http://nigeriaworld .com/articles/ 2008/may/ 221.html
When Blacks Turn Against Blacks
Stan Chu Ilo
Hastings, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Notwithstanding the debate in Quebec and some of the debate during the Ontario election campaign, I first of all think immigrants come to this country to belong to this country…I also think that the Canadian approach to this, which is a mixture of integration and accommodation, for a lack of a better term, is the right approach. -Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper speaking on Canadian immigration policy, December 23, 2007.
Many people who have followed post-apartheid South African society will not be surprised at present and ongoing uprising of South African Blacks against Black migrants in Alexandra, Johannesburg. This was a crisis in the making. There are three fault lines that have developed since the end of apartheid and the introduction of Black majority rule in South Africa: The first is the internal crisis and conflict of identity among the Black South Africans themselves. Many young Black South Africans, especially those who were born in the late 60's and early 70's, never had an opportunity to develop their skills or attain any level of educational or professional competence. Most of them were sired in the revolutionary anti-apartheid movement of the 70's characterized by militancy and
rebellion. With the end of apartheid, these young men were left in the broken lower rungs of social progress, stifled as persons in the choking economic dungeons of poverty and existential insouciance.
The victorious elites of the ruling party, the ANC, who took the reins of power at all levels failed to address the needs of these young people and the burgeoning Black families who were waking up from the long night of depersonalization and cultural asphyxiation. Their concerns were blithely papered over as temporary social problems that will disappear as the gains of Black majority rule begin to trickle down. Unfortunately, close to two decades after the end of apartheid, the challenges of these lost generations of South Africans have not been addressed. The post-Mandela ANC has continued to lose legitimacy as South African Blacks move from the euphoria of freedom to the stark reality of Black social apartheid that is widening the economic divide between the White South Africans and the Blacks, and among the Blacks themselves and other colored but marginalized citizens of South Africa. The ruling party has not seriously addressed the needs of the lost generation as well as the Black community as a whole as poverty continues to spread like wild fire among young Blacks and their families, and the number of the unemployed and unemployable Black South Africans continues to increase exponentially; while HIV/AIDS continues to eat away the vibrant portion of a palpably restive Black community.
This situation has given rise to the second fault line in South Africa. There is real anger among young Black South Africans. In the early days of the post-apartheid era, the anger among the lost generation was directed against fellow South Africans, fueled by the unrepentant stand of the Inkatha Freedom Party which felt that the ANC under Mandela has sold out to the White settlers. The Black South Africans turned against themselves in those early days in what many thought would play into the false White bifurcated vision of the Black personality as vaunting, aggressive, violent, and resistant to order and good governance. It was a mini-apocalypse as young Black South Africans turned against each other in an orgy of violence and blood-letting. Their passion and hope for a new and prosperous country was not balanced with a delayed gratification that demanded the necessary sacrifice and enduring the inevitable pain that come with moving from hope to achievement.
Another reality that prepared the grounds for the present crisis is the violence in South Africa as a whole. South Africa is a very violent country, indeed the most violent country in Africa and second to Brazil in the rate of violent crime globally. Almost everyone has access to guns, machetes, or the panga. These weapons are easily made by the many blacksmiths and local manufacturers who in the immediate past, secretly produced and armed Black South Africans in the liberation battle against the White supremacists. Thus, with a low self-esteem, lacking any education, fueled by crumbling social structures, deprived of any sense of purpose, and with no clear signs of progress or self or group transcendence over the mounting social and economic challenges of the day, the young Black South African of today is understandably angry. A biting absolute poverty always leads to violence, but poverty does not legitimize violence. But the logic of peace and reconciliation which is being promoted in the various youth camps run by the Tutu Peace foundation in many provinces in South Africa is not being bought by young South Africans who are uneducated, sick, hungry, angry, and whose hopes are fading as they see the receding horizons of hope and meaning. These angry but vibrant young South Africans reveal a thin tipping point of the searing tinder box on which the Rainbow nation has been sitting for a long time.
