SA xenophobia: When begging becomes a right!

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“JACOB Zuma is right to ask: What are they (foreigners) doing in his country? Some of us who are foreigners (elsewhere) have the cheek to demand from host countries what we could not, and will not, demand from our own governments. We ran away from our poverty and war and violence. We could not, and will not, confront the dictators who have torn our countries apart and destroyed our future. Now we are demanding respect from those sheltering us. Look at yourself in the mirror. Go back to your dictator and make these demands!”

This was Wonder Guchu, my fellow journalist and writer who now lives in exile, writing on the wall of his Facebook account in early 2015 shortly after xenophobic attacks had erupted in South Africa.
Guchu was on the side of those who appeared to understand how thoroughly miffed South Africans — who are being crowded out socio-economically by the several millions pouring daily from all over the continent — should be.
Guchu was writing at a time Zimbabwean pressure groups were dragging Zuma and his government to court for alleged dereliction of duty as far as the protection of (the mostly illegal) foreigners was concerned.
Earlier on, prominent Mozambican journalist, Mia Couto, had addressed a scathing open letter to Zuma, reminding the latter of the days Maputo had played host to Zuma and other exiled South African liberation fighters who needed safe bases whence to fight the apartheid regime. Zuma politely thanked the veteran Mozambican journalist and reminded him that Pretoria was obliged for kindnesses to Maputo and other African capitals, but that did not give everyone the “Open Sesame!” to enter, work and stay in the country illegally.
From his stilted tone, Couto was clearly on the side of the “pay-back-time!” brigade which is stridently arguing that because the complicated birth of South Africa had many midwives, the baby owes a permanent debt of gratitude to all Africans and therefore cannot say or do anything even if the population of the entire continent were to gravitate across Limpopo River.
Nigerians, who were the first targets of the latest round of xenophobic attacks, are even claiming that they contributed US$61 billion towards fighting apartheid. From the look of things, this was money invested, from which a bumper return is expected!
Being a Zimbabwean, for fear of being excoriated, as being less patriotic — the common connotative term is “sell-out!”— I will “hire” someone to express the point that I would want to drive home.
The start of xenophobic attacks and their regrettable deaths triggered harsh exchanges from both sides of the emotive Afrophobic debate. This served to remind me of the following passage, which I came across while reading one of my fellow countryman, Milton Kamwendo’s highly motivational articles:
“When you drive through many residential or city areas you are touched by the plight of the poor. What is most touching is coming to a halt at a traffic light and a little child presses his nose on your driver window with tearful eyes, hungry chapped lips, torn clothes and a stretched out begging hand. Sometimes in the place of the child there is a mother, with a baby strapped on her, begging her way through life. Sometimes it is a blind person being led along by a juvenile who should be in school. This scene is played over and over again every day in many places in the world. Sometimes the cases are genuine and at times it is unfortunate because begging would have become an addictive enterprise. For many it is easier to beg than to work or think. Drive off the traffic light, you are wrenched within but feel powerless and confused. Is this life? How do you bring change or hope?
“The beggar spirit plays out at all levels: personal, family, organisational and country levels. The roots of this spirit are self-pity and laziness. Many people go through life expecting someone to feel pity for them and carry their burden through life’s gates while they stroll along to the march of the donor bandwagon. Thinking like a victim disables creativity and innovation and blinds true vision. Things do not change because you count yourself among the unfortunate and glorify your miseries and feel you deserve showers of pity. Change only comes through taking responsibility and challenging yourself to be better and to take action. Unless that internal push is there, no one can push you far…”


