South Africa’s xenophobia problem from a Ugandan perspective

Carol Kagezi gives us her take on xenophobia.

Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, a Zulu proverb, summed up in the word Ubuntu means the spirit of reciprocal living that luminously envelopes a community in healing energy radiating from the hearts of interdependent human spirits, sharing, loving and observing Maat in the presence of ancestral spirits until they one day join their ranks.

This was the first proverb I learnt and allowed myself to grapple with when I moved to South Africa for my tertiary education in 2012. In fact, it is because of this proverb, not too different from its English counterpart, “no man is an island”, that I could embark on the journey of better understanding what it means for me to be a child of this continent. I realised that in as much as my passport read that I am of Ugandan nationality, I saw in the several people I met and encountered in South Africa a lot of myself – a black child of this land. Many of their stories resonated with so many that I had heard and seen while I was growing up. I made the realisation that in as much as we are separated by all these borders and boundaries, we are similar in more ways than likeness of the pigment of our skin.

In 2015, during the heat of the #feesmustfall protests, foreign nationals in Grahamstown were facing a nightmare of their own, as their establishments were looted and several of them were displaced into camps and alternative accommodation just out of the town. It is ironic that foreigners were pushed to cower in fear, and yet South Africa, through its Constitution, prides itself in upholding this spirit of Ubuntu through the values so dearly protected by the Bill of Rights.

It is even more disheartening that in 2017, as the xenophobic attacks escalate in the Gauteng region, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba is quick to say that no one in South Africa is attacked purely because they come from another country. His statement is fully loaded with insinuations of these victims of xenophobia being attached to criminal activity. This adversely creates and perhaps perpetuates a narrative that all foreign nationals in South Africa are criminals, which is not the case.

South Africa like any other country on this continent experiences socioeconomic vices such as theft and prostitution, which politicians such as Gigaba are so quick to state as the reason behind these attacks on foreign nationals. In a country with about two million foreign nationals, it is simply impossible to attribute the high crime rate in South Africa on them. If anything, this is a display of Gigaba’s anti-Semitism tendencies in the “rainbow nation”.

While rejecting the Western notions of individualism, we as Africans claim to have the interests of our community at heart. Perhaps now is the time to ask the questions; what is our understanding of community? What are these interests that we ought to be thinking of and upholding? To whom does Ubuntu apply?

By Carol Kagezi


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