The violence of Black South Africans against the over 3 million Black migrants from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi etc is the symptom of a deeper social and economic malaise in South Africa. A country that is internally at war with herself cannot produce citizens who are at peace with foreigners. In the past, the native Black South Africans saw the White settlers take over their land with its wealth and fortune, and subsequently subjected Blacks to internal slavery for more than a century and half. Today, the Black South Africans faced with a shattered social system and decaying economic structures, and wallowing in the filthy squalor of want in the midst of wealth, see in the new 'settler migrants' a new threat to their survival. The hostility of the native South Africans to fellow Blacks is another reflection of the lack of integration within the South African society. It also points to the many wounded hearts and heads that need a more realistic social engineering and an organic healing of memory beyond the highly publicized truth and reconciliation commission. There are millions of Black South Africans who are losing hope in the new reality ushered in by Black majority rule. These are the ones who killed Lucky Dube, they are the ones who see Tabo Mbeki as elitist and will love to see his back. These are the ones who are rooting for Zuma because he appears to be one with them even if he carries a moral albatross. These Blacks find new forms of expression through violence against fellow Blacks in Pretoria, Diepsloot, and Alexandra and through uncontrollable violent crimes and drugs.
The streets will soon be cleaned of the burnt corpses and damaged cars, houses and stalls, but something deeper is burning in South Africa that needs to be recovered: Hope is burning in South Africa. A new narrative is needed in South Africa that should seek the reconciliation of the Black South Africans with themselves. The typical Black South African is homeless not in a physical sense of the absence of houses, but at a deeper existential level. They are suffering from an absence of the inner fulfillment and self-contentment that arise spontaneously from one's general condition of being at peace with oneself, with one's culture, one's nation and with other people and the world of nature and the supernatural. This is a task which Mandela began but which Mbeki has ignored to the peril of his country and the entire Black race. Reconciliation in South Africa can only be real when the feuding ethnic Black nationalities come to terms with themselves and the new identity and reality that today's South Africa presents. This demands a commitment to distributive, commutative, and social justice, which reweaves the licking nets of economic and social equilibrium in South Africa. South Africa should be home to all Africans because when the dignity of the Black person was insulted and abused by apartheid, Africans everywhere felt humiliated and degraded. The conquest of freedom in South Africa was the result of the cumulative anger and activism by Africans everywhere supported by men and women of goodwill all over the world. But today the freedom that is lacking in South Africa and the rest of the continent is the freedom every citizen should have to pursue their ordered ends and attain a measure of human and cultural fulfillment.
The condition of South Africa today is clear and simple: This is a nation in dire need of reconciliation and wrenching in the heat of historical injustice. Until this is done, no one is safe in that troubled land, especially Black South Africans and Blacks from outside South Africa. This reality should remind Africans of another truth which we often ignore: Africans from the African continent need reconciliation with who they are and with their fellow Africans. It amazes me how many of us Africans living in Western countries assume that rights and privileges, equality and fair treatment from foreign countries are simply ours to claim, if we cannot have them in our respective countries. How many of us who complain when we suffer racism abroad can say that we have overcome racial and ethnic blinkers? We expect White people in the Western world to accept us, grant us residence permit, citizenship, jobs, and other claims and prerogatives. We expect to prosper on foreign soils, as long as we work hard or as long as we play the game. Indeed, many of us leave Nigeria and live abroad because we expect better life abroad and to find a true and peaceful home in the Western world. We cannot find a home abroad if we cannot find it 'at home.'
Unfortunately, many of us Nigerians in spite of our education and famed religious grandstanding still carry a heavy baggage of bias and prejudice based on ethnic groupings. We are thus held internally captive because of acquired or inherited untested time-crusted categorizations and platitudes about people outside our visible cultural or ethnic or class identities. Even among the same ethnic group, there are bias, prejudices, profiling, and hatred based on clannish considerations and state of origin. How integrated is Nigerian society? Nigeria like most other African countries is in dire need of integration.
