23/03/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 23/03/2017 07:25 SAST

The Rise of Afrophobia Has Me Questioning Where Black Love Is Today

Using the rhetoric of high unemployment as the primary cause of frustration, as an explanation for these afrophobic attacks only perpetuates the problem.

James Oatway / Reuters

If we look at history, South Africa's first inhabitants were the San people. The first foreigners to come into the country were the Nguni's coming down from East Africa in the 11th century followed by the Sotho people. So, what makes one South African? Being African of course! I've always had the feeling that South Africans are obsessed with setting themselves apart from others. There is always the need to distinguish ourselves from 'others' in some sort of quest for superiority.

I learnt this from an early age, because I've never 'looked' South African. I was always told that I looked like one of them. The younger me, would get upset at the insinuation that I wasn't like everyone else, I was different and not in a good way. With growth, I came to embrace the fact that I don't look like a typical Pedi girl. It gave me an edge and in any case I am a proudly African woman. I love my country, I love my continent and there is no place I'd rather live or come from.

When I first saw the news of violence against foreigners a month ago, I was overcome by a wave of embarrassment. How on earth does one rationalise the violence? As South African what is my excuse for my fellow countryman's behaviour? My closest friend, that I grew up with is of Congolese heritage but was raised in this country, she moved back to the Republic of Congo three years ago, because life as a foreigner is unforgiving. I visit her regularly in Brazzaville and call Congo my adoptive country. When the news of violence broke out I received messages from close friends around the continent, asking me why South Africans are being violent towards foreigners. I had no words and no explanation for it, there truly is nothing to say but to lament on the shame I feel.

Within the black community there is a violence that we exert on one another; a black on black violence. I don't understand the logic behind it but I know that it exists. It's something we've all encountered as black people, either through being a perpetuator or being on the receiving end of it. I've experienced it from bitter women behind supermarket tills, who scowl at you or don't speak to you at all but welcome the white woman that follows you in the queue with a warm smile and hello. These moments will leave you dumfounded and confused as to why do we treat each other with such disdain? What is achieved by trying to pull each other down? Are we not fighting the same struggle as black people? Instead of empowering each other we resort to scrapping each other. I don't understand the logic behind this hatred, behind Afrophobia.

The sad reality is that we all know people who openly and unapologetically hate foreigners. In those moments of hearing South Africans using offensive language to speak about foreigners, I become deeply uncomfortable because you can feel the resentment from the manner in which they speak. I found myself in a distressing situation where a black South African woman said America was lucky to have Trump and that he was doing his job correctly by getting rid of foreigners. I was in disbelief but a part of me was not surprised either.

I want to believe that there is hope, that we are simply an immature democracy that needs time to grow and learn from our mistakes. I think leadership in our country needs to be more responsible and they need to take full responsibility for everything that they put out into the public. The likes of Herman Mashaba; the mayor of Johannesburg and the Zulu King, both need to be held accountable for inciting violence against foreigners.

We need leaders who set a good example for us and who don't throw out irresponsible remarks. There is no condoning these attacks which happen every few years. Using the rhetoric of high unemployment in South Africa, as the primary cause of frustration, as an explanation for these afrophobic attacks only perpetuates the problem. We live on an amazing continent and cooperation from all 54 African states means a brighter future for us all. Africa is the future and if we don't acknowledge or visualise that, we won't realise it.