndinga-Kanga is an activist and an economist in remission.
We are a multidisciplinary collective and welcome academic and non-academic views. Reach out to us on the Contact page to find out more about how you can be featured on our blog.