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The Black South African Version of Africa

One would be surprised by how Black South Africans view themselves in contrast to fellow Africans. You can hear a typical Black South African saying, referring to someone outside South Africa as an African or Amakwerekwere. They commonly say ‘lezi ezanga daa eAfrica’, meaning those guys from Africa as means to isolate themselves from fellow Africans. 

Additionally, if your skin colour is too dark, it is hard to be regarded as a South African. People, Blacks, in particular, make condescending remarks about your skin colour. They commonly say you are so black like those guys from Africa or ikwerekwere

I always eavesdrop on people’s conversations, and I constantly hear how South Africa is seen as a country outside Africa. According to many Black South Africans, Africa begins beyond the borders of South Africa. Other African countries are not places in the minds of many South African. It is pretty funny because South Africa is the only country that speaks for its continent. Thus, is South Africa not in Africa, and are South Africans, not Africans?

In Sisonke Msimang’s 2017s autobiography, Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, a firm understanding of this frail and fragmented belief held by many Black South Africans about Africa and African nationals is explained well. Msimang critiques that South Africa’s view of other African countries is as if these countries are not ‘geographies with their own histories and cultures and complexities. Instead, they are viewed as dark landscapes, Conradian and densely forested. They are undefined and not easily defined. They are snake-filled thickets, impenetrable brush and war and famine and ever-present, war-danger.’

This perception is believed to be because of South Africa’s traumatic and painful history. The history of apartheid and colonialism. Black South Africans were told that ‘Africa’ inhabits savages. That people outside South Africa live like animals. Undeniably, this is part of the global mainstream discourse. Much of European literature, such as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Othello or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, enforce this image of Africa as an Island that has savages and cannibals.

Admittedly, colonialism and apartheid taught Black people to have self-hate and to see themselves as inferior that they should fight against each other to progress. The theory is that there are few opportunities for Black people to prosper, meaning they must permanently eliminate one another to fill that seat of prosperity. One might presume that these ideas could cause the xenophobic attacks that ensued about a decade ago and still erupt today.

It was shocking when former Gauteng’s Mayor,  Mr Mashaba, made a statement on Twitter that migrants form the majority (80%) of the population in Johannesburg’s inner city. He claimed that reducing immigrants in the inner city would reduce crime rates and unemployment.

In 2008, South Africa came to a standstill. I remember that I was 11-years-old and in Grade 5 when my life was filled with terror. Grapevines were spreading around stating that to prove our innate citizenship, we were supposed to describe our body parts in IsiZulu. These parts included our toes, elbows, and fingers (mainly the pinky finger). How ridiculous was that, Given that South Africa has 11 official languages and that Zulu was used as a defining tool for being an authentic South African during these attacks? What scared me the most was that these attacks appeared to be administered by the Zulu tribe, which allegedly hates the Tsonga Tribe, and I am part of that hated tribe. I was scared because I could not flee the country like others who had other countries to escape to. When I was stopped and asked to describe my body parts in a language I only speak with my friends at school, what was I to say? It was a challenging year. Real Period Pains! 

At the same time, we were stopped from going to school because they feared that these attacks might spread amongst learners, as the school I attended, like other schools in Johannesburg, is also filled with many non-South African inhabitants. 

What is shocking about these attacks is that during apartheid, many freedom fighters fled South Africa because they were regarded as terrorists. As they exited the country, they found sanctuary in countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, Congo, and Zimbabwe, to name a few. In addition to this, they even started families, and some never even returned to the country when apartheid was deconstitutionalised. The chances are that some also left their children when returning to the country, and their children are among these individuals who are attacked. What a way to spit at the hand that fed you! Subsequently, South Africans who were assumed to be ‘illegals’ were prone to this violence.

Another thing is that American and European nationals are not attacked. It is like this self-hate is working in postcolonial states. Africans are meant to believe that they are the demons of this universe and should not be associated as this will intensify their demonism. The reason behind these attacks was aimed at Black foreigners. Stories were that Black Foreigners, particularly males, were taking jobs and women from the locals. The increasing crime rates and drug usage was also proclaimed to be brought by these people. Consequently, the 2008 xenophobic violence amounted to 67 recorded mortalities and a dozen people injured. 

More attacks erupt, reminding Black foreigners that they do not belong. According to the South African History Online (SAHO), in 2013, eight South African police officers tied a Mozambican man, Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. Subsequently, the man died in a police cell from head injuries. Other Attacks on foreign nationals continued in 2015. In 2022, a slum in Johannesburg North, Diepsloot, made headlines for attacking foreign nationals resulting in the death of an innocent man and an injury to many others. 

The horrifying reality is that Africans are now committing dehumanising crimes against each other, and they seem to be getting gratification from doing all of this work.

The ugly truth is that there is this demeaning and condescending view about Africa by Black South Africans. It is pretty challenging to grasp this sense of ignorance and lack of understanding amongst these individuals. I mean, irrespective of the advancement around South Africa, many Black South Africans seem to have a single story about Africa. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us about the danger of a single account. A single tale promotes a monolithic and biased narrative. It encourages dehumanisation and otherness.

So, do we want to continue falling victims to a single story? Can we still blame apartheid and colonialism for this? Or is it the current African nationalist leaders that perpetuate this act? Who is to be blamed for this frail and fragmented image of Africa? Can there be solutions to this matter? 

Nonetheless, Msimang is right when she proclaims that ‘Nationalist rage is often imprecise.’ You can never understand what is right and for what reason is something done? 

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1 comment

1 month, 1 week ago by Mika02

The issues raised in this article are valid and a reality in South Africa. Our education system is not working and the proposed solutions should be considered. 30% pass rate definitely undermines the scholars IQ and encourages pupil to limit their thinking. Well done Akzo.

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