Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

I’m forced to be foreign — ranting and raving…

Submitted by Cynthia Ayeza Mutabaazi

Most of us have by now read a lot about the current xenophobic attacks on “foreign” people/non-South Africans in South Africa. We have read about it in the papers, seen it on television, heard it on radio and the internet continues to carry the story across the globe. I do not particularly take pride in being categorised as “foreign” or “alien” but the law of the land has so defined me — and presently, I may not question it.

The people of the land prefer to use “makwerekwere” to make the distinction between non-South Africans and South African nationals, for whatever reason. I am particularly disgusted by the continued use of this term. In fact, I am even more disappointed by the continued use of this term by the media — which should otherwise be, in many ways, contributing to the change of mindsets in the Republic of South Africa.

On behalf of all non-South Africans, we do not beg to be recognised as a foreigner. Not at all! We do not beg to be recognised as an alien. Never! We do not ask to be categorised or “christened” amakwerekwere — no, don’t, because I am none of these things.

I am simply a human being, who breathes the same air that you breathe as South Africans, air that you cannot geographically limit. I bleed red, when cut just like South Africans have bled in times past and even to date. So I am first, human, before anything else. In fact, I was a foetus without a particular nationality before I even became Ugandan. And this applies to the rest of the world.

I am pained by the ongoing attacks on non-South African people in this country. I am pained by the lack of effective action geared to resolve this issue. I am pained that a person can be set ablaze while South Africans look on, but even more, while they laugh as though this were some circus; a joke, so to speak. Even in a circus, an injury would be real and would not get applause.

When South Africans needed liberation from the Apartheid regime, its people joined hands to make this happen. But this solidarity as has been hinted at by many through the media (even though taken and treated lightly) was not independent of the help, effort and support of non-South Africans. We prayed, we fasted, we fought along side you, we spent money, and we sent down our own blood to help. We were with you.

My plea is not for South Africans to appreciate or recognise whatever role we played in the solidarity leading up to the freedom of all South Africans (Black, White, Green, and Coloured — whatever category). My plea is also not for South Africans to reward us by treating us right just because we played our own role, small or big, in South Africa’s current state of freedom from the past regime.

My plea is with the need for the recognition of humanity. Setting a fellow human being ablaze for simply being anything but non-South African is inhumane and should not be tolerated. Being non-South African does not in anyway limit the extent to which my individual identity as a Ugandan, Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Mozambique national, Kenyan, Tanzanian etc is just as important as that of a South African, and any other person from whatever country.

The law in South African does not particularly offer protection enough for the so called “foreigner” but human rights are being violated here and I think that the government can do more. We can all do more, as scholars, teachers, academics, politicians, engineers, public speakers, garbage collectors, electricians, gardeners, miners, secretaries, shop owners, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins etc… we can do more simply as human beings fighting for the free existence of fellow human beings.

The high crime rate in South African and the lack of jobs for many in this country, in my opinion, is a lame excuse to set anyone ablaze or to set ablaze a family’s belongings and destroy their livelihood. I heard and read about crime in South Africa, even before I applied to study here. Indeed, there is a deeper issue to this intolerance of non South Africans.

But even more, this current state of emergency could have been avoided. The signs were there in the late 1990s. There were signs in the early 2000 years… By the time March happened, someone should have known that today most non-South Africans living in the country, legally or otherwise, would not feel safe at all. In the past two weeks alone, the attacks have been on the increase.

My plea is that we all join hands and seek to effect, influence, turn and change mindsets in the direction of understanding (and the need for) free humanity. I make no excuse for the non-South Africans that are involved in crime here. It is unfair to attack a person for working, they are after all benefiting the economy. This is my second year of teaching university students and I believe and know that I am doing a great service to this nation. I should not be condemned for a good deed.

Am I safe here? I don’t know. But one thing I do know — we need to do something now, and we can do something now. Scholars, fellow humans, black, white, coloured, Indian, Chinese, Jews, the bonded and the free. Emails are powerful — use them to educate and to sensitize, that we as non-South Africans may freely exist in the space you have so generously provided. We have radio shows, television shows, soap operas, newspapers, blogs, Facebook, notice boards, debates, campus cafeterias… the arena is wide. Use them, promote and allow for free humanity.

Cynthia Ayeza Mutabaazi is reading towards her MA in Media Studies at the University of Pretoria. She proud to be, firstly Human, then Ugandan – and then proudly a “Mukiiga” and lastly but not least, proud to be a friend to humanity… even that humanity existent in the Republic of South Africa.