South Africa profiling: what is an African?
Mutumwa Mawere (2010)
Mutumwa Dziva Mawere is an African business executive, pioneer, financier, banker and entrepreneur best known as the founder and Chairman of Africa Resources Limited. He is known for having built one of the most powerful and influential corporations in Zimbabwe’s history. This article was posted on newzimbabwe.com
FORMER South African President Thabo Mbeki says that South Africa, the youngest African state, still owes the world an explanation as to what caused the 2008 violence against black South African citizens and residents born in foreign African states.
It is significant that former President Mbeki, a critical player in building the foundations of a post-apartheid South Africa, is calling for a probe into the attacks and objects to the characterisation of South Africans as xenophobic.
Are South Africans xenophobic? Is the attitude of South Africans towards foreigners any different from the attitude of other Africans towards foreigners? What is the connection, if any, between indigenisation and xenophobia?
Former President Mbeki observed that: “If hatred of others who are different were the reason, whites would have been the target. When I walk down the streets of Johannesburg and this other black person approaches me, there is no way (of) me telling that they are Zimbabwean or Mozambican. There is nothing there that says ‘this is the enemy I must hate’.”
Does Mbeki have a point? This is the question that we must address as we seek to build Africa’s moral capital. Ultimately, we have to ask the question of who really is an African. What does an African look like?
Mbeki’s place in the story of South Africa is secure but the so-called xenophobic attacks exposed how fragile and insecure the idea called South Africa is. What does a South African look like?
What confronted the founding fathers of America was the idea called America and in drafting the Declaration of Independence, it was important that they paused to think about citizenship and identify issues. Regrettably, many of Africa’s founding fathers never took time to pause and reflect on the idea called Africa and who should be the true inheritors of the African post-colonial project.
South Africa belongs to all who live in it so says the Freedom Charter, and yet on the ground there is a strong body of opinion that subscribes to the notion that South Africa belongs only to the indigenous natives in as much as Zimbabwe, for instance, must belong to the indigenous natives of the country.
The constitution of South Africa, like the constitution of other African states, treats citizenship as a choice. There is provision for classes of citizenships in the constitution: those born in the country and those that elect to naturalise are conferred the same rights and obligations and yet the native born would want to claim that they have more rights than those who acquire citizenship through naturalisation.
This attitude is not unique to South Africa as many nation states jealously guard their sovereignty and notwithstanding the provisions of their constitutions, the understanding of citizenship is often clouded by misplaced nationalistic and primitive notions of identity.
Equally, white Africans in post-colonial Africa have the same rights and obligations as citizens. The complexion of the majority of sub-Saharan Africans is black and as correctly observed by Mbeki, there is no way of telling who is Zimbabwean or Mozambican when one walks down the streets of any African state.
However, there are many white persons, for instance, who believe that they have a better claim to be South African than other black persons born outside the country.
As a Zimbabwe-born South African citizen, I frequently get asked questions primarily from white South Africans like: “Where are you from? When are you going to get Zimbabwe sorted out? How is Zimbabwe?”
It is evident to me that such questions are rarely asked to a white Zimbabwean, for example, who made the same choice to be South African as I did. There is an automatic assumption that a white immigrant is a value adding citizen than a black African born in another state.
More significantly, my own home boys will claim me as their own forgetting that in so doing, they condemn me to an awkward identity that does not assist in leveraging my new status to the benefit of my native home.
The history of Europe is well documented and it is generally accepted that Europeans who make a choice to be African are not coming from a poorer existence than they enjoy in Africa and, therefore, their presence has some civilising and uplifting aspect to it.
The challenge for black Africans is that their native home countries are generally poorer than South Africa, and invariably, an assumption is made that their presence in a more developed country like South Africa is not in the national interest.
The concept of a nation state has to be understood in a holistic sense because underpinning it is a social contract between citizens and the state. The state’s viability depends on the creativity and ingenuity of free people.
The bulk of the state’s income comes from the incomes earned by citizens and residents. It seems to me, therefore, that any welcoming state benefits from the efforts of migrants who, with limited domestic support systems, have to creatively integrate themselves into a foreign culture and in so doing earn income from rendering services or supply goods for profit.
It seems obvious that even if all the foreigners were to be eliminated from South Africa, this will not automatically eliminate poverty and yet xenophobia or Afrophobia is informed by fear that the presence of foreign-born Africans in South Africa is toxic and counter-productive.
In as much as white and Asian South Africans have managed to better their lives in South Africa through effort particularly in the post-apartheid dispensation, there same applies to black South Africans.
In building any vibrant and enduring nation state, it is incumbent upon citizens to decide what kind of society they want to see. Foreigners bring competition and new ideas. Those that decide to acquire citizenship must be accorded the same rights as those born in the country as the real ultimate beneficiary is the host country. Why would any rational citizen of a host country refuse to collect income from voluntary contracting parties whose incomes are subject to involuntary collections as taxes?
