South Africa’s new minister of police Fikile Mbalula appears to have approached his new assignment with reckless enthusiasm. He was very recently quoted as having said that his country’s immediate neighbours, Zimbabwe, has some of its ex-army personnel that are responsible for a number of serious crimes being committed in South Africa. He should have ended there but didn’t. He went on to extol Zimbabweans for being well educated and working very well in his country’s kitchens.
Writing as a Zimbabwean based in Harare, (just in case you think I am a migrant graduate kitchen ‘help’) the statements attributed to him were not only xenophobic in populist intent but also indicative of a fellow African who has allowed the modicum of the (newish) power that he has to get to his head. And in the process, in Trump like fashion, feed into a raw populism that has made many a black South African forget that their primary challenges are not with fellow Africans but with ‘capital’ and the ‘waBenzi’.
And it would be helpful for Cde Mbalula not to speak like a comrade who has ‘arrived’ while forgetting not only the journey but those that helped along the way.
To state the obvious, it is imprudent for a contemporary South African politician to spout language that denigrates fellow Africans as being the source of not only criminal activities in South Africa but also beneficiaries of kitchen employment while holding doctorates. It reflects and regrettably so an ‘apartheid’ mentality that always sought to infer the ‘other’ to be not only a primitive native but also a servant. Even in a liberated South Africa.
I mention a ‘liberated’ South Africa because that is what we, the other Africans, understand it to be. That is, one that values not only human freedom, human rights, the rule of law, economic empowerment and Pan African solidarity as cornerstones of a democratic and forward looking (South) African future.
The statements attributed to Mbalula where he refers to Zimbabweans as being not only criminals but more damagingly ‘educated kitchen workers’ are against what we as Southern Africans and Africans in general, consider an organic and post liberation progressive Pan Africanism.
But it may be understandable to some that Mbalula is in a relatively new position and may have chosen to play to a reactionary populist gallery that in the regrettable spirit of US president Donald Trump assumes a specific regional exceptionalism to South Africa.
We must not use the language of exclusion and denigration against those that we must help.
That is all well and good. It is the sovereign right of some (politically) privileged South Africans to assume that they are not part of Africa. We, as general Africans, know that we are African.
Borrowing from that epic speech from South African revolutionary and founding African Union (AU) Chairperson, President Thabo Mbeki, I certainly know that I am an African beyond not only the negative effects of colonialism but more importantly beyond the division of Africans in order to perpetuate what another African revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah derisively referred to as the bifurcation (division) of the African continent in order to serve neo-colonialism as the last stage of imperialism.
As Zimbabweans on the receiving end of the SA police minister’s xenophobic remarks, we know we can take it on the chin. We would however be worried if his views reflect those of his principals in South Africa’s cabinet and the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
There are Zimbabweans that ably work in kitchens and restaurants, they also ably work in your country’s schools, universities, NGO and corporate sectors. I am one of them. Even if by default. It does not make me identify less with them. Instead it strengthens my own Pan-African social democratic agenda. Beyond the Limpopo and all the way to the Nile (blue, white and opening its mouthwaters in the Mediterranean to mainland Europe).
I am firmly persuaded Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel, Agostino Neto are turning in their graves in chagrin at what Mbalula’s statements imply about regional and international liberatory solidarity of oppressed peoples. We must not use the language of exclusion and denigration against those that we must help. Self righteousness does not help Cde Mbalula, South Africa or Zimbabwe. We are all in this together.