Growing up in South Africa, I was always reminded by those around me that I was different to everyone else. In primary school, I had a much darker complexion than I do now, and super white teeth – the telling marks of a foreigner that betray you even when you put on your best English accent. It is just too obvious.
My name is Lovelyn Chidinma Nwadeyi. I am a Nigerian. Born in Nigeria to two Nigerian parents. Raised in Queenstown, Eastern Cape by those same Nigerian parents right up until I completed my Bachelors at Stellenbosch. I bear citizenship of both worlds. I speak fluent Xhosa, Igbo, Afrikaans and English. I can make sense of Tswana and Sotho. I enjoy a good braai, I love vetkoeks, especially the bunny-chow, I can’t get enough of Bokomo WeetBix, I love Ouma’s rusks and I can pull off my panstulas with any outfit on a lazy Saturday when I want to head to town. I am the first to break it down with the ngwaza and the dombolo at the sound of some decent house music or kwaito be it in Pick n Pay or at a party.
I can sokkie and I enjoy it (all be it with my two left feet), my darkest moments can be reversed by koeksusters and a cup of rooibos tea any day. I can jump between the high pitched and arguably annoying accents of some Constantia moms, the lank kif and apparently sophisticated English of my Hilton brothers and the heavy accents of my fellow Eastern Capers, I can attempt the fast paced, lyrical Afrikaans of my coloured brothers in the Cape and I can serve you the best butternut soup you have ever known. I am as South African as you need me to be.
But my ability to navigate all these spaces did not just happen. Learning to blend into all these spaces was a matter of survival for me. You see from the day I set foot in Queenstown and started primary school, it was always made very clear to me that I was an outsider. I only had white friends from my first few years in school, because the other black girls couldn’t understand why I was black but only spoke in English. They thought I thought I was better than them. So I spent most of my breaks humbly eating my peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, surrounded by those who had Melrose cheese and Provita Crackers with Bovril and/or marmite sandwiches in their lunchboxes. The rest of the time I spent alone, save the few brave souls of similar complexion who tried to befriend me.
What nobody knew was that for the first three years of my life in SA, my little brother and I barely saw my dad up to twice a month. What was he doing absent from the home, other than selling pillowcases, duvets and bedsheets, from door to door on foot through the streets, villages and side roads of the old Transkei and Ciskei? My father would leave the house on Monday mornings after him and my mom got us ready for school, and he would be gone for days and weeks, selling the few pillowcases and bedsheets he had from door to door. On foot. We were never sure when he would return. But when he did, we were always more grateful for his safety and aliveness than anything else.
From Queenstown. To Cala, Umtata, Qumbu, Qoqodala, Whittlesea, Mount Fletcher, Kingwilliamstown, Mdantsane, Bhisho, Indwe, Butterworth, Aliwal North and even as far as Matatiele and Kokstad. There are so many other places he went to that I do not even know.
That is how my parents put us through school, until they saved up enough money to open their own little shop where they then started selling sewing machines, cotton and then community phones, then sweets and chips and take aways and then hair products and the list goes on and on. It was on this that I was able to go through primary school, high school, and university. My parents have no tertiary education, it was only until their late 40s that both of them decided to register for part-time studies at Walter Sisulu to get their Diplomas. Note: Diplomas.
It took them four years, because they were busy trying to keep their kids in school, and keep selling their sweets and sewing machines while attempting to dignify their efforts with a degree.
My story is not unique, it is the story of most foreigners in South Africa. Very few foreigners come into SA with skills that make them employable here. Unless you are a medical doctor, an academic and maybe an engineer or well established businessman before coming here, your chances of getting meaningful employment in SA are as limited as those of the United States letting Al-Qaeda members off the hook – almost impossible.
Most foreigners come to SA with the ability to braid hair, carve wood, or sell fruits, veges, clothes, fizz pops, carpets and soap before they can find their feet here. Some are graduates…but what can another African degree do for you in SA? And any foreigner in SA will tell you that that is the truth. All of us started from below the bottom. Doing work that carries no dignity, no respect and very little financial gain. But when you have left or lost everything that you know and love and end up in a foreign land as unwelcoming in its laws and restrictions as South Africa, you have little choice available to you.
I can bet you that there is not up to 10% of South Africans who would be willing to do the menial and embarrassing work my parents and other foreigners did for as long as they did it and for as little as they did it were you to ask them today. So it annoys me, to the deepest part of my being when I see a South African open their mouth and cry “foul” against innocent foreigners. Let’s discuss this.
Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders.
Claustrophobia – the fear of small/tight/enclosed spaces.
Xenophobia – the fear of foreigners.
However individuals who are afraid of spiders do not go around killing spiders, rather they avoid spiders. Equally, individuals who are afraid of small and tight spaces do not go around trying to eliminate the existence of small spaces.
Thus xenophobia does not by definition imply the killing of foreigners. Yet, we continue to label this current wave of killings and murders in SA as xenophobic – and now the cooler term – “Afrophobic” attacks. Can we please just get real? What is happening in SA is a genocide, a genocide fuelled by a deep-seated hatred for which no single foreigner is responsible.
Before, you say this is too extreme, allow me to explain.
