You can be black or African, but not here!

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© Matthew Spiteri

Nothing makes a person question their sense of belonging more than rejection. Likewise, rejection also makes me question my difference. I am Zimbabwean, African and black, but sometimes often wonder if these three identity categories should follow a particular ranking order. Upon meeting a white man, I am instantly seen as another black man, while amongst other black people I am another foreigner. I live in between.

This is not a dive into an intersectional scrutiny of who has it worse but rather a glimpse of the other side of immigrant life that millions of South Africans might never get to experience. Choosing to abandon one’s country and every fond memory of your entire existence is no more of a choice than diabetic amputation. It’s a painful necessity if you still want to live. I add to the thousands of immigrant tales that weigh heavy in each of their hearts. Scared to come out but never hidden when your identity is called to question. The blissful naivety of not recognizing your difference in a society where natives look exactly like you has become a luxury that black foreigners cannot afford in South Africa. We are seen as polemic beings living on borrowed time.

Xenophobic utterances by politicians don’t surprise me anymore. What surprises me is how they are the same people who have lived through and vividly remember the colonial liberation struggles from fellow African leaders. I label this an identity crisis. Any people who do not know themselves will never know where they come from, and by extension who their neighbours are. It is unfathomable to assume that Zimbabwe suddenly has loose borders when these countries have been geographically neighbouring since the creation of the earth. While I do not ignore the underlying political incompetence on the Zimbabwean government’s part to secure a future for its citizens, much of the blame remains misdirected. Crime should be seen and treated as a crime regardless of who commits it. However, when you put a face to crime, the face becomes the crime instead. So when they attack foreigners, they are not just attacking immigrants, they are rightfully getting rid of crime. It’s personal, but it begs the question of who is really the criminal in the end between the dead suspect and the living culprit.

In all fairness, it is quite possible that we are also unaware of the problems that South Africans are trying to communicate. Maybe we are yet to understand what the problem really is. Put in Chinua Achebe’s words, we might have become the outsider who wept louder than the bereaved. If this is the case then I pose this thought for an open debate. Until then, let me make my position very clear:

I am not here to take your land, neither am I here to possess that which is already in your hand. I am only here to share the spoils of your feasts and gather them until they are enough to prepare a feast of my own. And if you ever become hungry one day, you are welcome to come dine with me at my table. Surely, I cannot be your enemy.