Xenophobia: a manifestation of self-hate Written by Charlotte Luzuka – Proudly African

Quite a loaded statement I know, but what else can one conclude when the group of people being attacked or discriminated against resemble their aggressors, have cultural similarities to their aggressors and are in the same economic situation. They are one and the same.

I write this message in light of the recent spate of Xenophobic attacks throughout South Africa. Initially I thought it was a problem limited to the poor and underprivileged living in townships, however I was saddened to learn that colleagues of mine were perpetuating this situation by supporting similar thoughts with regards to Foreign nationals living in South Africa, legally or illegally.

I am a South African citizen; I am also a foreign national. I have lived in South Africa for 25 years, the first 3 months of my life were spent in Lesotho, however as I cannot recall those days, South Africa is the only home I know. My four younger sisters were all born in South Africa and have South African names, Thandiwe, Nolitha, Lerato and Naledi. They were given these names because my parents wanted to embrace this country that they had adopted fully. While none of us speak one of the African official languages of South Africa, we still identify ourselves as South African, as a lot of our mannerisms are South African. We say words like “eish”, we support rugby and cricket, whenever South Africa competes internationally, and we scream our support and feel the disappointment and/or joy as much as any other South African would. Our slang is very much South African, and our closest friends are South African. My older sister is married to a South African, and as an attempt to ensure my niece learns her father’s language, we try to learn at least a few words of Tswana so that we do not only communicate to her in English. So now I ask, why am I not considered South African? Is it because I am black? If I was white would there be questions? Is it because I do not speak an African South African language (although the foreign nationals being attacked speak Zulu)? Is it because ethnically I am not South African (I belong to the Bantu tribe, of which the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndibele, Swati, Tsonga, Pedi, Tswana, Sotho and Venda tribes belong to, ironically making up the majority of the tribes in South Africa)? When I am confronted by a South African I always claim that I am Ugandan, because I will either be ostracized for being a “coconut” (for speaking English with a lilt/cadence) or a “kwerekwere” for being a foreign national. However, when I am asked by foreign nationals (African or other) what I am, I say South African, because that is what I am. I do not consider myself superior or inferior to South African nationals, and see them as my brothers and sisters. I had even begun to start a community project to help high school students in the townships better their academic records, not because I felt sorry for them, but because I wanted to help my country and continent to realise it’s potential. It’s ironic, that the downfall to diversity is the discrimination and fear of it…..

So I thought I would do what I could to help enlighten ALL South African Citizens (and not just nationals) with as much information as I could find. My findings are not conclusive nor are they complete, but the purpose of this “article” is to open up debate, to get people to learn and to understand one another or even just to give some people a few more facts that they may not have been aware of.

Brief History

The foundation for Xenophobia is deep rooted and began 1000s of years ago when the white “discoverers” (I say “discoverers”, as Africa was never “discovered”, it was there before they got there, with people living on it) came to Africa and decided to impose their rule by demarcating areas into “countries”. Prior to their arrival, Africans were free to roam this land in search of food, fresh water, fertile land and grazing ground for their livestock. On occasion, rival tribes would battle it out, not because they felt that they had intruded on their land, but because the winning tribe would have the losing tribe integrated into their tribe, thereby strengthening their warrior force and lineage. This is how the Zulu tribe became so formidable under the leadership of Shaka Zulu.

Evidence of how we Africans are all interconnected can be found in our languages and cultural beliefs.
An extract from Wikipedia states the following with regards to one of the major African tribal groups, the Bantu :

“Bantu is the name of a large category of African languages. It also is used as a general label for over 400 ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa, from Cameroon across Central Africa and Eastern Africa to Southern Africa. These peoples share a common language family sub-group, the Bantu languages, and broad ancestral culture, but Bantu languages as a whole are as diverse as Indo-European languages. Current scholarly understanding places the ancestral proto-Bantu homeland near the south-western modern boundary of Nigeria.
The Bantu languages are part of the Niger-Congo family, with the majority of these tribes being found in southern, central and eastern Africa.”

