World Cup…Xenophobia – Love the world. Slap Africa.

July 14, 2010

I saw a status on Facebook this morning that really resonated with me, “How can one country make you so happy and so sad all at the same time?”. I share those sentiments exactly. South Africa has just come out of the proudest month of its post-Apartheid existence. Against many odds, and with the sharp eyes of the critics glaring down at us, South Africa shined bright in the eyes of the world; the spirit, enthusiasm, and unity behind the World Cup was tangible and electric, the delivery was impeccable, and FIFA boasts that it was the best World Cup in the history of their tournaments. And now, with that victory barely even under our belt, the threat of Xenophobic attacks again looms.

Are these rumors true? Are we going to see another mass slaughter of African foreigners? Well, whether they happen or not, as millions of overseas foreigners leave the country with positive feelings after a wonderful World Cup, last night the news reported that the main border between South Africa and Zimbabwe was four times busier than normal, with terrified, frustrated Africans, fleeing the country “never to return”. This makes me sad. I have many thoughts about this Xenophobia, some conflicting. Here are some:

I think the media is responsible for the “size” of the Xenophobic attacks the first time around, back in 2008. The first attack happened in a specific area, with a specific group of people. I do not believe the “movement” (if you can call it that) would have spread to other areas in the way that it did. Sure, the anger and feelings were already there, which obviously led to it happening in other areas, but I do not feel like it would have turned into what it did without the media coverage.

I do appreciate the media, this time around, for covering a story last night on how many of the foreign owned shops in the townships are now standing closed (due to looting and fear of violence), and local residents are complaining that they have to travel farther, and pay more to buy groceries. The one lady expressed that she does not care who owns the shop, as long as she can buy stuff.

I think the reasoning that “they are stealing our wives and taking our jobs” is totally absurd. First of all, many of the foreigners (and we’re talking certified doctors, lawyers, and other professionals in their country of origin) are willing to take jobs that locals do not want, and work for less. Though this might not be acceptable, it is ridiculous to get angry at the person who is willing to honestly work; take your beef up with the employers rather. And the wife thing, come on! Let’s not speak about women as though they are pirate booty or something. They are not anyone’s to be given or stolen. They can choose for themselves. So if South African women are choosing more foreign men, maybe it’s time for South African men to man up, treat women with more respect, romance them a bit, stop cheating on them, and win their hearts. Thinking they are your to be “stolen”, is probably the beginning of the problem of why they are choosing other men.

On that note, I know plenty of white (international) foreigners, with both South African jobs and wives, and husbands for that matter, and not one single one of them was attacked. Why?

And speaking of racism, these xenophobic attacks stir up all sorts of other forms of racism, masked in good will. I have heard so many white South Africans, both this time and last time around, say stupid things like, “I just can’t believe how those people turn to violence so quickly. It’s all they know,” or “I just don’t understand it that black people would attack other black people,” or even, “They just need to stop complaining and being lazy! They have everything these days. They’re just lazy.” I mean, wow! Besides the fact it is completely ignorant, this kind of talk is the verbal form of the xenophobic attacks. Let’s speak against the violence and leave our personal prejudices out of the matter. Besides, the average person making an ignorant comment like that really has no idea what it is like to live in the township, or in poverty for that matter.

I will never justify that type of violence and hatred towards anyone, but I can understand the frustrations of an average South African, still living in extreme poverty, with nothing but empty promises to feed their children. If a South African citizen is suffering, yet lives beside a foreigner who they perceive as “thriving”, then it is hard for that frustration not to boil. But again, these frustrations should be taken up with the appropriate people, the government and not the African foreigners in this case. Unfortunately for the African foreigners in the townships, the government is nowhere to be seen for the most part.

The government needs to step up in a bigger and better way. Not only in acting and speaking out against xenophobia with a stronger front, but mostly in service delivery to those who are still waiting. We now know it is completely possible. In merely six years we saw an entire infrastructure built where little to nothing was before (with most of the work being done in the past 2 to 4 years). We met the tough goals of FIFA. Now it’s time to take that same focus, energy and delivery to the communities who need it most. And the rest of the country needs to chip in and offer the spirit and support it did during this wonderful World Cup.

No matter what, when all is said and done, xenophobia and xenophobic violence is ridiculous and should not be tolerated.

