Wednesday, April 22, 2015

South Africa Shames Africa Again!

By Tazoacha Asonganyi  in Yaounde 

Following the finalization of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu kept explaining to the world that there was no “ghastly racial bloodbath, ... orgy of revenge and retribution against whites for all the degradations that black South Africans had suffered from colonial times to the apartheid era…because of the self-discipline, simple decency, and ability to forgive...of South Africans.”
      We all believed him, and thought that the “self-discipline” and “simple decency” were traits that would also determine the relationship between South Africans and the rest of us. This was especially because Thabo Mbeki, who eventually became president of South Africa, had in a speech to the United Nations University in Tokyo in 1998 titled “The African Renaissance, South Africa and the World” stated unequivocally that: “As South Africans, we owe our emancipation from apartheid in no small measure to the support and solidarity extended to us by all the peoples of Africa. In that sense our victory over the system of white minority domination is an African victory. This, I believe, imposes an obligation on us to use this gift of freedom, which is itself an important contribution to Africa's Renaissance, to advance the cause of the peoples of our continent.”

     Mbeki also stated in the speech as follows: “Many African peoples throughout Southern Africa sacrificed their lives to help us secure our freedom. Others further afield ignored the fact of their own poverty to contribute resources to guarantee our emancipation. I am convinced that this immense contribution was made not only so that we end the apartheid crime against humanity, but also so that we build a society of which all Africa would be proud because it would address also the wrong and negative view of an Africa that is historically destined to fail…Necessarily, therefore, we are engaged and will continue to be engaged in Africa's efforts to guarantee peace for her children, to feed and clothe them, to educate them and to bring them up as human beings as human as any other in the world, their dignity restored and their equal worth recognized and valued throughout our universe.”

And so it was a surprise to Africans in 2008 when television screens were beaming to households in Africa and across the world, images of angry South Africans mauling down Africans from other countries on the pretext that they were a social burden to their country! At that time, South African leaders said publicly that the “senseless violence” brought shame to South Africa.

      In reaction to the violence, I wrote an essay titled “South Africa: Mocking the TRC” in which I stated as follows:
“President Mbeki was one of those behind NEPAD, which is supposed to be a launching pad for the unity of Africa. So far, African leaders have been too jealous of the little parcels of power they retain in their individual countries to fully contemplate the effective unity of the peoples of Africa. These xenophobic tendencies are a call for them to remove the psychological barriers that block the different African peoples within the colonial entities created by the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by Europeans in 1884. They should stop using clever subterfuges to avoid their reckoning with these pressing calls and rise to their historic responsibility.”

       Following many such shocked reactions from around Africa and the world to the 2008 violence, and the public condemnatory declarations of South African leaders, we all thought that Thabo Mbeki and his peers were working hard to fulfill the promise he made in his 1998 UNU speech to ensure that "the colour black (is no longer perceived as) a symbol of fear, evil and death...(and to remove the burden whose) weight dictates that (the African) will never straighten her back and thus discover that she is as tall as the slave master who carries the whip, (and) have the opportunity to question why the master has legal title both to the commodity she transports on her back and the labour she must make available to ensure that the burden on her shoulders translates into dollars and yen…”

     We were wrong! Our television screens have brought to us during the last weeks, virtually the same images we saw from South Africa in 2008, this time showing even more intense violence against Africans, for the same reasons that were given in 2008! In his 1998 speech, Thabo Mbeki opened with the Latin saying, “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi!” (Something new always comes out of Africa). What we are witnessing from South Africa is only new because of its heightened intensity of hatred, anger, violence, and absolute disrespect for the “colour black”! What is new is the xenophobic declarations of even some prominent leaders of South Africa! This is a great pity not only for South Africa but for all of Africa.

     There is no doubt that the “burden whose weight dictates that the African will never straighten her back” is the outcome of a "long and painful history" symbolised by what Europeans did to Africa in Berlin in 1884. Indeed, in a recent reaction to this other show of “xenophobic South Africa,” Achille Mbembe re-echoed this fact when he wrote:
     “No African is a foreigner in Africa! No African is a migrant in Africa! Africa is where we all belong, notwithstanding the foolishness of our boundaries. No amount of national-chauvinism will erase this. No amount of deportations will erase this. Instead of spilling black blood on no other than Pixley ka Seme Avenue (!), we should all be making sure that we rebuild this Continent and bring to an end a long and painful history — that which, for too long, has dictated that to be black (it does not matter where or when), is a liability.”

      That is our burden. No one will help Africa to remove the burden. No one will help Africa to rebuild the continent. Not even the politics of pity of those for whom our burden is a highly priced resource. We will have to do it ourselves, on our own initiative. Only Africa can give itself the status, the image, the integrity, the prestige and the consideration it wishes for itself!

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