A shortlist of well known Bantu tribes consists of the following:
In Central and Eastern Africa
Chewa (Chichewa)
Ganda (Luganda)
Haya (Kihaya)
Chaga (Kichaga)
Rwanda (Kinyarwanda)
Kongo (Kikongo)
Kamba language
Soga (Lusoga)
Mongo (Mongo-Nkundu, Lomongo)
Kiga (Rukiga)
Rundi (Kirundi)
Nyankole (Runyankole)
Nyoro (Runyoro)
Tooro (Rutooro)
Swahili (Kiswahili)
Tetela language Congo
Tshiluba language|Luba]] (Tshiluba)
Tumbuka (chiTumbuka)
Yao (Chiyao)
Gishu (Lugisu)
In Southern Africa
Oshiwambo (Oshiwambo)
Ndebele (Sindebele) (In both South Africa and Zimbabwe)
Pedi (Sepedi)
Shona (chiShona)
Swati (Siswati)
Phuthi (Siphuthi)
Sotho (Sesotho)
Swazi (siSwati)
Tsonga (Xitsonga)
Tswana (Setswana) (In both South Africa and Botswana)
Venda (Tshivenda)
Xhosa (isiXhosa)
Zulu (isiZulu)
In West Africa
Basaa (in Cameroon)
Kako (in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo)
Ngumba (in Cameroon)
Beti (in Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe)

This “short” list shows how connected we as Africans truly are. Imagine, had there been no borders, would we not have then been more accommodating, as we would recognise and celebrate our similarities? Inter-marriages and trade between these tribes was probably common practice, making us even more culturally intertwined.

However, there are borders and so this problem has arisen, so while talking about how it could have been will not solve this problem, I hope that it will at least open up our eyes to how similar we are.

One of the main reasons for xenophobia being so rife in South Africa (besides the Apartheid regime instilling a culture of hatred for all things African), are the myths that are perpetuated throughout South African homes, with regards to foreign nationals, whether refugees, illegal or legal immigrants.

So I thought it best to tackle each myth logically and factually, putting it into context with what is happening in the streets of Gauteng, Durban, the Western Cape and Mpumalanga.

Myth: South Africa has too many refugees or that “floods” of illegal foreigners are entering this country

This myth is not limited to people living in poverty, as I discovered to my dismay that a colleague of mine, feels that South Africa should only accept the same number of foreign nationals as the number of South Africans that were accepted by those foreign countries during Apartheid.

Unfortunately, I could not get the statistics of the number of South Africans that were housed for free, fed and treated like royalty during their exile. However what I could find, was the statistics of Africans that have migrated to other countries around the world, this includes South Africans. I felt that if the proposed solution is to get rid of ALL foreign nationals, despite their status, then the logical reaction would be to have all South African immigrants be deported from their new homes throughout the world.

According to the website: http://www.migrationinformation.org, the number of South African immigrants living in the UK in 2001, was 141, 405, making 2.9% of the immigration population in the UK. South Africa had the largest percentage of immigrants from Africa in the UK. In the USA there were 114, 000 South Africans in 2006, making up 0.3% of the immigration population in the US, coming in as fourth largest from Africa after Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria, all having 0.4%.The number of South African immigrants in Australia was 104, 128 in 2006, making up 2.4% of the immigration population in Australia and the largest proportion of African immigrants.

These are just a few statistics showing how other African countries are not the only ones migrating for economic reasons. Now, I do not suggest that South African immigrants be attacked and degraded in their new homes, but I just want South Africans to consider that while their friends and families have moved overseas, and have a right to, so do other African nationals have the right to migrate legally to South Africa. This right is imbedded in us as humans, as migration is a natural order for human beings stemming from our instinctual need to survive.

However, due to circumstances in some of the African countries, there has been an influx of illegal immigrants into South Africa, this is mainly due to the asylum seekers not being aware of the process to follow in order to gain refugee status or immigrant status, and while one can argue that they did not bother to research these options, what would you do if you were running for your life? Would you do research on how to immigrate legally, or would you leave for a country that has laws and law enforcers that implement them?

While I am not condoning illegal immigrants, I ask for us to be compassionate and to consider the reasons for them to risk their lives to get to South Africa. Let our law enforcer’s use our laws and due process to resolve this problem instead of taking the matters into our own hands, illegally and barbarically. Let us live up to our reputation of being a democratic country, with law abiding citizens. Let us practice Ubuntu, not because the country that the victims hail from showed it to our exiled leaders and soldiers, but because we are African and Ubuntu is engrained in our nature. It is what makes us African, and differentiates us from the other races.

The people who are attacking foreign nationals in the townships, do not ask if a foreigner is here legally or not? They blame the foreigners for an increase in crime, however do they not realise that their actions are in fact criminal? That burning a man alive does not curb crime but perpetuates it? That looting from stores does not aide the economy or their situation, but worsens it?

South Africa was applauded by the UNHCR in 2007 for their progressive policy for refugees and asylum seekers. How ironic that the people of South Africa, who would benefit from the rules of the UNHCR should they ever be put in such a situation, do not want to implement this policy. If these individuals feel the problem is in the policy, vote against it. These policies are not implemented without the public having an opportunity to have their say. Or better yet, ensure that your leaders represent what you feel and do not take out their shortfalls on people who are already victims.

Thousands of Mozambican migrant workers have fled the mines, will these aggressors take these jobs, or will they continue to loot and harass the nation? What good is a store with no stock? Will they open their own stores or find other stores to loot?

While there are not a large number of South Africans who have migrated to other African countries, there are a significant number of South African businesses operating in other African countries. What would happen to our GDP if they chose to refrain from dealing with South African companies? What would happen if they asked MTN, Woolworths, Telkom, and Multichoice etc. to leave their countries? What would happen to the jobs that these dealings have created?

South Africa is not an island and cannot afford to isolate itself from other African countries, because no European or American country would come to her aide as readily as another African country would.

Myth: Foreign nationals are taking South African jobs and homes

Another colleague of mine noted that “as South Africans were not given houses while they were in exile and were made to stay in tents, then foreign nationals have no right to own anything in South Africa”. Besides the fact that South Africans in exile were treated like royalty, they did not need to work in order to be fed, clothed, and trained, given weapons and homes in several countries throughout Africa. In Zambia, a number of farms where given to South African’s in exile e.g. Thandiwe farms. Although most of the workers on these farms where Zambian, the produce from these farms was rationed out to South African’s in exile. The remaining harvest was sold in an open market in order to raise funds for the ANC. Not only did South African’s in exile receive land, but also training, food, funds and support.

In Nigeria and Ghana, a percentage of all local employees salaries, in a form taxation known as “Apartheid tax” was used to contribute to the ANC’s coffers. Tents? These were usually given to soldiers who had not gone into exile economic gain, but to train and then return to fight in South Africa.

With my colleague’s short-sighted logic, it would only seem fair that every foreign national would be given a home, food, clothes, farms etc without having to work for it. However, I do not advocate this, because believe it or not, foreign nationals (whatever their status in South Africa) add to South Africa’s growth and GDP. The store owners create jobs, the mine workers help discover precious metals and minerals; the teachers educate future workers and leaders; the Doctors bring life and heal the “workforce”; and the money that they earn, is spent in South Africa.

In a recent analysis done in the United States of America by the Perryman Group (an economic analysis firm), it was noted that should all 8.1 million undocumented immigrants be removed from the USA overnight, the nation’s economy would lose nearly 1.8 trillion in annual spending. The state of Texas would lose 1.2 million undocumented workers and 220.7 billion in expenditure. Now if the undocumented immigrants in the US have such an effect on their economy, it only stands to reason that the same could be said for South Africa’s economy. While I do not recommend immigrants being undocumented, it shows that their presence in South Africa is aiding its economy and not ailing it. The problem does not lie in the foreign nationals trading and living in South Africa, but in the government’s procedures for combating poverty. There is only one way to resolve this, speak to your council members and get them to change things for you, or vote for a better leadership in the next elections.

Jobs? One of the main professions of immigrant workers in South Africa is in the form of Doctors. These migrant doctors tend to work in the rural areas where there are not enough doctors and medical facilities available to them. While there are South African doctors constantly being produced, they tend to want to work in more developed areas and/or go into private practice, making them inaccessible to the poor. What would happen if these foreign doctors all left or stopped coming to work here? According to an article from HSRC (Human Sciences Research Council) media briefs of 2006, the number of foreign doctors being brought to South Africa has been minimized by the amended human resources policy of the Department of Health, however this action may have been short sighted by the fact that at that stage the number of doctors in South Africa was less than 7 per 10 000 people, compared to the UK, which has around 21, the US +/- 24 and other European countries with more than 30. With the exception of the US, the population of the UK and other European countries, pales in comparison to that of South Africa, yet we have fewer doctors to tend to us.

The number of doctors emigrating from South Africa is estimated at about 150 per annum, with 80% of the doctors remaining in South Africa, working in the private sector which handles only 20% of the population. The reasons for the immigrant doctors coming to South Africa varied from escape from political violence to economic benefit, but majority spoke of a desire to benefit the poor. The Cubans, which make up majority of the foreign doctors, came here due to a government to government agreement in the mid 90s. Showing evidence that our government had noted the shortfall and was attempting to resolve this.