Yeah, those are just some of the many thoughts I have about xenophobia.

I think I know how one country can make a person so happy and so sad at the same time. I love South Africa! I am sure the loving parents of an awkward, rebellious, angry teenager who is trying to figure out his identity in the world, often have feelings of both happiness and sadness about the choices their child makes. That teenager can come home with straight A’s and get a girl pregnant on the same day. Let’s not be one sided, or allow acts of hatred to cause us to hate. Let’s remember that South Africa is an awkward teenager of a Democracy, and rather look on it with love, and try and do what we can to mold and shape it to be a better, more responsible adult Nation. Let’s continue to love each other, this great nation, and all who choose to live in it.


I Felt It! It IS Here!

June 25, 2010

“And then I saw the coloured Holland supporter kiss the Cameroonian supporter at the end of the match. They took pictures together, and the random white English supporter jumped in the picture as well. And they were happy. And it was awesome. And for this month we all forgot we hate each other.”

But first…

You know, as the build-up to the World Cup was happening, I just wasn’t feeling it. I guess in the line of work I am, I was just too focused on the billions of Rand I saw being spent on things that might only service this World Cup, disgusted with the knowledge that that very money could put a serious positive dent in the communities with millions of people who are still in great need; the irony that many of the South Africans who would enjoy the matches the very most, would not be able to afford a ticket, only poured salt in that wound. I also did not know how I  felt about a butt-load of foreigners flooding my backyard. Yeah, I was pretty much the World Cup equivalent of the Scrooge. I rolled my eyes at the South African Broadcasting Corporations motto “Feel it. It is here.”

But then, about a week before the opening game kick-off, it happened. A South African flag factory apparently exploded and flag shrapnel was everywhere! On car rear view mirrors, on scarves, on people’s clothes, houses, shops, shoes, and baby diapers. Groups of school children lined the streets, pumping up the divers stuck in morning peak-hour-traffic, as they blew their vuvuzelas, wore their South African colours and smiles, shouted their cheers, sang their songs, waved their flags, held their posters, all shouting “Feeeeeeel it! It is HERE!“. At that very moment, a cape flats gangster smiled at an old white granny, and she smiled back; a minibus taxi driver smiled and waved a slower driver to pull in front of him; the black brother said to the white dude, “Feel it,” and the white dude replied with a thumbs up and an enthusiastic, “It is here!”

For that moment, we forgot about crime, we forgot about HIV. We forgot about Malema and his silly songs, and Zuma and his silly showers. We forgot about the ANC Youth League bashing up toilets, or the Xenophobic attcks of the past. We forgot about race and we forgot about class. We forgot we hated each other. And we maybe even realized it’s not only possible to like each other, but we could maybe, just possibly learn to love on another.

Then the streets filled with foreigners, the kick-off kicked off, the bars filled, the Fan Parks busted at their seams, and the stadiums beamed with energy and lights. People somewhere, and everywhere, are celebrating every day and every night. Every day feels like Saturday. Everybody’s having fun. And this wonderful game of soccer has begun to unite, not only this nation but, the world. I have watched almost every single game from my couch, kicking myself that I did not put forth effort to get tickets to watch a live one.

And then a friend called, with tickets 7 rows from the field, and asked me to go with her to the Cameroon vs Holland game! I said yes! I immediately got my yellow shirt with the green Mekasi head, a red hoodie to go underneath it, a Cameroon flag and my excitement together and ready for this once in a lifetime experience. I didn’t care if Cameroon was already knocked out, this is the first ever World Cup on African soil and I’m supporting Africa!

And then we walked into the amazing, glowing, spaceship-looking stadium and nothing else in the world really seemed to matter except what the sixty-something-thousand people came to watch. The stadium was a little too orange for my liking, but that only meant my fellow Cameroonian supporters, peppered into the crowd, and I had to scream louder. I waved my flag. I shouted. I saw Samuel Eto’o score a goal right before my very eyes. I saw Cameroon go down fighting. I saw the players hug each other after the match. And then I saw the coloured Holland supporter kiss the Cameroonian supporter at the end of the match. They took pictures together, and the random white English supporter jumped in the picture as well. And they were happy. And it was awesome. And for this month we all forgot we hate each other.

