Talk of xenophobia may have died down in the past few weeks, but it is an ongoing issue that South Africans need to stay aware of. Moono Chungu, an Embizweni guest writer addresses xenophobia.
As many South Africans say, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (a person is a person because of other people), but xenophobia in South Africa has corrupted the implication of this peaceful proverb.
Margaret Mwape, a Zambian, third year Law student at Rhodes University, explained how xenophobia affected her friend who wished to remain anonymous.
“Being a first year student, she didn’t know what to expect from the xenophobic attacks,” Mwape said. “Once she was in town looking for a pair of boots. She went into a boutique and asked if they had her shoe size. Surprisingly, the attendant said ‘I don’t speak English. Can you tell me in your language?’ She realised he was lying because he spoke English fluently; and she thought he had noticed her Zambian accent. She was forced to lie that she’s a Zulu girl named Makaziwe.”
Mwape added that her friend’s fear prohibited her from performing errands. She couldn’t be proud of embracing her nationality when the xenophobic attacks began.“After that incident, she avoided going to town for about two weeks,” she said.
Mwape explained that her friend had experienced xenophobia in the University as well. “In the dining hall, a serving lady greeted her in isiXhosa once and she told her she doesn’t understand the language. Ever since that day, the lady is mean to her. She even goes to the extent of talking about her, forgetting that she has South African friends who can translate for her. Once she even chased my friend away [forcing her] to get food from the other side because she always goes to be served by her,” said Mwape.
Preacher Mzamo Mjoli of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa expressed utter disappointment about the recent xenophobic attacks that began in Durban.“The attacks shocked me, but more than anything else, they annoyed me because we are all Africans,” said Mjoli. “Before gaining independence, we were all just one Africa, so the word ‘foreigner’ should not even exist in Africa. We are all simply Africans.”
The preacher urged the president to implement a law that will protect all non-South Africans in the country.“The government needs to play a vital role in protecting foreigners. The president should not just condemn xenophobia in parliament,” Mjoli proposed. “He needs to execute a plan that is seen by every African.”
Mjoli said that the xenophobic attacks will affect the citizens of South African because countries around the world will begin to distrust all South Africans.“As a preacher, I cannot only concentrate on the Bible. In my sermon, I need to demonstrate to my congregation that we are all Africans and should treat each other with respect.” he said.
Portia Munaka, a Zimbabwean hairdresser, struggled to comment on the xenophobic attacks. “I don’t know what to say,” she said, distressed. “I knew I would be safe, but the killings were unbearable to other foreigners.”
However, Munaka said she appreciates places like Grahamstown because she believes it is safer for foreigners than other places in the country.“I’m glad that I live in a town as safe as Grahamstown. I would actually invite my family to come to South Africa; as long as they are in Grahamstown or Port Elizabeth, they are safe [here],” she said.
Indeed xenophobia has killed people, but it has also killed dreams, hopes, and trust. No nation can function without the contact of other nations. There is no strength without unity. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. #Xenophobia must fall.