The Pan-Africanists of the early 20th century had as their motto, a "Back to Africa" campaign. They were driven by an uncritical innocent idealism that Africa is home to all Africans. It should be true then and should be true even in our times. How wrong the Pan-Africanists were to think that the diasponic movement to far flung territories by people of African descent could be resolved through a return to Mother Africa, our true home. Is it not a tragedy that Africa is no longer a home for Africans except when they flee abroad or when they fly to the small and shrinking safety of their small ethnic nationalities or nationally defined ethnic identities? Is it not a shame that Blacks are killing fellow Blacks in African land, replicating the cycle of violence and decay that are so often the case in the Black neighborhoods of Toronto, Chicago, Houston, New York, Paris, Marseille and Brescia? Cry beloved ancestors!
http://www.pambazuk a.org/en/ category/ panafrican/ 45870
Makwerekwere: Black South Africa's Instant-Mix Kaffirs Pius Adesanmi
Pius Adesanmi comments on the Amakwerekwere syndrome - South Africa's xenophobia.
The letters came within two days of each other. The first was an invitation from Professor Georges Hérault, Director of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS). Three years after my last visit to South Africa to assess the perception of Francophone African literatures in that country's universities, IFAS was again inviting me as visiting scholar. The second was from Chris Dunton, the well-known British Professor of African literatures who is now Chair of the English Department of the National University of Lesotho at Roma. Like Hérault, Dunton was inviting me to Lesotho as visiting scholar to present a Faculty of Arts Guest Lecture. I arranged a few other engagements and braced up for a very engaging psychic reconnection with the African continent.
I needed the return to Africa badly. I had been away from that continent for an uncomfortable stretch, carrying out my scholarly labor in the minefield of North American academe, writing Africa "from a rift", as Achille Mbembe would put it. I also needed the trip for other reasons. I needed a reprieve from the oppression of the image: the North American media image of Africa. The African living here is in constant danger of accepting whatever image of Africa s/he is presented by the media as gospel truth. In North America, I have been consistently assailed, assaulted, and oppressed with images of Africa traceable to the colonial library: Africa-as-AIDS, Africa-as-hunger, Africa-as-civil war, Africa-as-corruption, Africa-as-the- antithesis- of-democracy, Africa-as-everythin g-we-are- glad-not- to-be. You get tired of the ritual of explaining to charmingly ignorant interlocutors that there is a fundamental distinction between the Africa they see on CNN and the real Africa.
I also wanted a break from Occidentalism. Fernando Coronil, the scholar who coined this term takes great pains to explain that it is not the reverse of Edward Said's Orientalism. Coronil uses the newer concept to account for those discursive, usually innocuous processes through which the West turns difference into hierarchy and reproduces existing asymmetrical power relations. Occidentalism covers all the mundane quotidian events through which the West constantly reminds the immigrant of his otherness, strangeness, and difference:
"Oh, I love your accent. It's awesome. Where is that from?"
"Nigeria? You mean Nicaragua?"
This often-repeated, seemingly innocent "compliment" is usually the beginning of encounters that inevitably remind the immigrant that he does not belong… Departure date finally came around. "Be careful. Urban violence is rife in South Africa", the Nigerian friends who drove me to the airport warned. I shrugged and dismissed their anxiety. There may be violence in South Africa; I certainly was not going to be scared of returning to Africa. I wasn't going to be afraid of Black people in Africa. I arrived Johannesburg on a cold July morning. A delighted Georges Hérault was on hand at the airport to welcome me. We drove straight to the offices of IFAS located in the downtown area of Johannesburg. After signing my research contract papers and meeting some of the new members of the IFAS Research team, I announced to Hérault that I was going to take a stroll in the busy streets around IFAS. I was eager to get a feel of the same streets I had seen two years earlier. Hérault's countenance changed. "Be careful. Don't go out there with your wallet. You could get mugged." I assured Hérault I would be all right but took the precaution of leaving my valuables in his office.
