Xenophobia is foreign to Africans

2010-07-17 12:17

“Let me ask you something. Just one thing. Why

are you South Africans killing your own family?”

This is a question I was once asked by a gentleman named John in the Ghana

capital, Accra, in 2008.

Like most of the people who discover my nationality through my

travels in ­Africa, John couldn’t even pronounce xenophobia because the very idea that there exists in

South Africa a fear and mistrust of foreigners is incomprehensible to him.

And the fact that this fear leads to ­looting and murder is

definitely a mystery that the scores of Africans I

meet on their turf struggle to understand.

To start with, we are a family. Therefore being black in Africa

shouldn’t be like being black elsewhere; where we are looked at with eyes of

suspicion or an ­insulting curiosity.

Often, being black was the only thing that made it possible for me

to travel in and around 13 African states with scant cash. I have arrived in

countries speaking not a word of their language, not knowing a soul.

Hearts and homes were opened. People with less than I had shared

their last pennes with me as I entered their homes so I could call home or go to

the ­nearest internet café so everyone back in South Africa could know that I

was being well cared for.

The few black people I know who travel the continent on nothing but

faith have similar heart-stirring tales of kindness and generosity inspired by

our blackness and our hosts’ steadfast belief in being together as brothers and


Take a South African friend of mine who travelled to Liberia last

year. Her money ran out while she was there, and a woman approached her and told

my friend that she looked lost and sad.

Upon listening to her money problems, the woman accompanied my

friend to a building that still has bullet holes from the country’s civil


She gave my friend a home and ­evacuated her bed so my friend could

have it for as long as she needed it. No hidden motives.

On Friday I met two Eritrean women who gave me their telephone

numbers and addresses for when I get to visit their country. And guess what, I

already have a home and can’t wait to visit my new friends in Eritrea.

Recent media reports that some ­people in South Africa want to go

back to the May 2008 carnage, when over 60 ­foreign nationals were killed and more than 250 000

rendered homeless in provinces across the country, are ­worrying.

Often people come here seeking refuge from wars and the dire

poverty that barely functioning economies cannot solve. However, one thing I

love about my South Africa is that, pushed or pulled, the Mother Continent is

drawn to us.

You do not have to go too far, or pay much, to know Africa

intimately and as a blessed land, not a land of ­disease and misery.

We must celebrate our magnetism ­instead of turning Africa today

into yet another bloody chapter.


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