We love the Cubans, but NOT the Africans

© Matthew Spiteri

I watched as the aeroplane carrying the Cuban doctors landed in South Africa to assist in fighting COVID-19. A group of more than 200 health professionals, led by their Ambassador, climbed down the staircase of the “death-bound” South African Airways. One could not help but notice how the Cubans affectionately displayed their national flag as they walked towards the South African delegation which had come to bid them a special welcome at a time when local and international travel is banned. Senior members of the African National Congress (ANC) and National Command Council took turns to deliver short yet gratitude-laden speeches on the commitment demonstrated by their all-time friend from the Americas. Dr. Mkhize, Minister of Health, had earlier confirmed the coming of the team to provide much-needed assistance towards the reduction of community transmission of COVID-19.

Through their speeches, it was evident the Ministers were reminiscing the days of Apartheid when their political ties with Castro’s Cuba were bolstered. References were made to the all-time revolutionary giants such as Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. However, unlike in those days when the nationalists received military assistance from Cuba to overcome the settlers, today the assistance was non-lethal, and the enemy was non-human.   

As the Ministers were pouring gratitude towards the visitors, a thought kept on bubbling in my head why such exclusive acknowledgement is reserved for non-Africans. I accept that the world is under pressure to arrest the coronavirus which causes the disease COVID-19 and any assistance towards improving the condition is welcome. But as a foreign national living in South Africa I find it hypocritical of the ANC-led government to welcome one foreigner and threaten to kick out another. A few days ago, before the Cubans arrived, Minister Mboweni unashamedly pronounced his intent to sideline foreign nationals both in the formal and informal economy at a time when nations, societies and individuals are expected to come together in solidarity. It appears Mboweni has a short memory. Must we remind him that during his exile it was Basotho who opened their doors to him when it was unfashionable to cooperate. His first tertiary qualification was obtained from a foreign University, even the one that followed. It now appears convenient for him to put down the hammer and scatter the African child. One might not be overall surprised by his move as most African leaders like Mboweni gradually lose their roots upon dinning with the settlers and in the process adopt a world-view foreign to their people.

This is not the first-time such xenophobic utterances have been expressed. However, the difference today is the confirmation of hatred of African migrants from a sitting Cabinet Minister. On any other day, it could have been Mboweni welcoming the Cuban health professionals. How then does one process hatred on one end and affection on the other. This is not the time to separate people, but to support and educate communities on ways to survive the crisis. The struggle of the African child continues.