All our problems still exist, but the spirit around an event like this gives us the strength to come together, and fight those problems…together. I felt it. I’m feeling it. It is here.

South Africa’s Big Brother…

June 10, 2010

When I was young I picked on my little brother quite a bit. Sometimes it was warranted, often it wasn’t. But, and he can vouch for this, if someone else picked on him I would be the first person to make sure that person paid with a bit of blood and pain. I remember one incident quite vividly that ended with me kicking a neighborhood kid until I felt his ribs had been taught a lesson. But I think that’s how it is in general, and I do believe it is a global thing: I can make fun of my little brother all I want but you better not even think about it.

Well, lately I have been getting similar feelings about this World Cup. I admit, I was one of the first to express my concerns; will the construction be done on time, why are we building these expensive stadiums when millions of people still live in absolute poverty, will the infrastructure be able to handle an event of this scale, and so on and so forth. But I wasn’t picking on South Africa, it was just genuine concern.

Now I see all these articles, mostly by the foreign press, talking down on South Africa. They over exaggerate the crime, they say uninformed statements about “white people being in danger”, and they general just display their ignorance, much like the big, dumb school bully on the playground. But what I know, this event is happening. People are pumped. South Africans have come out to show their love, patriotism and support for this event. It has been quite moving to see!

So, to all you negative people out there, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!! You bring on your reality with your words. If you continue to speak death and destruction, because you are looking for it, you can be sure it will pay you a visit. So please, let’s all celebrate the good things and focus on the positive. I don’t want to have to figure out how to metaphorically kick the ribs of the foreign media! That just seems really difficult.

Township Tours…

May 26, 2010

Ok, I’m just going to say it… Township tours really freak me out! I used to be more torn about it; on the one hand I was seriously disturbed by the patronizing and intrusive edge they have to them, but on the other hand I could see how it’s good to bring money, jobs and positive attention to the townships. And I believe when they are tastefully done, through community participation and inclusion, they can expose tourists, who might have otherwise been shielded from the poverty that affects the majority of South Africans, to the bigger picture of the realities in South Africa. But that is if they are tastefully done.

All too often they remind me of some weird kind of urban safari. One day I was walking in Site C, Khayelitsha, and I rounded a corner to see the tiny township street flooded with white, camera-wielding foreigners, all snapping away, maybe trying to capture that perfect “smiling-with-a-random-black-kid” photo for their Facebook profile pictures. As I approached them they looked at me in shock and annoyance; I don’t think I have ever been glared at so intensely by any other group of people in my entire life! They thought they had paid for the right to be the only white people in the township and I was ruining that magical ideal for them!

As I walked by, I cringed at the incredibly loud ignorant comments made by the tourists (comments that would really insult a resident), them posing with random children they have never seen before and will never see again, them speaking down at the people of Site C as if they were not on the same plane of intelligence, and so on and so forth. The whole scene made me sick to my stomach.

As the FIFA World Cup approaches, and the entire world will be on South Africa’s doorstep, I can’t help but think about things like township tours. I want all the tourists to experience the fullness of South Africa. I want people to be able to experience the amazing culture in the townships, and also not be shielded from poverty, but I do not want it at the expense or exploitation of people. Let’s look at it in another way… Can you imagine the reaction of residence of Bishops Court or Constantia if tour companies began doing tours through their neighborhoods; neighborhoods which were also established and enabled through Apartheid with potentially just as much interest as the ones on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum.

Imagine a tour bus stopping on a street in Bishop’s Court, followed by a bunch of foreigners flooding out of it, filling the street; stopping little white kids riding their bikes past so they can get a picture with them, taking pictures as the fancy cars drive by, climbing up the tall barrier walls to get pictures of the large mansions and yards, and making comments like, “Man, can you believe people still live like this?!” I do not think the Bishops Court residents would be all that happy about it. I don’t think those tours would last that long.

So yeah, I just wanted to get that off my chest. I guess it’s not the township tours per say that bother me. It’s probably, more specifically, the township tours that are done distastefully that bother me to the core of my being.

Random Thought #64

May 26, 2010

Shew! What a relief. Al-Qaeda says they have no intention of doing a terrorist attack at the FIFA World Cup. That was nice of them! I love it when terrorists are so agreeable.