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The Madeleine Albright of South Africa

30 June 2014, 14:27
The plight of DA MP, Phumzile van Damme demonstrates the futility of trying to enforce an 'us and them' approach with people coming from close neighbouring countries.
May I start by pointing out that the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was born in then Czekoslovakia not the USA. That did not stop her from participating fully in the politics of her adopted country. I saw no reason why Phumzile's similar political career should be curtailed.
The nature of national borders in post-colonial Africa makes it futile to strictly police the movement of people. In fact along national borders without a distinct geographic barrier, people often do not know on which side of the border they were born.
Take for example Mozambicans who live between Mukumbura and Zambezi river. After Cabora Bassa dam was built the only way they could catch a bus to anywhere was walk into Zimbabwe first. It is therefore perfectly natural and reasonable to expect most of the them to have acquired Zimbabwean IDs.
In Malawi the main road from Balaka to the capital Lilongwe runs along the border with Mozambique on some parts. Hospitals and schools along this virtually unmarked border cater for people from either side of the border.
Colonial borders were arbitrarily drawn sometimes right down the middle of villages. Thus many people living along the border areas can pick and choose nationality depending on what is convenient for the moment.
Where my wife comes from, in Honde Valley along Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique, people used to live in Zimbabwe and plant the crops in Mozambique and vice versa. Movement was curtailed, but not completely stopped, after the border was heavily mined by the Rhodesians during Zimbabwe's second Chimurenga war.
Even along the famous, or is it infamous, crocodile infested river border, brothers' families live on either side of the river. In the 1980s I went to primary school in Harare with Tsveropile Tlou. A long term tenant at my father's house was a Mr Mbedzi. They were Zimbabweans.
Yet they could easily have moved to Thohoyandou or Louis Trichardt and lived as South Africans. I never bothered to find out on which side of the border they were born and to me it does not matter at all.
That is a fact of life South Africa cannot escape.
Surely, surely you cannot go about making people pay for the sins of colonialists, or even their parents. The digging into Phumzile van Damme's origins is just a xenophobic witch-hunt.
It is no different from Republican 'birthers' digging into Obama's origins and trying to prove he was not born in the USA and therefore should not be eligible for the office he holds.
If Phumzile has been living in South Africa as a South African because of choices made by her parents, how is her case different from that of Madeleine Albright?
It is an open secret that probably more than half the people passing themselves off as Zulus in Gauteng are actually Swazis and Zimbabwean Ndebele speakers. Some of their children do not even know that they have roots outside South Africa.
While Phumzile's parents may not have been perfectly honest about where she was born, she is still a South African.
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