Genocide is the systematic/targeted killing of a specific tribe or race.
In South Africa’s case, this is would be the senseless killings of non-South Africans, mostly those of African origin and some Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other non-African minorities.
I think the government, South African and international media are being too cowardly to call it what it is. They know what is going on in South Africa and yet they refuse to acknowledge it for fear of who knows what. Is it because there numbers are not high enough? Should we wait until a few good hundred thousand foreigners have been murdered before we speak the truth?
So now the value of human lives is being reduced to a debate on politically correct terms and phrases to protect certain interests. People are being butchered in the streets, and the country is worrying about bad PR. I hate that now, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everyone is now trying to say, “Oh no, it’s not all South Africans that are doing this, hey. Just a few of those people there.” South Africans are trying to distance themselves from what is happening in their own backyards as though it is of any consolation to those watching their family members being sizzled in rubber rings. As if that is what matters – true South African style.
This is not the first wave of attacks of this nature in South Africa. In fact, the 2008 attacks were much worse in terms of raw numbers of casualties suffered than these have been so far. The issue of xenophobia is not a new one in SA. However, the differentiator in 2015 is that this wave is backed by a strong ideology; that somehow these attacks can be and are justified.
An ideology that sees merit in the argument that foreigners are stealing the jobs of locals, that they are stealing their women, that these “makwerekwere” are the cause of most ills in South African society.
It is a shame how uninformed and how baseless these arguments are. Foreigners do not and CANNOT steal jobs in SA. Do you know how hard it is to get South African papers, just to get into the country – not to talk of getting a work permit and convincing any company to take on the cost of employing you as a foreigner? Unless you have some freaking scarce skills in the country – it just does not happen like that.
Secondly, just shut up and stop it. South Africans who embibe these arguments are lazy. There is a disgusting entitlement that is attached to this notion that jobs can be stolen. This implies that there are jobs waiting for you – of which there are none.
There are no freaking jobs waiting for anyone. Pick up a bucket and start washing cars. Put on your shoes and walk through your streets, sell tomatoes, eggs and tea – anything people eat, they will buy. Or pick up a book, hustle your way into university, work for a scholarship and get yourself an education. But stop this senselessness. Nobody is stealing your jobs.
I got my first job when I was 11 years old. I worked on the school bus in my town. I collected money for the bus driver, wrote out receipts and kept order on the bus. I didn’t get paid much, but it helped me learn first that nothing comes easy, I learnt to be responsible and accountable to someone else. Secondly it helped me pay for little extramural expenses I did at school which were not the priority for my parents at the time (and rightly so). In varsity, even though I had a tuition bursary, I worked two part time jobs and one contract job for the entire three years at Stellenbosch so I could pay for my feeding, my clothes, some additional materials etc. Yes my parents supported me as best they could, but naturally, part of growing up is that you don’t bother your parents for every Rand you need.
So people see me and my family now, several years later driving a decent car and living in an average house and they say, “Ningama kwekwere, asinifuni apha. Niqaphele, aningobalapha.”
“You are foreigners, we do not want you here. You better watch out, you are not of this place,” – unaware of and unwilling to hear of the years of struggle and hustle that came with the decent car and the average house. [Which, by the way, you can never fully own as SA law now restricts ownership of property by foreigners – but that is another discussion.]
And what has been the government’s response to the worsening unemployment and crime situation in the cities and suburbs that incites this violence and dissatisfaction amongst its people? To tighten immigration laws, border controls and any little room the foreigner may have had to just maybe survive in the menacing streets of Johannesburg. As if that is where the problem began.
Is it not the way our economy is structured? That there is limited room for unskilled labour in the workforce? That those who are not vocationally trained must then settle for employment outside of their existing areas of knowledge such as artisans, plumbers and electricians – whereas these skills are equally needed in a developing economy? That we have this stupid thing called BEE which in practice just ensures that the Black bourgeoisie get wealthier by hook or by crook while still protecting and cushioning the impact of democracy on old, white money and big business?
Is it really the little Ethiopian man with his spaza shop that is threatening your progress na Bhuthi? Is it really the Nigerian woman who braids hair and sells Fanta that is stealing your job and place in your own land na Sisi? I can’t deal.
If none of these arguments have merit for you, then think of the fact that during apartheid, Nigeria spent hundreds of dollars on the ANC protecting and moving its members across borders, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda all housed, supported and/or trained struggle heros with open arms and with no strings attached. How dare South Africans forget how much Africans did for them during apartheid. How dare you!
South Africans, go and learn your history. When you have read your history, then please teach the correct version to your children. Let them know that Africa helped put SA where it is now. Let them know that all blacks are not Xhosa or Zulu, but that that is irrelevant to the amount of dignity you accord to another human being. Teach your children that they must work for everything they want to have except your love as a parent. Teach your children that they are nothing without their neighbour – stop being selective about who Ubuntu applies to and does not. Teach them the truth about you.
The greatest enemy of the black man has always been himself. Not the colonialists. Not the apartheid architects. Only himself.
And as long as you refuse to take responsibility for where you are now, you will remain there. Kill us foreigners or not, it actually makes very little difference to your fortunes in life, people of Mzansi.