According to HSRC, the Department of Health’s plan is to double the number of graduate doctors in South Africa from 1 200 to 2 400 by the year 2014, however the increase in graduate doctors between 1994 and 2005, was a mere 32% in historically black medical schools, which produced 737 doctors in 2005 compared to 231 doctors in 1994, while the historically white medical schools have produced only 8% more doctors in 2005 (840) compared to 1994 (779).

With the scourge of AIDS and other diseases in South Africa, can we afford to chase away doctors based on their nationality? Especially in light of the fact that despite their current presence, we still have a shortfall.

What I find so interesting is that only black foreigners are considered to be “stealing” from South Africans, what about the white foreigners who work and live in South Africa? What about the white foreigners who own prime land and farms? Not that I am advocating that they be targeted as well, but it makes one wonder about the logic behind the hatred and prejudice to Black foreigners in this country is? Which brings me back to my statement or question, is Xenophobia a manifestation of self-hate? Perhaps the question we should ask is, why do we as black people hate ourselves so much?

Crime? I must admit that there are some foreign nationals who have been involved in crime, whether drug related or organised crime, however this is not limited to Nigerians or Zimbabweans, but also Lebanese, Israeli, Russian and Pakistani nationals (to name but a few), so to identify only one group of nationals as being “criminals” is prejudiced. While I do not condone the crime created by these groups or individuals, there is a reason why we have a police force. They are meant to curb and battle ALL crime, whether enacted by a South African or a foreign national. If one wants to help the short staffed law enforcement, one can become a reservist or start a community crime watch. Again, if you feel our law enforcement is not doing all it can, speak to your council members and have them discuss your concerns with the law enforcement representatives.

That is what it means to live in a democratic society. What is happening in the townships is not too dissimilar to what is happening in some of the African countries from which their victims are fleeing, which ironically proves that South Africa is no different from any other African country. Or is this perhaps what is fuelling the violence? The fear that despite having avoided all the mayhem that has occurred throughout this continent post independence, we may end up there ourselves due to the hiking interest rate, fuel and food prices? Is it the fear of being proven African that drives Xenophobia, the fear of being proven black? Perhaps what each of us needs to do is to reflect on who we are, how we measure success in life and what we use as a benchmark for our moral standing? Perhaps then we can begin to learn to appreciate what is beautiful and unique about being black and African. Instead of trying to emulate other races, we should embrace our culture, our big noses, our boisterous personality and our love for music and dancing. Once we learn to love who and what we are, can Africa truly propel forward.

The Constitution of South Africa

South Africa has the best constitution in the world, resulting from the inhumane conditions that South Africa suffered under for centuries, and was intended to be utilised as a mechanism to prevent such atrocities from being repeated. Perhaps what we need is for every one to have a look at the constitution again, familiarise themselves with “her” foundation. While there are aspects of the constitution which relate only to South African Citizens (a foreign national can be a South African citizen, for reference on how this can come about, refer to the Immigration Act), the founding provisions relate to ALL persons residing in South Africa in spite of their status.

Our Africa

We need to unite and rise up as African’s. Let’s revisit the essence of what makes us African- Ubuntu. We are blessed to live on a beautiful continent, rich in resources, culture and diversity. Let us not destroy and plunder our own land by infighting and self-destructive acts. It all starts with our individual attitudes and dispositions.

Let us learn from the past, be proactive in the present in order to shape our future.

Special thanks to input received from:

Thandiwe N Luzuka
Abiye A Opuamah

Extract from the Constitution of South Africa:

Chapter 1 – Founding Provisions

1. Republic of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values:
Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
Non-racialism and non-sexism.
Supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.
Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

2. Supremacy of Constitution

This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic; law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled.

3. Citizenship

There is a common South African citizenship.
All citizens are
equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship; and
equally subject to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
National legislation must provide for the acquisition, loss and restoration of citizenship.

Please note that these are only three of the six founding provisions, the other three include languages, the national anthem and the national flag.

Other extracts from the constitution which I felt where relevant are:

7. Rights

This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights.
The rights in the Bill of Rights are subject to the limitations contained or referred to in section 36, or elsewhere in the Bill.

9. Equality

Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.
The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
*1 No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.
Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.

10. Human dignity

Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

11. Life

Everyone has the right to life.

12. Freedom and security of the person

Everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right
not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause;
not to be detained without trial;
to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources;
not to be tortured in any way; and
not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.
Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right
to make decisions concerning reproduction;
to security in and control over their body; and
not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.

26. Housing

Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.
The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.
No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.

27. Health care, food, water and social security

Everyone has the right to have access to
health care services, including reproductive health care;
sufficient food and water; and
social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance.
The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights.
No one may be refused emergency medical treatment.

For those of you are not familiar with the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, I have included an extract from the Refugee policy that is lauded by the UNHCR:


Protection and general rights of refugees
27. A refugee-
(u) is entitled to a formal written recognition of refugee status in the prescribed
form; 40

(b) enjoys full legal protection, which includes the rights set out in Chapter 2 of
the Constitution and the right to remain in the Republic in accordance with the
provisions of this Act;

(c) is entitled to apply for an immigration permit in terms of the Aliens Control
Act, 199 1, after five years’ continuous residence in the Republic from the date 45
on which he or she was granted asylum, if the Standing Committee certifies
that he or she will remain a refugee indefinitely;

(d) is entitled to an identity document referred to in section 30;

(e) is entitled to a South African travel document on application as contemplated
in section 31; 50
Act No. 130,1998 REFUGEES ACT, 1998
m is entitled to seek employment; and

(g) is entitled to the same basic health services and basic primary education which
the inhabitants of the Republic receive from time to time.
Rights of refugees in respect of removal from Republic

28. (1) Subject to section 2, a refugee may be removed from the Republic on grounds 5
of national security or public order.

(2) A removal under subsection (1) may only be ordered by the Minister with due
regard for the rights set out in section 33 of the Constitution and the rights of the refugee
in terms of international law.

(3) If an order is made under this section for the removal from the Republic of a 10
refugee, any dependant of such refugee who has not been granted asylum, may be
included in such an order and removed from the Republic if such dependant has been
afforded a reasonable opportunity to apply for asylum but has failed to do so or if his or
her application for asylum has been rejected.

(4) Any refugee ordered to be removed under this section may be detained pending his 15
or her removal from the Republic.

(5) Any order made under this section must afford reasonable time to the refugee
concerned to obtain approval from any country of his or her own choice, for his or her
removal to that country.


Rule, Sheila.(1987) “Apartheid’s Foes Look to Their Plowshares”, New York Times.

African · Essays

My Black South African story…

Relocating to another country is never easy. I have done it a number of times, but it’s never something you are used to. The decision to relocate to South Africa from Nigeria came with a lot of thought and trepidation. It was a decision that I contemplated for over a year before I finally made it. Hence coming here, I had a number of fears; some of which included that I may not fit in, make friends or find a social structure that would accept me.

With all of these in mind, moving to South Africa and easily getting a flat share with a beautiful flat mate, within a house with a lovely white South African family was a massive load off my shoulder. It was and will always be my ‘South African Miracle’. My flat share was with a European lady, Bridget.  Bridget was a really lovely person, and she was white. This was not a concern for me as I have never really had a problem interacting with people who are different from me- Race, religion, tribe or nationality.

My first and closest encounter with black South Africans was with the domestic staff in the house. Jemimah was our cleaning lady. She was a middle aged woman, between the ages of 45 and 55, residing also in the house and had been in service to this family for a long time. She has had her own fair share of life’s ups and downs. Jemimah used to come in three times a week to wash and iron our dirty clothes.

After living in the flat for about 3 months, I noticed that every time she would do our washing she would bring them back and nicely place them on the bed for Bridget, whereas for me, she would just leave them in the dining area. She did this for a number of times and it made me wonder why.  This was coupled with the fact that I worked from home, hence I was constantly available to observe the discriminatory treatment given to mine different from my flat mate. In dealing with this, I consciously decided to be overly nice to her; buy her little gifts and give her treats from my baking escapades, in response to which I experienced short lived bursts of a somewhat equal treatment (smiles)

After nine months of hard work, Bridget was done with her studies and had to leave and then I got another European flat mate, Anna. Anna came in and straightaway, I noticed that she automatically earned Jemimah’s respect, I guess, as she was white too, because her washings will return nicely folded and placed on her bed. Thinking about all of this, I realised that it took me over nine months with my black African (Not South African) skin to earn a bit of respect from Jemimah, whilst on the ground of colour, these other ladies did not have to work. What I call my liability of colour.

To conclude, I understand that, South Africa has had a lot of history, one that I may read about, but never fully understand. I also understand that every individual interfaces with life in varying ways, which I respect. From my experience, I can, however, say that I have met a number of South Africans who are absolutely brilliant and who have been really nice and really friendly. So to draw a generalization across will be unfair to all of these really beautiful people.

I think South Africa is a country filled with beautiful people and with a rich and beautiful culture, one that I appreciate, love, and will learn from. X….Thanks

African · Essays


To think I never used to like my skin,

cursed into darkness from my heritage.

More than sun kissed,

but beaten and hardened into the coal of my DNA.

I despised it and often wondered why, wishing for a brighter future.

Shaking foundations of parenthood,

built on years and generations of culture. Never appreciating it’s history

and now it’s the one thing I love about myself the most.

Few have seen the way the sun does kiss my skin,

glistening and leaving it’s lip prints

sparkled across my body,

my chest attracting all the light

as waves ripple across my timeline

to the drumming of my heart beat.

My legs molded like an animal,

animal of the soil, cultivated

and grown into a fine pedigree.

True blood flows through these veins,

rivers of ancestry flowing in my arms

leaving a path of destruction.

My naive former self shed

and I love it.

I still don’t like my skin

but for other reasons now.

So I’m looking forward to the day

at age 60, like my father, un-cracked skin,

I will look back and realize how much of a fool I was.

Oh no, I am.

Bongani Kigundu

African · Essays

I’ve lost it

I was born under a Ugandan roof which fell in a Xhosa home. Which am I?

Grew up and started speaking a language foreign to both my parents and “me”…

Began learning more languages even more foreign and further away from my mother tongue. Languages from as far as Europe.

Picked up traditions from “kin” all around me when my own would’ve been enough.

This once empty vessel was being filled from all sides, shaped into a piece capable of fitting into a very large puzzle.

Molded to enter many gaps in that portrait we all fall under. And in each, the whole was broken into many, many lives, formed many, many identities.

Is each one a lie? Is there any truth?

Many know of me, but none know me.

I know you but only a handful know me. Only a handful can grasp at the understanding I have made myself into.

I don’t exist as one, I live as an abundance of cultural diversity.

Though I choose to show you one side, I am multi-dimensional.

I move through each one of you displaying traits you find welcoming. Inviting me in, sharing yourself with me.