I started my walk, my reconnection with African soil, on the busy Bree street. For someone who had walked the same street three years earlier, I could not help but observe the heavy Black presence. Like the Hillbrow area, Blacks have taken over downtown Johannesburg. The official principle of separate development through which racial segregation was enforced under Apartheid seems to have been replaced by what one may call an unofficial principle of voluntary separation. While separate development instituted an order in which Blacks had to move out
whenever Whites moved in, as was the case in Sophiatown, voluntary separation now induces Whites to move out quietly whenever and wherever Blacks move in. Downtown Johannesburg is a vivid example of a space in which this new South African drama is being played out. This space, which was still predominantly white during my earlier visit, has been taken over by Blacks. In large office complexes and shopping malls, one does not fail to notice the ubiquitous "To Let" signs, evidence of white retreat to other "safe" areas of the city like Rosebank or back "home" to Britain, Holland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
I stopped for a light lunch at a KFC outlet, my mind busy taking in the new realities. I finished my lunch and went back into the street. I was about to cross a busy intersection when a street sign told me I was on Fox street. Fox street! I had heard a lot of terrifying things about that street since my last trip to South Africa. It is said to be one of the most violent streets in Johannesburg. One could get mugged or killed for as little as a hundred South African rands. I looked around me anxiously. I was surrounded by a sea of inscrutable Black faces. I touched my forehead and found out, much to my irritation, that I was perspiring profusely. It was winter in South Africa! And to my utter embarrassment, I discovered that I relaxed and felt safer each time white faces appeared in the crowd. Here was I, a Black man, looking anxiously for white faces to feel safe from Black violence in an African city! And to think that back in Canada, I had dismissed insinuations that I could be scared of "Black violence" in South Africa! I reluctantly came to the realization that I was far more affected by the oppression of the image than I had been willing to admit. The image of the post-apartheid Black condition in South Africa is constantly constructed in the Western media around the problem of violence. Such stereotypical and prejudicial narrativizations of Black South Africa always have two constantly-repeated , over-sensationalize d buzzwords: mugging, robbery. That image had quietly slipped into my subconscious and was responsible for my feeling so uneasy amidst my own kind in a busy street in Johannesburg. I hurried back to IFAS.
On hearing that I had arrived in Johannesburg, Professor Harry Garuba came from his base in the University of Cape Town to spend a weekend with me. As Harry and I hadn't seen each other since 1996, we had a riotously joyful reunion. The following day, we hit town. Harry wanted to see downtown Johannesburg. He also needed to go to the Consulate-General of Nigeria in Rosebank. As we meandered our way through the ever busy Bree street, Harry could not help observing how filthy downtown Johannesburg had become. I had made the same disturbing observation myself the day I arrived but had been reluctant to accept the disturbing fact that decay of public infrastructure seems to be the story in areas of the city inhabited by Blacks. Predominantly Black areas have become an eyesore. The beautiful lawns and flowerbeds I noticed in some areas three years earlier now tell sad stories of degradation. Some of them have become open-air urinals. Harry and I were worried. We tried to place ourselves in the shoes of White South Africans discussing the now filthy streets of Hillbrow and downtown Johannesburg: "Ah, the good old days of Apartheid!"
When Harry concluded his business at the Nigerian consulate, we took a bus and headed back to Georges Hérault's residence. I still don't know what it was about us that gave us away as foreigners but the other passengers, all Blacks, lapsed into an uneasy silence as soon as we entered. I looked at the faces around us and thought I saw hostility. The tension was so thick in the air you could cut it with a knife. Harry confirmed my worst fears when we left the bus. I had just experienced, firsthand, South African xenophobia and I was to experience it again and again throughout my three-month sojourn in that country. Harry explained to me – with the coolness of someone used to it - that the Black South African passengers on the bus had identified us as makwerekwere, hence the naked hostility. Makwerekwere is the derogatory term used by Black South Africans to describe non-South African blacks. It reminds one of how the ancient Greeks referred to foreigners whose language they did not understand as the Barbaroi. To the Black South African, makwerekwere refers to Black immigrants from the rest of Africa, especially Nigerians. I was confounded by the fact that Black South Africa had begun to manufacture its own kaffirs so soon after apartheid.
