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‘Afrophobia’: How a continent hits itself in the face

Pan-Africanism and loving ones brother is a good reason to be shocked over the recent xenophobic attacks however many have forgotten that these ideas are based on struggle stories. Pan-Africanism may seem dead but the need for it is not because, as Africans, we are not each other’s problem



‘I sang struggle songs with the South Africans when there were in Kenya hiding from the government’.

Granted, my uncle later admitted that it was after a few rounds at a local watering hole and he may not have gotten all the words correct but the sentiment was there. This is a fuzzy snapshot of the Pan-Africanist history of our continent; the idea that as South Africa limped towards that finish line, the continent fed them orange slices, cups of water and urged them on.

Fast forward to the present day and the history of the interconnected nature of our countries is quickly forgotten, not only within Southern Africa but across the board.

The few who stand against the scourge are those with an unofficial PhD in Pan-African history who will begin to vaguely wax lyrical about how so many liberation heroes were hidden in African countries.  That some nations gave so much love that there were even allowed into SADC despite clearly being in East Africa.


Here is looking at you Tanzania and that SADC fee UCT students from there pay.

But after the struggle soot has settled how relevant are these arguments still? It would seem that now that independence has come we cannot hold onto, or even remember, the past. History moves on. Thanks for the help we will send a fruit basket.

Which is understandable as one cannot ask for a constant thank you. That time is gone and the common enemy has fled into the murky waters. The devil has gone back to the pit from whence he came and all is right in the world. Everyone is free and everyone is on the same level playing field to pull themselves up by their boot straps.

Former President Thabo Mbeki arrives with fellow students as asylum-seekers in Botswana, 1962. Photo: Independent Newspapers

Former President Thabo Mbeki arrives with fellow students as asylum-seekers in Botswana, 1962. Photo: Independent Newspapers

However, xenophobia is based in the fact that South Africans are convinced that foreign nationals are trying to steal not only their boot straps but the whole damn boot.

Despite the pan-African nature of South Africa’s struggle, anger transforms foreign nationals from those who aided in the pursuit of freedom to those who are now trying to steal it whereas those who actively hindered it are now the beloved who can walk the cobbled streets as tourists. Mandela was only taken off the American terrorist list a few years ago, for example. Recently, a Whatsapp/ BBM message making the rounds that stated:

‘We have just come out of an oppressive regime whilst you in the North have been enjoying freedom since 1960, 1975 and 1981’. The idea being that this freedom has operated in, and continues to operate in isolation. This in itself is not particularly shocking. It is not hard to discern how we got here.


The problem of a skewed history of the liberation struggle not only affects people outside the country but those within. Many home grown heroes have been written out of the liberation narrative and they were right here, what more of those who helped abroad?

Many who loot, harm and burn do not know the extent to which other countries were involved in helping South Africa obtain the freedom they now accuse foreign nationals of stealing.  They also do not understand that of all the people who are truly looting their freedom, it is not the man from Malawi. It is the lack of service delivery, a flagging economy, crime so coherent it should have its own Ministry within the Presidency, people starving, an ‘official’ unemployment rate of 24%, disenfranchised youth and the wealth of the country remaining in the hands of a few. Not the Somali man trying to sell you sugar and a half loaf. Not the Kenyan who has the skills to transfer as the country experiences a crippling skills shortage.

The phrase ‘Afrophobia’ is being bandied around, and everyone is wondering why Africans do not love each other. Why do we continually slide down this rabbit hole of visa stand offs , Twitter wars and xenophobic violence? Why we continue to tear at each other despite our shared history?


Service delivery protest in South Africa. Photo: Daniel Born

The reason that we as African countries squabble like siblings is because we are. We are all birthed from the same decrepit womb of colonisation. Now the memories of uniting against a common colonial parental foe are gone and now we think we have been left home alone with only a little mouldy cheese and some hard bread in the house. We are left with scraps we must fight to the death for.

Xenophobic attacks always come back down to the idea of ‘there is not enough for us here so you must go home.’

What Africans do not understand is we are each other’s last hope. We are our last port of call in rebuilding our countries because frankly the world out there does not love us. The Chinese barely love the people next door, the Europeans still see us as ‘The help’, the Middle East would rather enslave us  than welcome us in, in parts of Asia they will not give you a visa for being black and will send you an official email stating so.


And the United States? Well go there and try being black on a good day, even Chris Rock gets harassed and he is famous. #Ferguson and #LivingWhilstBlack is a very real thing.

The sad thing as an African is the world does not love you. Go through your average visa process at any time you choose to forget that.

The person who calls you brother and genuinely means it is your neighbour. Furthermore the future is here. Although the ‘Africa Rising’ rhetoric has some mythical and problematic aspects to it there is no denying that the potential of the world lies in our borders, a fact that the world continues to recognise as immigrants flood in from the United States and Europe in droves.

Africa rising

Although the ‘Africa Rising’ rhetoric has some mythical and problematic aspects to it there is no denying that the potential of the world lies in our borders. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

When one looks to the who is snapping up all the prime real estate in places such as the Waterfront and Constantia it is not the Zimbabwean who crawled across the border, it is the German, the Swiss, the Brit and the other man from some European country people seldom remember that is famous for something obscure like spring water and stuffed sausage.

The sad thing is a new type of Pan-Africanism is needed because we are in the exact same situation that brought us together in the first place. It is just in a new outfit and calling itself the global village. We are still the kids on the playground who no one would play with so we’d hang with each other. Now they said we can play but we all know in our hearts we are not really in the game and now we have turned on each other on micro- and macro-levels.

It may be time to all meet in a pub somewhere and sing some continental struggle songs, because on a number of levels they are still relevant.