Bongani Kigundu

African · Essays

I am African, I am black and I am unique

The side effects of being a third culture kid are plenty, chief amongst them for me, an East African born in Lesotho and raised in South Africa, is not ever really belonging anywhere. And being an African in diaspora on the African continent tinges that experience with your hue. My father was an English lecturer so despite the East African tilt in his English, his (and quite frankly my mother’s as well) enunciation is skewed towards the British, and so it was passed onto their offspring. Whether through nurture or nature, or both is unclear and well pretty irrelevant now. My mother has a deep base in her voice, a level found to be attractive in women and so she passed that onto her daughters, so coupled with my British-sounding accent and base undertones, I often hear “you have such a lovely accent” from those who are more aware of their perceptions and for those who are tone deaf to their prejudices it would be more like “oh, you speak so well” or “where did you learn how to speak so well”. To which I enjoy answering, “oh this accent? I got it in Mthatha”. The looks of sheer confusion are worth it. EV. RY. TIME.
Now being born in the early 80s, I got the ‘pleasure’ of growing up in South Africa during and post Apartheid. I got to see the shift in treatment, representation and media content. I was fortunate in that I was raised in a former Bantustan, Transkei, and so whilst racism still existed there, it wasn’t as blatant as signs with slegs blanke – whites only. I grew up in a diverse and international community in Mthatha (or Umtata as it was spelt then), with families from throughout the African continent including countries like Zambia, Ghana and Uganda, to Japan, Poland, Australia and the United States. There were mixed race families, and South African families. The school I went to was filled with mostly white kids, and a hodgepodge mix of our international community, and a sprinkling of black South African friends. I later came to learn that white South African kids could go to that school for free and others had to pay. My parents were fortunately in a position to pay for our school fees and so we were in the minority of a public school that was treated like a private school because it catered mainly to white children. We had some great times there. Annual camp outs on our school field, Guy Fawkes day celebratory bon fire, playing for almost every sports team at my school and travelling to other small towns for sports events. But somewhere lurking in this Stepford wives city, was something less perfect.
My parents have always spoken to us in Luganda, but they didn’t want us to stand out too much, so encouraged our usage of English to ensure we assimilated as easily as possible into the South African landscape. It was a novel idea, that if we spoke English well we would be seen as equals. So I perfected my South African English, untainted by any African influence barring the British enunciations, and made many white friends. Post 1994, we saw an influx of black South African students, and I think this was the first time that I noticed that I had very few black South African friends. Now, I had plenty of black Ugandan friends, but they were family friends, friends by design and not by choice. So, this was my first time to begin to make Xhosa friends or rather black friends by choice, and they were amazing. So strong willed and vocal, and funny. But more than just black South Africans, we also saw coloureds coming in. We had mixed raced kids, but no coloureds and so I met coloureds who spoke isiXhosa, and were just as vocal and strong willed as their Xhosa brethren but maybe just a little bit funnier. Suddenly my diverse world became even more colourful and diverse and I became aware of what I had been missing out on. This beautifully diverse country’s cultures had been hidden from me for 13 years. So when we moved to East London and I attended a girls only school, I was not going to make that mistake again. I was going to meet and make friends with as many people from different backgrounds and upbringing as possible.
Being an ambivert, making friends or rather initiating contact with random folks is cake. And as I was a sporty geek, I charmed by team mates, class mates and teachers with equal ease. I had inside jokes with the hockey girls, swapped book reviews with library nerds, designed plans of chaos with the rebels, and sat back and listened to the black girls. You see, what my juvenile mind didn’t quite grasp was that unlike me, the average black girl didn’t have the freedom to be themselves. They were still defined by their colour. The first time I became aware of how my blackness wasn’t treated the same as a South African’s blackness was when a ‘good friend’ of mine, a white girl from suburbia East London had asked me why I was becoming more black. I was confused? What did more black mean? Was I getting darker? Well yeah, every winter I would spend my break time sitting in the sun and yeah, I was getting darker but I didn’t see that as an issue and was confused why she was so interested in knowing, unless she wanted some trade secrets? So I asked her what she meant by that, and she casually stated that I had been hanging out with the black girls a lot lately. I walked away confused. One, I was black so why would me hanging with some of my kinfolk make me blacker? Two, what did blacker even mean? I always thought black was a descriptor for my skin tone and not my behaviour or culture but now, I wasn’t sure.
Slowly the scales on my rose tinted glasses began to loosen. I began to be aware of my colour, of how black girls tolerated me but never quite bonded with me; and how as much as I could be besties with my white classmates, I just wasn’t one of them. And as I grew older and began adulting, I became even more aware of my race. Not my skin tone, that’s a whole other story, but the associations made with it. From white, coloured and Indian South Africans, I was instantly viewed as incompetent, lazy and when they got drunk instantly sexualised. I can’t tell you how many white men after a few shots would tell me how beautiful I was and the all the myriad of things they wanted to do to me. In hindsight, I should have been disgusted, but my low self-esteem lapped that ish up. To black South Africans, I was greeted in vernac and when I responded in English, I have a basic understanding of isiXhosa – yeah I know, shameful, but I probably know more isiXhosa than I do Luganda, so it’s honestly nothing personal, I really just suck at languages. No really. I lived in South Korea for 3 whole years and my sum total of Hanguel-mal (Korean), I learnt in my first 6 months there. I felt like a rockstar there. I could catch a taxi and get home, order food over the phone and even set myself up with internet. But if I had actually grasped the language, my taxi rides would have been filled with cultural exchanges, I could have customised my orders, and I would have negotiated a cheaper internet subscription. So yeah, my language qualms are my burden  to bare that someday, I hope to bury or at least lighten. So, when I respond in English, a look of confusion clouds my brethren’s eyes, as they try to compute how I, a very clearly black woman, cannot speak their language. When I was younger I was called a coconut, someone who wanted to be white and pretended not to speak isiXhosa. Once I explained my ethnicity, this was met with even more disbelief, because “you’re too pretty to be amaGhana” or “but you’re not dark”. Again, skin tone issues that I won’t get into, I am not light skinned but I’m not that smooth, dark charcoal hue that I honestly envy, either. My name being Anglo-Saxon helped to bring them around though, a trick card that my sisters with their isiXhosa names didn’t have in their arsenal, so it took some serious debating skills, which they possessed mind you, but some cases left unconvinced. As I grew older though, they began to believe me more easily, my accent tended to be the convincing factor. What had once been a comment I had been accustomed to hearing from white people, I began to hear more and more black people either complement me over my how lovely my accent was or asking me where I was from. Honestly, they thought I was American or British and I suspect weren’t too happy to hear I was an African who had gained this accent on this continent. Which I totally get, right. An African so westernised that I am considered western, which ironically is only cool if I actually was raised in the west.
So I thought, yay, I am no longer considered a coconut. Because honestly, I love being black, but no, I was still seen as an other, and unlike a coconut who could be convinced to love herself, I was now a Kwere Kwere or Amaghana. I was either taking their jobs or men; or I was an ally to the white people so that they could demonstrate what a good black looked like; or I was this dirty, poor African coming to take advantage of their advanced economy and infrastructure instead of working to fix my home country. No-one asked me how I ended up in South Africa, nor why I stayed. No-one knew I was raised here from the age of 6 months and that my father had been invited here to help educate the next generation of South African black leaders because whilst South Africa lacked in Tertiary educators, the rest of the continent flourished in them. They didn’t know that as I was not born nor raised in Uganda, that I was not automatically made a citizen. I have to apply to be one, so every time I visit Uganda, I have to pay for a visa. My passport is South African, because I am a South African citizen, and more than just the passport, I am shaped by my experiences here. When I used to watch rugby, it was to support the Springboks or South African teams in the Super Cup. I love biltong and braais, I mix vernac – African and Afrikaans – in my speech, I use just now and now now with the best of them; and I honestly believed everyone knew that robots was the universal term for traffic lights. These may seem superficial, but there are countless experiences and encounters that I have experienced in South Africa that I wouldn’t have been exposed to had I been raised in Uganda or Tanzania, things that make me South African.
So now we get to the trifector, not only am I not considered exactly black and certainly not white by white South Africans, and as ‘not quite one of us’ by South African blacks, but I am considered to be a sellout by my African diaspora family because I embrace both my Ugandan and South African influences. You see, when other African diaspora meet me and I tell them I am South African, they are confused. They want me to openly say I am Ugandan, they don’t want me to ignoring my roots. They assume by acknowledging my South Africaness, I am denying my Ugandaness. Its funny how if I had been raised in the US or England and called myself British and American, or a hybrid version ergo Ugandan-American, no-one would bat an eyelid. But let me say I am South African-Ugandan and the world stops spinning. So if I really want to embrace my roots, then I would need to acknowledge not only my Ugandaness, but also my Tanzanian connections, which ironically tie me back to South Africa – long story short, I have a relative who was isiZulu, so ironically embracing all of me, has proven me to South African ethnically and not just culturally, well partially at least.
So, here I am. A black, African woman who wants to embrace her skin, her cultures, and her uniqueness. I want the innocence of choice that I had when I still wore my rose-tinted glasses, but to be bright eyed and clear in how I view the world and the people in it, embracing all of the varieties it has to offer me. I love my accent, and the privileges it offers me, but I want to shirk the shame of knowing I have it because I don’t speak another language natively and I have never even been to England. This can only happen once I can speak at least one African language conversationally, so wish me luck in my endeavours to achieve this feat.
So, I am going to own it. You know, fake it until I make it. I am African, I am black and I am unique.
About us