As I later discovered after a series of encounters, Black South Africans have found an easy explanation for the myriad problems of poverty, housing, transportation, unemployment, crime, violence, decay of public and social infrastructure. "Ah, the makwerekwere! These Nigerians are all criminals! When they are not busy trafficking drugs, they are taking over our jobs, our houses and, worse, our women. All foreigners must leave this country!" What Salman Rushdie refers to as a "demonizing process" of the Other is at work here and the consequences are predictably disastrous. There is so much anger and frustration among the Nigerians I met in South Africa. Most of them have become paranoid, living permanently in fear. In a discussion with some Nigerian medical doctors in Pretoria, I observed that their anger is directed more at Black South African leaders. "Imagine these South Africans treating us like this. They think Apartheid came to an end because they fought in Sharpeville and Soweto. It means Mandela never told them the truth. Mbeki never told them the truth."
The doctors were referring to Nigeria's heavy moral, political, and financial investment in the anti-Apartheid struggle. Nigeria's financial and political commitment to that cause was total and unflinching. In the 1970s-80s, the South African freedom struggle was completely woven into Nigeria's national imaginary, so much so that a Nigerian leader, Olusegun Obasanjo, suggested we mobilized "African juju" and other maraboutic forces of African sorcery to attack Pieter Botha and free our black brothers in South Africa. And he wasn't joking. Every Nigerian musician, from reggae singers to fuji musicians in the Yoruba tradition, waxed radical anti-Apartheid lyrics to energize the 1970s – 1980s. "Who owns the land, who owns the land? We want to know who owns Papa's land", crooned Sonny Okosuns. Majek Fashek, the reggae man replied: "Now, now, now, Margaret Thatcher, free Mandela"! Victor Eshiet of The Mandators screamed: "Truth is our right, Jah is our might, we must free South Africa".
Everywhere you turned in the Nigeria of those heady decades, freedom for Black South Africans was the dominant national agenda. Black South Africans, including President Thabo Mbeki and Ezekiel Mpahlele, found warmth, hospitality, and friendship during their years of exile in Nigeria. Many of Black South Africans attended Nigerian Universities on Nigerian scholarships. When it became clear that South African whites, like their European and American kinsmen, were determined to make peaceful change impossible and make violent change inevitable, Nigerians donated money to the armed struggle. Personally, I recall donating money during special anti-Apartheid fundraisers as a high school student in Nigeria. In view of this, the Nigerians I met in South Africa had only two words to describe the attitude of Black South Africans to them: collective amnesia.
Prejudice has been the force majeure of so much of human history. Our pantheon of small-minded hate is formidable: Christian prejudice manufactured the unbeliever; Islamic prejudice manufactured the infidel; heterosexual prejudice manufactured the faggot; patriarchal prejudice manufactured the hysteric; European prejudice manufactured the native; American prejudice manufactured the nigger; German prejudice manufactured the Jew; Israeli prejudice manufactured the Araboushim; Afrikaner prejudice manufactured the kaffir. Not to be outdone, Black South Africa has manufactured the makwerekwere as her unique post-Apartheid contribution to this gory pantheon. The joy of your instant-mix coffee (Nescafé) or your instant-mix powdered milk is the considerable labor and hassle it saves you. Just pour water, add sugar to taste, and your drink is ready. The makwerekwere is Black South Africa's instant-mix kaffir, very easily produced with minimum labor.
* Pius Adesanmi is Associate Professor of English and Director, Project on New African Literatures ( www.projectponal. com) at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Apart from his academic work, Dr. Adesanmi publishes opinion articles regularly in various internet fora. He runs a regular blog for The Zeleza Post ( www.zeleza.com) where this article first appeared. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Slepton and Chimurenga online.