I grew up being called iGhana (a Ghanaian) because of my dark complexion and fluency in English. This, in the mid 90’s, at a time when the EC saw many educated Ghanaians come to settle there -doctors and teachers etc.
When White people said it, and the first time I heard it was in Grade 5, Std 3, on an excursion to Ann Bryant Art Gallery in East London, it was said with an air of being soooo impressed with me, that I couldn’t possibly be a South African Black (it still happens a lot even now ).
When Black people said the same thing, it came from a place of such ugliness because the darker you were, the supposedly uglier you were (it still happens a lot still).
I hated the association with Ghanaians because of the negative labelling around looks.
Some of the problems we see manifest today are rooted in our socialization around other Black Africans.
Black South Africans have had and continue to have a very warped sense of who we are in relation to our Black African brothers and sisters. There’s is and always has been an undercurrent power play that sees the Black South African assume a position of superiority.
It’s baseless in my view and that’s what makes it most sad because it hinges on things like darker or lighter tones of the same skin colour and facial features etc- and oftentimes even proudly so. The danger is in the fact that it won’t be long until we turn on each other and kill each other…because basing a prejudice on something like looks and style of dress is very dangerous.
My late friend, Leza, dated a Zimbabwean guy and the thought on everyone’s mind at the time, was why she had to go pick a Zimbabwean.
I know another friend who recently got married to a Zimbabwean and I remember her attempts to justify her decision to marry a foreigner but in the most understated way.
About 10 years ago, my educated, well-to-do aunt married a Congolese national and it caused outcry not only in the family but in the community…with older people saying things like…’he is so ugly that man from Congo..was it that bad that she had to go marry a Congolese?’
When the word kwerekwere first came out, I remember reprimanding my so-called educated friends on the derogatory nature of the term…and even after that, they would continue. My family would laugh my activism off when I pointed out that alot of this starts in the language we use and pass on to our children.
It has to do with how we live the Africanness that we preach, every day.
I once worked for the Department of Home Affairs Turnaround a few years back and immigration was a critical area of concern. That experience brought me face to face with the realities of many foreign nationals whom I interviewed and instead of wishing them away, as even some of the educated South Africans do, I wished that solutions to challenges like this were easy to find because I understood that for many of them, going home was not an option.
These attacks on innocent people must force us all to take a good look in the mirror because the biggest challenge will be staring back at us…forcing us to start by owning up to our own prejudices and assumptions and beliefs about our African brothers and sisters.
Maybe then, our government will respond with agency and recognise that anti-xenophobia must be preached in schools and churches and mass political rallies and all media so that it finds a way back into our homes.
Zoya Mabuto (ZoyaSpeaks) is a professional speaker based in Jozi, who tells stories of hope to an exclusively female audience. She is passionate about the African continent and uses her voice to contribute towards the African Development Agenda around the areas of Leadership and Governance. She writes social commentaries and says the article above was inspired by the by the recent spate of ‘XeNOphobic attacks in South Africa in late April 2015.