What are we about?

So, if you are from South Africa and in particular are an African diaspora in South Africa, you have heard the term KwereKwere thrown your way. I say thrown, because it is most certainly not meant to be a compliment, it is meant to throw you off guard and hit you where it hurts most and so in essence, it is a verbal assault.

There are plenty of theories around where it started, who started it and whether or not it is meant to be an insult, but much like N*gger and K*affir could have originally had a less nefarious meaning, no-one cares. And much like that, neither do we.

So, I have had moments when I was about to pick up my shoe and beat a person with it for having called me a KwereKwere, I wondered what would happen if we took back the power, took that word and made it our own in the fashion of how the African Americans have owned N*gger? Now, I’m not saying we should start songs were we refer to other African diaspora in South Africa as KKs but rather it be the starting position that connects our shared and varied experiences of being “an other” on our home continent.

I recently came across the award winning book, The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla, which is a collection of essays by British Immigrants about their experiences and wondered, and thought, why don’t we do the same here? And if you have read the collection of essays by black South Africans on their post-Apartheid experience in the We write what we like book by Yolisa Qunta, you know that now is clearly the time for collective voices to share their stories from their point of view, unapologetically.

So that’s what this blog is for, a platform to collect stories from African diaspora in South Africa. Their shared and varying experiences, their expectations, realities and hopes. They will be lawyers, students, migrant workers, journalists, actors, writers, artists, diplomats, travellers. All of them in South Africa for a different reason, but all of them sharing one thing in common, being Amakwerekwere.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I know that I am going to.