The concept of black economic empowerment that formed part of the policy thrust of the Mbeki administration sought to redefine the national identity question. As a result of this policy, a black person is now legally defined in peculiar and divisive manner to exclude all other black persons who were not subjected to the apartheid experience.
Who does South Africa belong to? This question raises emotional, political, economic, cultural and religious issues. If South Africa, for example, does not belong to foreign-born black people, then can it be safe for people who look different from those that claim to own the country?
What makes all of us human is in part our ability to make choices and is so doing discriminate. The power to discriminate has its own consequences.
It is not unusual, for instance, to find Nigerian-born South Africans creating their own networks that often exclude other people. Equally, Zimbabweans do the same in as much as Indian South Africans find comfort in dealing and associating with people who look like them.
The real challenge in building a secure future for all is to invest in an idea that is inclusive and that is informed by the interests of the state.
When a Congolese-born South African citizen, for example, pays taxes, there is no mechanism of differentiating the revenue from that paid by a South African-born citizen. The state makes no distinction between tax payers and it is only through taxes that the state can deliver the kind of services that attract more citizens to the idea.
In building South Africa to what it is today, there are many who believe that without a Eurocentric value system, this would not have been possible. Using this thinking, a conclusion is often made that immigration of foreign born Africans dilutes or even undermines national progress.
Invariably, Africa’s past was so distorted that black people see no value in working together in Africa even when they are acutely aware that outside Africa their degrees of freedom are limited.
When one walks the street of New Delhi, for example, there is no way of telling what a South African looks like. We are all Africans and yet in Africa, we fail to use our numerical advantage to build a seamless and borderless continent.
Whereas whites have a better chance to be accepted as African in post-apartheid South Africa, the majority of foreign-born Africans have no choice. Even Mbeki had no choice but to appoint Indian and white South Africans to his cabinet than appoint a foreign-born African, notwithstanding his unwavering commitment to the African idea.
Mbeki has opened the debate that we must engage in if we are to build a secure future for our children. Imagine the humiliation a son or daughter of a foreign-born African who is born in South Africa, but can never belong to the country of his birth just because of his heritage. Should such children change their surnames so that they can be considered South African?
White South Africans who make the same choices to be part of South Africa are not exposed to the same choices? They simply become part of the melting pot.
What is our obligation to South Africa? Even Mbeki has an obligation to improve our literacy on the South African idea. When we talk of the Rainbow Nation, what do we really mean? If South Africa belongs to all who live in it, how best can this fact be translated into practice?
Ultimately, all income earners in South Africa have a stake in the future of the country. What is striking is that most of the foreign-born black South Africans are reluctant to be part of the social contract by participating in the political, social and cultural affairs of their adopted home.
They often adopt an attitude that they do not belong and, therefore, spend more time debating about governance issues in their places of birth than in the places where they have elected to transfer their sweat income as tax.
Whether it is xenophobia or Afrophobia, what is important is that we revisit the idea called Africa. We are Africans after all and yet we refuse to act as such. The law of gravity provides a guiding principle. If we can come together to create a black face called a State President, we can surely create institutions controlled by people from the majority.
If the people need to be empowered, then one must know what time it is. The number of white South Africans probably exceeds the number of black Zimbabwean-born residents and citizens and yet it is only black Zimbabweans who are being profiled through the documentation project.
Profiling itself has consequences and even holders of legitimate South African papers will not escape being targeted. We are all exposed. Who will be safe? Unlike South African born citizens, Zimbabwean born South Africans will necessarily have to carry documents with them 24/7 lest they may be embarrassed or victimised.
We have work to do. Africa’s future is compromised and even undermined by our actions. How many of us have taken note of what Mbeki is really saying? We need to appreciate why he is saying the things he is saying. Some may call him a denialist, while other may call him a hypocrite, but he has never been shy of expressing himself.
The violence against foreign-born blacks has to be understood in as much as Idi Amin’s actions have to be interrogated if we are to secure Africa’s future.
As a member of Africa Heritage Society www.africa-heritage.com, I am convinced that there is no better ambassador to deal with the issues of African identity and citizenship than former President Mbeki. We need to broaden the conversation, and more importantly, participate in shaping the construction of an Africa that is tolerant and inclusive.
It is not sufficient that we remain spectators in this defining debate about who we are and how we should, as a people, confront the myriad of development challenges that need out input and support.
We have to be vigilant and in as much as the concept of being Chinese, for example, is not limited to one identity, I have no doubt that the concept of being African can be developed and shaped by our ideas.
It is never late to make a new declaration of African independence premised on an inclusive and holistic definition of African identity informed by our contemporary experiences and not by the pain the past has occasioned of the majority of Africans.