How can we celebrate Africa Day while in the shackles of Afrophobia?

Walking on the streets of downtown Joburg you are compelled to be alert and ready.

Groups of people with no other identification except for bibs that read “community safety” aggressively pounce on suspected foreigners, grabbing men, women, children demanding “asylum” and money with threats of arrest or even deportation.

If one refuses to cooperate they go as far as to lift your sleeve to check for the South African vaccination marks.

These people are not immigration officers. They do not have the training or equipment to verify the legitimacy of a document.

They are not the South African Police Service or Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department. What is their role? Why are they violent and what gives them the authority to demand cash from people?

Since they do not have proper identification, criminals often use impersonating them as a modus operandus to steal from migrants.

Louise Kanza, the co-founder of our organisation, the Sophie A Kanza Foundation, has tried to get hold of the City of Joburg and the MMC for public safety in Johannesburg, Michael Sun, for an explanation, to no avail.

We even got to a point where we would tweet him daily and he would completely ignore us while attending to other people.

This is very disappointing because we naturally expected him to be more sympathetic towards the issue.

No one has answers on these community security “officers” who are terrorising African migrants.

Migrants are now compelled to carry around their identification documents and are harassed to produce them in a manner that perpetuates apartheid-like dompas sentiments.

Many locals are unaware of the dehumanising processes one goes through to obtain papers.

It is a common assumption that migrants are just given green ID books when they enter the republic.

Little is known about the hours and hours spent sitting outside home affairs – whether in the pouring rain or the scorching Pretoria heat.

The toilets are filthy and are not often clean. There is kicking and shoving, queue jumping and utter chaos.

All of this for a piece of paper that you must renew every six months – a piece of paper that will not even allow you to open a bank account at most banks even though this paper makes provisions for one to work and study in South Africa.

How does one work without a bank account in the 21st century?

It is a piece of paper that police officers are not allowed to certify, a piece of paper that does not allow you to travel abroad, a piece of paper that allows you to travel inland but that airport staff never recognise – you have to stand, holding up the queue while the A4 page is handed from person to person while you pray that someone can legitimise your legal permit and end the humiliation.

Surely airport staff should be familiar with all possible travel documents?

A refugee or an asylum seeker is a person who usually flees their country with nothing in search of protection or safety from persecution.

They are not immigrants. An immigrant usually leaves their country willingly to set up in a new country.

Yet, at South African universities refugees or asylum seekers are classified as “international students” and are required to pay the whole year’s tuition upfront, impossible for most.

The first requirement to qualify for a bursary is not even academic excellence. You can be as brilliant as Einstein, but you must be a South African citizen. And it doesn’t get easier in the workplace.

Are these hurdles put in place to cripple us? How can we celebrate and dance for Africa Day when we are in the shackles of institutionalised Afrophobia?

When the home affairs department defies the highest court in the country’s orders to reopen the refugee reception centres.

When your brothers and sisters must travel for hours and even to other provinces to renew their papers – leaving their homes as early as 3am with their children in the freezing winter in the effort to make it on time, putting their lives at risk, becoming targets to criminals or even spending the night outside the Refugee Reception Office after numerous attempts to make it in after the official cut-off.

How do we preach African unity and integration to such people? People that the system continues to fail?

“South African belongs to all that live in it” one of the most inclusive constitutions on Earth reads, the Refugee Act 130 of 1998 of South Africa is amazing on paper but the lack of actions continue to speak louder than words.

How is it possible that someone can have a section 22 permit after living in this country for 20 years? This is against the very law of the country that continues to allow this to happen.

An African child born in the largest hospital in Africa, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, of which the entire continent is proud, is given the status of “alien baby” simply because his parents were not born within the perimeters of these manmade borders.

Would it be ridiculous to assume that the South African government has intentionally created these obstacles to deliberately make life difficult for people that come from even more difficult circumstances?

If these xenophobic (Afrophobic) sentiments continue to be encouraged and implemented by office and law enforcement, how will the man on the street and the future generations be persuaded to embrace fellow Africans with ubuntu and welcome them into their communities?

The media and politicians continue to fuel stereotypes and incite violence and hate.

How many times do we hear of the thousands of African migrant doctors saving lives in South African hospitals? The African migrant professors and teachers? The African migrants contributing positively to society?

This year marks 10 years since the first outbreak of xenephobic violence in which more than 60 foreigners lost their lives.

Their deaths were in vain. Ten years later, no law has changed, no one persecuted.

As we sit on egg shells, waiting for the next periodic attacks. What can Africa Day really mean to me?

#Singabantu (We are Human) Afrophobia Awareness Film: 

• Sophie Zala Kanza is the co-founder of Sophie A Kanza Foundation, with her sister Louise Kanza, a passionate Pan-African, change maker, peace activist, social entrepreneur, leader and believer born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but living in South Africa since the age of three.


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