Africa for Africans
5 September 2019
Another week gone by and more drama in our constantly evolving society. Never a dull moment in contemporary SA it would seem, what with the uproar over the brutal rape and murder of a young UCT student followed by violence flaring up once again between South Africans and foreign nationals as they are seemingly called.
I was reflecting on all this and reminded of a trip that I went on with a mate of mine back in 2005, backpacking and hitchhiking through parts of Southern Africa for roughly three months. As one would expect, the trip had many priceless moments: the beauty of Lake Malawi and the species of fish that one sees on a voyage down the Lake, the legendary nights at the bar at backpackers places right across the different countries we visited with overland trucks coming in every day full of European travelers experiencing our beautiful continent.
A midnight drive in a 26 wheeler, 10 gear truck with an Afrikaner oke cold Thys who was driving to Lubumbashi in the Congo and was full of stories of diving for diamonds for the likes of Jonas Savimbi in Angola during his colourful past, rafting and canoeing the Zambezi over two memorable days, finding the most beautiful natural waterfall in some small little village in rural Tanzania, Lusaka in Zambia the home of the ANC in exile.
Visiting an old missionary church in some mountain off Lake Malawi and spending the night camping there then waking up in the morning and having a near death experience whilst climbing down the mountain, almost drowning in Lake Malawi and being rescued by my mate and a German tourist who happened to be sitting across the rocks in some remote part of the Lake.
The process of having to bargain for local currency each time we crossed the border into a different country and the funny realities we were confronted with, where my mate who is white would give all the money to me when we crossed the border, but he would be the one swamped by people shouting, “muzungu, muzungu, please give us money” and even though he would tell them that I had the money and not him, they would not believe it because in their eyes it is the white person who must have the money. We always chuckled about that after my mate had managed to frustratingly disentangle himself from these throngs that constantly asked him for money.
The memories are many and the experiences enriching, but what lived longest in the memory was the hospitality of the people in each of the countries we visited, the lasting impression that Africa is a beautiful continent and that we don’t travel enough on it. It inspired a commitment to hitchhike and backpack through every continent and write about the experiences before the age of fourty, something which one is unfortunately now not going to accomplish. In fact, throughout our trip, my mate and I were the only African people travelling and exploring the continent. The rest was Europeans and North Americans discovering our beautiful continent.
It was heart-warming to arrive in some small towns after twelve at night and to have locals going out of their way trying to find us overnight accommodation and ensure we are fine as opposed to looking to rob us.
A poignant moment was when we were walking across the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia at Victoria Falls late at night and a posse of young black youths walked past us and greeted politely. My mate turned to me and said, “you know Mugs, if I was back in SA I would have been super scared of being robbed when these black youths came past us, but here I never even experienced any fear or anxiety whatsoever.” I totally understood what he was saying.
We realised what a violent society we live in as South Africans, how “security conscious” we are as South Africans because of the high levels of crime in our country and what an impediment this is to true freedom.
I was reminded of all this as I was thinking of the unfortunate incidents of violence that broke up in our country this week. These incidents are unfortunate as they are a rejection of African principles of ubuntu and communal living. They are totally contrary to the warm welcome we received in the eight or so countries we visited during our three months of backpacking and hitch hiking through the southern parts of our lovely continent.
But what is the cause of all this violence I asked? Is it really xenophobia? What are the root causes? Methinks our fellow Africans are just a convenient scapegoat for our frustrations with our social ills and a social compact that many see as failing them.
Rising fuel and transport costs, food prices spiraling out of control, high inflation, cost of living increasing exponentially, no jobs, high inequality with an elite few being perceived to be the true beneficiaries of the democratic dispensation, household income under severe pressure, crime and drugs out of control in communities. State capture and corruption, which have curtailed the national democratic revolution. These are the real things that South Africans are frustrated about and fighting against, not their fellow African brothers and sisters.
These are the issues that we should be tackling with a sense of urgency as opposed to branding South Africans as unsophisticated, xenophobic and uncouth criminals.
These are the issues that President Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” must confront head on and resolve if is not going to peter out into a false dawn. This requires a new social compact, across all sectors of society to grow South Africa together. There are sacrifices that must be made, tough decisions to be taken, mistakes to be rectified.
The people are not xenophobic or afro-phobic per se. They are hungry, unemployed, frustrated, disappointed, hopeless and desperate. They need immediate solutions and not more promises and policies. We must acknowledge and deal with this, if we are ever to move forward as a people. The solution to all this violence and aggression is found in the famous words of former US President Bill Clinton, “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government. He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.