President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma

The bulk of the arguments that have been adduced by most of those who have been outraged by South African’s alleged “Afrophobic” attitude are primarily grounded in this bizarre sense of entitlement that we fondle towards South Africa… that no matter how burdensome we become, the fact that we once carried them on our backs in their childhood and or sick days, they are forever indebted to us.
Just like in Couto’s letter to Zuma, our positions are vehemently argued with polished performances that juggle ‘butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth’ innocence with self-righteous anger and contrived indignation.
A man who does not want to work in order to feed his family will blame his relatives or neighbours of being bad relatives or bad neighbours. All his energies will instead be marshalled towards assembling an impressive roll call of “reasons” (which to all intents and purposes are merely lame excuses) why he should not quietly shoulder his own burden.
He-eh I paid fees for my brother’s education… he-eh I carried my sister across a flooded river… he-eh were it not for me your father would not have been a chief… he-eh had I not lent you my bull, you would not be having this big herd of cattle… he-eh were it not for my good sister who I convinced to accept your hand in marriage… he-eh there is strength in numbers… he-eh the Good Book in Matthew Chapter 7, verse 7 enjoins us to take care of one another… the list is endless. Via such clever-sounding arguments, one spiv after another would try their best to shirk off their own basic responsibilities.
These xenophobic attacks taking place in South Africa are very bad. And tempers appear to be threatening to go through the ceiling, which makes an already bad situation worse. This is very sad, but true. But it is understandable among human beings. That is why all those silly wars have taken place since the beginning of time. Living together in amity — especially with the increasing shortages of resources — is proving to be a will-o’-the-wisp, an ideal which humanity might have to chase to the end of time.
That explains why, since the beginning of time, human beings started putting themselves into artificial paddocks and sub-paddocks as they sought to keep themselves away from those that they believed were different or inferior (and therefore a grave danger) to them.
This is how the notion of countries, races, tribes, religions and the whole caboodle human beings have — since time immemorial — tried to separate themselves from one another.
National borders do not exist for decorative purposes… it is an accepted fact that the human specie, just like many others, is selfish and individualistic. Suppose there were no national boundaries, how would anyone address me? I am called a Zimbabwean. Suppose the whole world was just one nameless compound, how would I be differentiated from possibly another journalist and writer in Honduras who goes by the same name?
A family is the smallest social unit, and where on this earth can people move freely enjoying themselves from one door to the next, ad infinitum? At some point, these freeloaders will exhaust the hospitality of even the most generous of hosts, and they will naturally be asked where they came from, and to please go back there, no matter their reasons or excuses!
If a snake enters a man’s house, does he relocate to near-permanently stay with the next-door neighbour without appearing to vitiate the natural spirit of good neighbourliness? Or they must just see how far the neighbour can help them in getting rid of the snake, which duty primarily remains their own?
South Africa is for South Africans first and foremost, and those people should have the free right to decide who they want to deal with, when and to what extent… just as citizens of my own country Zimbabwe should have the same right. In 1983, Nigerians expelled over a million Ghanaians from their country in retaliation for past expulsions of Nigerians from Ghana. There is nothing out of the ordinary about someone not being welcome somewhere.
Zimbabwe’s Shona sages have the saying: Mwana wamambo muranda kumwe (a prince is a slave somewhere else) meaning the further one walks away from home, their rights and privileges diminish correspondingly. The world might be called a global village, but rights and privileges are never universal.
The point here is, even after your life-changing help, I don’t have to be forced to like you until the Second coming. This is the message South Africans are giving to their African “brothers and sisters”. This brotherhood and sisterhood is now increasingly appearing more rape-like than the normal consensual intercourse.
It should be South Africans — out of their own volition… without being blackmailed or browbeaten into it — that out of their own gratefulness, should invite us to their country, not us to invite ourselves on the strength that we once helped them. Unless it was a mercenary spirit that drove us to lend them a shoulder to weep on during their own times of need.
That beggar spirit referred to above is contributing to all this. It has reached that point where it has become an addictive enterprise. But a simple outbreak of commonsense will get us to realise that we are not just lazy, but irresponsible too. There are some people who are so shameless that they can mess up with someone’s salary and or harvests on the strength that they can easily emotionally blackmail them into feeding, clothing and sheltering their families year in, year out. To them this is a right. A tick always claims to be a dog’s best friend, even though the latter is vehemently arguing otherwise.
Had South Africans known in advance the price they were going to pay for their own liberation, surely, there might have been a noisy debate. Surely, someone would have argued that these extortionist demands defeat the very purpose of their fighting for the liberation of their own country if that liberation would come at a cost of losing that very country to the whole continent!
Suppose ballpark figures being bandied around are true… that there are up to four million Zimbabweans now living (a preponderating majority of them undocumented) in South Africa, that figure is more than the combined populations of Botswana and Namibia. Any unbiased mind will admit that this becomes a real burden when combined with other similar economic immigrants from Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Malawi, Somalia and many other countries.

Hundreds are caught each year trying to escape into South Africa

Hundreds are caught each year trying to escape into South Africa.

We want to colonise South Africa using cheap casuistry and tired sophistry to blackmail them into accepting us when, if the tide were to reverse, we would not accept the opposite to happen because the mine-is-mine-yours-is-ours attitude, which centrally defines most human interactions, will not allow that to happen.
Our arguments are just selfish. They are not different from those given by someone who is knowingly involved in an illicit affair with a married person. No matter how many or how colourful they may be, nothing will ever make them valid. If the tables could be turned, the same arguments would immediately turn into insults.
Laziness and thoughtlessness are our problems here. And we are not even ashamed.
After being expelled from a short-lived federation with Malaysia, the leadership of Singapore — despite that country having no natural resources — did not look around for excuses the way some African leaders seem adept at, but worked so hard with practically nothing other than their bare hands that within three decades from 1959 to 1990, the country had transformed from an underdeveloped colonial outpost into a First World “Asian Tiger”.
Some African leaders appear to be hogging power for its own sake — as the causes of these xenophobic eruptions have shown — they do not have the faintest clue as to how to make life bearable for the very people they purport to be serving. That there are leaders like these is no longer a subject for debate, but rather who and how many they are.

Cyril Zenda is a writer, essayist and journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He wrote this article in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on: