Xenophobia is not our story!

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STEMBILE MPOFU

Sitting down to write this piece I have a strong sense that it will be the most challenging article I write this year. This is because I am aware that the ideas being put forward and the solutions suggested will go against the grain of every emotion the majority of Africans are feeling in response to the xenophobic attacks happening in South Africa. The challenging part of this assignment is that it seeks to overturn how we normally view the world and interpret its events.

It asks us to break out of the political party capsules in which we normally reside. It asks us to acknowledge that there was a world before any of the political parties that colour our thinking space existed and that there will be a world that exists beyond Zanu PF, MDC, ANC, DA, the EFF and others. It asks us to respond to the situation in South Africa in a way that will put us on a path to realizing an Africa where our children will once again be equal players on the global stage because they have autonomy over the resources of their continent and have power to determine their own destiny. To reach this place we must lift our eyes beyond the immediate tumult and look at the larger context within which this so-called xenophobia is taking place and ask the question, “When Africa and Africans are divided who stands to benefit?” 

The story of Africa’s division began to be written many centuries ago, at times with our complicity and at other times not. Today I will open the book on the page that begins on the15th July 2019. On this day Jacob Zuma took the stand in the South African Zondo Commission State Capture enquiry set up to ascertain the extent to which the ANC Government under the leadership of Jacob Zuma facilitated corruption within government structures. Zuma’s initial appearance at the enquiry set the South African political arena into a tailspin. His testimony and subsequent media interviews provided an opportunity for us ordinary people to catch a glimpse of the underbelly of the real world of politics. Not the political world as we have been trained to see it but as it truly is with the mask removed. 

Zuma’s testimony and subsequent interviews, buttressed by the reports compiled by South Africa’s Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, exposed Cyril Ramaphosa’s CR17 campaign for the ANC Presidency to have been heavily sponsored by some of South Africa’s richest and most influential white business people. The list of his campaign donors included R10 million from South Africa’s richest man Nicky Oppenheimer,  R1million from Raymond Ackerman owner of the Pick and Pay chain of stores, R1 million from Maria Ramos, ex ABSA CEO and recent Ramaphosa appointee to the executive of the Public Investment Corporation and R2 million from Johnny Copelyn owner of the news network eNCA. Two donations from unidentifiable entities one calling itself ABSA Nation Building donated R10million and another wholly anonymous donor put R120 million towards the CR17 campaign. Other donations were received from Goldman Sachs Southern African Chief Executive Colin Coleman, Eskom board member Sifiso Dabengwa and former Imperial Holdings Chief Executive Mark Lamberti.

To add to the intrigue was the list of the beneficiaries of the donated funds. The list included payments into the accounts of prominent ANC ministers who were paid millions for their role in the campaign. Surprisingly members of opposition parties, EFF and the Democratic Alliance were included in the generous payouts. Individual journalists and media networks made the list. The icing on the CR17 funding cake was that the funds that were not utilised during the campaign were parceled into various company accounts, an action that raised money-laundering concerns in the Public Protector’s investigation. Despite his persistent denials that he had little knowledge of how campaign donations were sourced and distributed, leaked emails revealed that Ramaphosa had intimate knowledge of the movement of funding.

The final nail in Ramaphosa’s coffin came from an inference made in an exclusive interview Zuma gave to Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh on July 19th, a few days after his appearance at the Zondo State Capture enquiry. In his interview Zuma stated that during the liberation struggle the ANC was infiltrated by two apartheid intelligence agencies, one of which was under the control of the CIA. In his account of the events that took place during the liberation struggle and during the CODESA negotiations, he gives clues that point to the possibility of current SA President Cyril Ramaphosa being a Manchurian Candidate installed by America’s CIA. Such allegations had dogged Ramaphosa in the past but previous speculation had perhaps not been accompanied by the detail given by Zuma. 

The effect of this bombshell on the ANC and South Africans as a whole was huge. There was no way out as all these events took place in a space where it seemed South Africa’s Judiciary and Public Protector both had vested interests in the outcome of the conflict and the media’s partiality was clearly in question. The situation did not provide the respite of a just arbiter who could assist to make sense of all this. Ordinary South Africans did not feature anywhere except in the crowd scenes supporting one party or the other. It was however increasingly clear to the ordinary man on the street that despite what the media tried to tell them there were no good guys in this story. The possibility of an explosion where there was no pressure valve was high.

If one scans the bigger picture, informed by the events that were taking place in the political arena, an interesting sequence of incidents followed which if analysed may provide a clue as to how we should respond to the latest spate of South Africa’s xenophobic attacks and have us ask if they are real and spring from a genuine place or if they are manufactured.

On July 25 the Financial Mail published an extract from Pieter du Toit’s book, The Stellenbosch Mafia. It was an interview with Johan Rupert, South Africa’s second richest man. Rupert states that he is contemplating moving from South Africa saying that the threat of South Africa’s current deputy president David Mabuza ascending to the Presidency and the negative perception he and his family are receiving could influence him to leave South Africa. He also says that there are too many threats for him to contend with in South Africa, telling of how his children have moved to England because they received abuse from people when they went out in public. Another frustration being that he was tired of being portrayed as the face of White Monopoly Capital.

On Friday the 9th of August Johann Rupert’s Richemont warehouse was robbed of $19.5 million dollars worth of jewelry. The guards were overpowered and remarkably the CCTV cameras happened not to be working. The Citizen newspaper reported the response given by Zanele Lwana Deputy President of the deregistered political party Black First, Land First (BLF), who said their revolutionary movement saw this as a brave act of repossession to be applauded. “ We hope that those who repossessed the jewellery are black people. Only black people have a legitimate right to take back that which belongs to them. All mineral wealth was stolen from black people.” BLF was deregistered by the IEC because their Constitution expressly excludes white people. With such strong sentiments existing within South Africa’s Black populace, Johann Rupert’s feelings of insecurity are not unfounded.

Meanwhile on the other side of the proverbial tracks on the 7th of August, South African police led a multi agency raid on foreign owned businesses in the Johannesburg CBD targeting counterfeit goods. These foreigners were of African origin. The raids involved the deployment of a 1500 strong police force, personnel from the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Home Affairs including immigration and the Metro Police. Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Gauteng Premier David Makhura and MEC on Community Safety Faith Mazibuko were present at the raids to put the authority of the state on the operation. They felt this was important as a police raid in the previous week had seen an organised retaliation from foreign nationals that had seen the police retreat.

On 13 August, Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Advocate Mahlodi Muofhe as the new head of the Domestic Branch of the State Security Agency. Advocate Mahlodi Muofhe had recently given evidence at the Zondo State Capture Enquiry telling of how Zuma had offered him the post of NPA boss in exchange for protecting Zuma and his political cronies. He had also published an opinion piece in his personal capacity criticizing how the Public Protector was approaching her work. Two days after his appointment in an eNCA TV interview, Muofhe was asked what the biggest threat to the country was and his response was that illegal immigration was the biggest threat to South Africa. 

After some days notices of a clamp down and assault on African foreign nationals and their businesses began circulating. September 2nd was earmarked for this crack down to begin. The notices also warned of impending attacks on foreign truck drivers moving goods through South Africa. Various individuals were given platforms on TV and radio to speak about how the businesses of foreign nationals were inflicting economic sabotage on the nation and taking the wealth that belongs to real South Africans. With this the Weapons of Mass Distraction were successfully launched and a new chapter began in the division of Africans and the African continent. 

The centuries of pillaging that have resulted in 85% of the South African economy being in the hands of a tiny white minority were quickly forgotten. The fact that it was that tiny white minority that used their wealth to guarantee Ramaphosa’s rise to the Presidency was forgotten. All forgot that it is in the power of the political elite to decide whether or not to create an environment where all citizens have equal access to the country’s wealth or to continue protecting the interests of the white minority. No one has time to ask what the millions of campaign Rands were paying for, because we all know nothing is for free.

Nobody noticed that the whole government apparatus under the command of Cyril Ramaphosa was working to direct the anger and frustration of an impoverished populace towards a group whose collective impact on the South African economy is dwarfed in comparison to that of the multi million dollar white owned businesses. No one realised that while the black Africans burnt each other’s property on the streets of Johannesburg and in the townships supermarket chains and jewellery stores in the pristine shopping malls were at that time more secure. None of the millions of black South Africans had thoughts like BLF’s Zanele Lwana of repossessing wealth from the white man. 

Coincidentally (or not) the week of 2nd of September is the week the World Economic Forum (WEF) begins in Cape Town. The newly signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) is the central theme around which the conference is structured. It is likely that the dark cloud of xenophobia will obscure meaningful discussion, especially in a space where Africans from across the continent are crying for some sort of sanction to be put on South Africa for the crimes being perpetrated against their countrymen. But the question in our minds is that should we as Africans respond by finding ways that punish South Africa but may have negative consequences on the rest of Africa in the long run? Nigeria, the largest African economy has not signed ACFTA. If South Africa, the second largest economy is ostracized then the potency of the impact of ACFTA is greatly diminished before it even takes off. This will affect Africa adversely but we must ask who will benefit?

In the same way South Africa’s pristine malls are safer while black Africans fight in the townships, an African continent in conflict with itself leaves the multinational companies safe to retain ownership over Africa’s resources. We need united regional bodies to link up and form a strong united Africa. As citizens we must lead. In the same way that it is ordinary people who are used to spark the xenophobic fires, we must douse those flames with calls for unity and not division. We do this by first looking at this issue within the global context, in other words looking at the bigger broader global picture. This requires us to 

step out of our political party capsules, that means forgetting about party affiliation and motivations and defining ourselves as nothing else but African. In this state we craft a response to this current issue that aims to minimise the global threat to our continent. We must realise that the knee jerk response of fighting South Africa and her people without considering the global dynamics will have us falling into a trap that leads to our own demise at the global level.

Our next step is to reject xenophobia by recognising that it is not our real story. I say it is not our real story because outside of the scenes of violence circulating and government officials from the Ramaphosa government declaring foreign nationals a threat, the majority of South Africans are living and working peacefully with their foreign brothers and sisters. We must ask how many 2nd and third generation Zambians, Malawians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans make up the millions of people who call themselves South African today. We must tell the stories that expose this xenophobia as a lie because it is not our story. We, as African citizens must tell our own stories in the same way Jazz musician Hugh Masekela spoke of his Zimbabwean ancestry. Telling of how his great grand father was Karanga and his real surname was Munyepawu. He said coming to Zimbabwe was like coming to his spiritual home. We must tell the story of another Afro jazz musician, Ray Chikapa Phiri son of a Malawian migrant whose voice and lyrics coloured by his Malawian background were the soundtrack of the struggle against apartheid as he sang with the band Stimela. Ray Phiri’s father came to South Africa like the many thousands of Africans that travelled to work in the gold mines of Johannesburg from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Angola and Tanzania. Thousands of these men settled in South Africa, the story of their struggle again told by Hugh Masekela in his legendary song Stimela (the Coal Train.) Those who settled married and had families; others took their wives back home and started families there. My own story is that I have grand parents on both my maternal and paternal side who travelled to South Africa and settled there. Huge branches of my family tree are made up of South Africans who have not burnt any shops or attacked any foreign nationals because they know where they came from and that these people are their kith and kin. Xenophobia is not our story, let us all tell our real stories. 

Xenophobia is a story that has been created to create consequences that do not benefit Africa and Africans. It is time to close the book on African divisions and begin writing a new one on African unity and that begins with the declaration that #xenophobiaisnotmystory!