Monday, June 09, 2008

Hate that Love Bred Part 2

I was in South Africa or Mzansi as the locals call it in February this year to participate and facilitate a workshop. As is usual with my trips there the seeming emotional detachment of the black people there is often a disconcerting experience. I suppose being a Nigerian with penchant for drama and diatribes it figures. The one thing we share with Jamaicans, Greeks and Italians is that we amplify and broadcast our passions with little or no permission. In all my visits to Mzansi I have always felt that there was something straining to lose control under this tight emotional leash.

My driver from Oliver Tambo unlike my usual Avis rental decided to engage me in long discourse especially when he realised I was Nigerian. It especially concerned him that ‘we took their women away’ and on the other hand that ‘ Nigerian women never dated none Nigerians’. His opinions included his fantasy about their libido ever since seeing them dance which he thought Nigerian women are unrivalled in sexual possibilities and their beauty unsurpassed but their prejudices are legendary. He complained about the Nigerian Hillbrow dominance, crime, prostitution, commerce that is unbridled but it seemed there was also envy and respect fighting for place in his perspective. I was too tired to do anything other than scold the errant Nigerian and distinguish them from the middle class professionals as if that would quell envy and diminish the jealousy. Unfortunately we were in the grip of a Lagos Island, Monday morning style traffic. It emerged that ‘load shedding’ i.e. electricity blackouts were the order of the day and something in me smiled. Here was t Disdainful from Mzansi sharing the infra-structure challenges that makes the rest of Africa submit to throbbing machines and foul fumes. I slept in his car with a wicked and satisfied smile on my face.

Few days after I attended a British Council dinner and I sat with a group of Mzansi men. It is very rare for me since I get a sense that I rub them off the wrong way with notable exception especially my adopted brother Siphiwe Mpye and a few others . Often time there is usually a quick visual assessment of me and an attempt at rudeness. I however never respond ever since I had learnt a very hard lesson about being an outsider. At age 19 I had the Italian Carabinieri hold a gun to my head in a dark corner of Da Vinci airport for arguing and swearing at a errant airline clerk. I have since known to pick my fights carefully in any foreign land. I settled down with my best non-threatening smile, something i never stooped doing in some of the more racist places I have visited.

My experience brightened somewhat when one of the men started engaging me with barely concealed excitement about Lagos. He had visited , loved the energy, in love with the people. He confessed the place makes him feel so completely alive. I opened up to him, sharing stories about our favourite parts of Lagos, swapping experiences and challenging urban tales. One of the others a completely empty suit, whose almost entirely malformed smile was covered in attempts at badly frayed second hand British etiquette like a badly sewn seersucker suit was weighed in. He and been noticeable all evening with attempts at sickening ass kissing of any European within sight. He had to have misconstrued a ‘cockney’ accent for a grand elevation of status as he used it with liberal disdain for its efficacy. He challenged my new friend in very disrespectful and disparaging terms. What could he have seen in the chaos, smell and rot that is Lagos? His tone so full of derision and disgust all the time looking directly at me. It occurred to me that any attempt to confront his bigotry would only serve to fan the flames.

In my little time hanging in Jozi I had made too many friends to let such a ‘Jerk’ ( technical word) adulterate the experience. However as I left the event it occurred to me that this was not something to do with personal relationships but a psycho-social phenomenon . I told my friend Leeza that i was worried there will be an explosion (I have raised such spectre on this pages in the past). When it is acceptable for the chattering classes to trade openly in bigotry then it is license for those at the bottom of the pyramid to act.

It is no surprise that over 50 fellow Africans were killed, property lost and many more wounded. Jozi was to be the ‘New African Jerusalem’, the only place were the continent met and you could run into anyone from Cape to Cairo, Zanzibar to Cape Verde they all worked their magic and all pursued a dream. It was to be the truly African city a citadel of many hues and shades all from across this great and patient continent whose kindness to human folly seems to know no bounds. Jozi who seen the pain of bigotry and the humiliation of the other who had acted in Soweto, Alexandra, Sophia Town to rebel against the dehumanisation of the other. Surely she knew better than anyone the ridicule that is bigotry. In Jozi they all came and found the infrastructure lacking at home bringing their best and worst. They sought to direct your car into rare parking slots, they patched up the shooter and shot in the hospital, they hustled dodgy crafts on street corners all on the streets where violence spoke in even and balanced tones. Never the raised voices like in Gidi.

How is it possible that this is where the baying demonic face of Xenophobia, Intolerance and hatred would turned up next? What is the real benefit to the perpetrators, their society and future relations with fellow Africans? What happens if this is just the tip of a bloody iceberg? It agonises but we need to dig deeper. Why did this happen ? Of course the intellectually lazy media have the ready made excuses and scapegoats. Mbeki and his ‘friend ‘ Mugabe their quiet diplomacy brought in millions of refugees and put pressure on scarce resources they said. The poor and dispossessed are fighting for their own crumbs of platinum from the post apartheid mining shafts. So if all these were true what of Kenya with millions of Somali’s for many years living as refugees . Why with their own political violence did they not target this millions of strangers who put more pressure on their resources? Why if this was about poverty is Kenya not a worse place considering they are poorer than the people of Mzansi? There is too much to say but this event cannot be a footnote for why if this was about visitors did they not attack the millions of white tourists in the land?

This is a posting that will be continued...........

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