Black people turning on black people

2008-05-22 00:00

This week I was taken back to the late nineties. It was a wintry afternoon and I was aboard a taxi going from Isipingo to the Durban city centre. Those who use taxis as their transport mode of choice will attest to the fact that it is common practice for somebody on each trip to introduce topics and lead heated discussions. It does not matter whether the passengers know each other or not. The fact that they share a taxi is enough to spark a debate on issues ranging from the most prosaic such as women, sport and, of course, politics, to inscrutable issues such as witchcraft. That afternoon was no different.

A man, who, judging by his looks, was in his early 40s, was lamenting the rate at which foreigners were flocking into our country.

Accomplished raconteur that he was, he told the passengers, who were at this point listening attentively, that he foresaw a situation when the number of foreigners would be such that some would own parts of the town which would lead to a conflict between them and locals.

How prophetic. Fast forward to 2008.

What caused these attacks remains unclear. What is obvious is the fact that people are dying and a solution must be found as soon as possible before the situation worsens.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that this violence is directed at black people by their own black brothers and sisters. And extremely worrying is the fact that young people have been interviewed on national television, threatening further violence against foreign nationals if they don’t pack up and leave our country. This begs the question: what kind of future leaders do we have in people who boast about roasting people alive?

Is this how we treat people who rolled out a red carpet for us when apartheid was at its zenith? The freedom we enjoy today is as a result of the support from these brothers and sisters. I doubt if liberation organisations such as the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress would be in existence today if African countries had not offered their soil as a launch pad for the revolution, which saw us attain our freedom in 1994.

The chaos highlights a few issues to which we need to draw attention. Political parties are losing control of the situation and I wonder what prominent political parties at a local level are doing about the situation.

This also highlights the corruption of greedy officials at our Home Affairs Department, who see the plight of African brothers who want to cross the border as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

I am one of the citizens who is deeply concerned about the influx of foreigners to our country. I have no problem when our brothers and sisters are given asylum, but I have a serious problem when we cannot account for the people who enter and leave our country willy-nilly. When our leaders sought refuge in African and European countries, there was very tight control at the borders. Governments knew who the refugees were, where they were located and what activities they were up to.

It is also disturbing that the foreigners who are at the receiving end of this violence are our African brothers and sisters, while there are a lot of foreigners from Asia, Europe and many other parts of the world who are not affected and yet are involved in many shady activities. This must not sound like a call to assault foreigners of other races as well, but I am decrying the shameless disdain with which we treat people who have the same skin colour as ours. This is exactly what Steve Biko wanted us to free ourselves from:

self-hate.

Political parties have used this as political football, while the matter requires their urgent action, not just platitudes. Some do not even have constituencies in the affected areas, yet they claim to be concerned about the situation “affecting our people”. If they are really concerned, we would like to see them at the coalface, ducking bricks, pangas and bullets, and trying to broker peace between the warring factions.

As the death toll escalates, it has become necessary for concerned parties to pool their efforts in trying to provide a lasting solution to the crisis.

If this is not rectified promptly, history will judge us harshly as an African country that became estranged from the noble principles of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Oliver Tambo.

• Vukani Mbhele is manager of communications and IT in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism. He writes in his personal capacity.

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