Home » General » Xenophobia, Like Apartheid, Is an Ugly Thing [column]

“As a woman, I am not only shocked, but also ask myself why today’s generation cannot follow in the footsteps of those who fought for Africa’s Independence, because they walked as a united people?”

ON Monday, Africa commemorates the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (African Union) under the theme: “We are Africa: Opening the doors of learning and culture to promote peace and friendship from Cape to Cairo”.

This year, we again remember the day with sombre hearts. We have made a lot of progress in the past 52 years, but despite the founding principles, why should undemocratic means be used to illegally grab power as what nearly happened in Burundi last week? Why should Africa’s newest nation, South Sudan be at war with itself a few years after its Independence?

But the clouds that hover around Africa during May Day are the xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa. It shook the continent and the very foundations of African unity and peaceful co-existence.

The AU chairperson’s remarks when he was in Mali recently to witness the signing of a peace agreement touch on some of these issues.

President Mugabe bemoaned: “But I come with a heart that is split. I come with a mind that is confused. How can Mali do this? Who are those who are for disunity? I came now as Chair of our AU. I am also Chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and I am also President of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, born of your efforts born of the efforts of Modibo Keita and the others. (President Ibrahim Boubacar) Keita told me this is upon my arrival he said, ‘My brother, my brother, I said to myself: What is better to fight and have violence than to talk even to my small brothers, even to the small parties? They are all my people and I will talk to them rather than choose to fight them.'”

Civil strife leave people traumatised and the main victims are women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

“If South Africans really had the respect they showed President Nelson Mandela during his lifetime, which implied that they understood what he and the ANC stood for, why is it that a year after his death, we see a repeat of the xenophobic attacks of 2008? The recent attacks were uglier than 2008 because it affected nationals from nearly every African country.

“As a woman, I am not only shocked, but also ask myself why today’s generation cannot follow in the footsteps of those who fought for Africa’s Independence, because they walked as a united people?”

These were part of the sentiments that a 70-year old mother of seven and grandmother of 12 Mrs Philda Chikerema, the wife of nationalist James Dambaza Chikerema expressed when she called on all African mothers to raise up their voices to God, and pray so that “this ugly thing” (xenophobia) comes to an end.

Mrs Chikerema told The Herald on Tuesday: “It’s important because we are one. And they are our own children who are killing each other — sowing seeds of hatred and division on the continent when it is time for us to show each other love. The implementation cannot just come from talking. It can only come from prayer.”

It was evident that this was an issue that greatly disturbed her, just like it did a large number of people on the continent. The writer asked her to articulate she was making this call.

Below is Mrs Philda Chikerema’s story:

“I feel that people should be educated because sometimes they do things out of ignorance. When I say people must be educated, I am referring to the attackers and their victims. And, when I say that it is because of ignorance, it is because of lack of respect for what people from other countries did for the Independence that we have — people like Nelson Mandela and the way he respected other founder members of African nationalism like President Mugabe and how they fought for one man, one vote and the respect for all nations. They did it together as a unified force.

“Zambia’s founding President Dr Kenneth Kaunda used to come here, so too Malawi’s late President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, before their independence. Their zeal was to see that apartheid and the ugly ways of the whites were removed. They worked together with one goal — to free South Africa, as well as Zimbabwe. That was their aim — for a free country where people also possess their land.

“So now, with these xenophobic attacks, I don’t understand why some South Africans are attacking people from other countries. There should be respect and love for each other because people like Mrs Victoria Chitepo is a South African and also one of the freedom fighters of this country. So too, the late Mrs Ruth Chinamano! With this kind of relationship and history, how should we then separate each other?”

The writer asked Mrs Chikerema how the xenophobic attacks impacted on cultural, economic and social relations in the region considering that Nelson Mandela’s widow Mrs Graca Machel, a Mozambican national saw her compatriots like Emmanuel Sithole killed in full view of people. Does it mean that even at the highest levels, marriage was failing to bring the people of Africa together?

Mrs Chikerema remarked, “The sad bit is that most of the African National Congress cadres went through Mozambique and President Jacob Zuma used to be their country representative. They were taken care of by a lady called Emily Nkosi, who was married to a Mozambican. President Zuma knows that. So, I don’t understand how he feels about this thing.

“Despite cementing our ties through marriage, we fought side by side in order to overcome an ugly thing which was there — the apartheid system, so that in a free society, we would respect each other. How then does this xenophobia come when we walked side-by-side for such a long time? Why should we have it?

“It is very sad and disturbing because South Africans should have the pride that they triggered during the freedom struggle. They should be proud about that. Look at Mahatma Gandhi. He started his feelings of fighting the oppressors from South Africa. So, they should be proud that they are the breadbasket of nationalism in Southern Africa.

“It would have been good if they had asked what they should do since there were many migrants in their country. We are there to help each other.

“At one point, countries like Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia had too many people from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, .etc who were not adding value to their economies. But they did not chase them away, just because they wanted their governments to create jobs.

“This is why we had the late Brigadier General Hashim Mbita. He is the one who helped all the liberation movements and almost all these freedom fighters who were trained in Tanzania, Zambia — countries that did not have a lot of money. When he travelled throughout the region he had that sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that he had done his work well, only to be spoilt just before he died. And, he died leaving this ugly thing – xenophobia.

“That is why I said mothers in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, in Mozambique, in Zambia, in Malawi and a mothers in Botswana should raise up their voices to God so that this ugly thing is stopped. This call to prayer is especially for our own nation. We are neighbours with South Africa. These borders are just meaningless and artificial because we are one people, one nation as President Kaunda loved to say.

“Something must be done to stop this xenophobia, once and for all. As I said earlier, the best way is also for us to educate our children about where we are coming from, and how important it is for us to co-exist peacefully, because of the foundations of our struggle. We send our children to school, but they must know the history of our countries.

“Look at the legacy that President Mugabe is bequeathing through education?

“He is sending a lot of them to universities in South Africa. That should be respected.

“Finally, we must never forget that the nationalists fought for the freedom of our countries from a united front. They didn’t bother about whatever was going to happen to them. But why can’t our generation be caring,” asked Mrs Chikerema?

Source : The Herald