Behind the mask of xenophobia

SANCTUARY: Zimbabwean refugees make their way to Beit Bridge in hope of food and work across the border. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

VANESSA SMEETS

At the abandoned babies’ home, there are five newborns neatly placed in a row.

One is a white baby, Luke, with tiny pink lips, whose parents are originally German. Two generations ago, the war played a part in his family moving to South Africa. He was the only survivor in a family car crash. Next to him, there’s a little black baby with big round eyes. Thumi is a product of rape. Her mother left her at the home after she was born. Next to Thumi lies Mamoud, a little Muslim boy whose parents had to give up, after they lost everything in Nigeria’s conflict wars. Mamoud’s neighbour, Sandra, is a beautiful coloured baby with piercing blue eyes. Her history is a mystery. She was found here after Christmas. Lastly, there’s tiny Bo, very premature and from Chinese origin. His mother passed away during his birth.

Luke, Thumi, Mamoud, Sandra and Bo have one thing in common: they are products of a new South Africa. Although their blood may not be Afrikaans, Zulu or Sotho, it doesn’t define who they are. They are all survivors and they have a destiny to live here, in a country that embraces them where not even their own parents could.

They all giggle the same as the nurse tickles their tummies. They all cry the same as she leaves. They even look the same with their blue and pink bonnets and tiny socks.
These children will grow up one day to learn about potjie kos, runaways (an African delicacy made of chicken feet), the national anthem and our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.

One child will grow up to be president and one will grow up in jail. It’s their destiny to choose. All, however, will have to defend themselves in a world that is become increasingly cruel to immigrants.

FIRE WITH FIRE: Xenophobia was at its peak in May 2008. Courtesy: online

Xenophobia is not that different to racism, only that one hates the person’s origins more than just his/her skin colour. The person doesn’t belong because, although he/she may be black or white like you, they speak German instead of Afrikaans or Shona instead of Tswana. Parents and children of the same home also speak different languages, the mother speaks in Afrikaans, the child replies in English, yet no one gets kicked out of the house for saying ‘Dankie’ instead of ‘Thank you’.

Yet, one spits at one’s neighbour because they have nowhere else to go. Ask the Zimbabwean student what he had to go through to be here, or if his parents got through the Beit Bridge border in time for his graduation. It took 12 hours in the baking sun and 14 hours of road…

Luke grows up to be a historian. He speaks only when he is spoken to. He is humble and hard-working. He is the epitome of respect.

Thumi grows up to be the soul of the party, she laughs and smiles a lot and makes everyone feel loved. She is the epitome of friendliness.

Mamoud, despite his Muslim name, grows up to be a peer-group leader in a Christian school. He is kind, warm and caring. He is the epitome of compassion.

At sixteen, Bo falls in love with politics. Despite many hardships and financial trouble, he gets a scholarship, meets well-placed people and becomes president. He is the epitome of perseverance.

Sandra grows up to help troubled kids in juvenile prison. In fact, most of her teen years are spent here comforting and caring for others. Yet, she was judged already. “Grows up in jail” meant convict, right? Sandra is, therefore, the epitome of an open mind.

These five innocent babies who grow up to change the world they live in are the five symbols in conquering xenophobia: respect, friendliness, perseverance, compassion and an open mind.

Are we ready as South Africans to put away our judgements and embrace change? Or will we just sit there and mock the foreigner who speaks English strangely?

MIND SETS: Zapiro depicts the South African mindset on different countries in Africa. COURTESY: Zapiro

May 2008 claimed the lives of dozens of Zimbabweans refugees who had come here to flee an oppressed country. They had come to feed and clothe their families. Instead, they were welcomed with bitterness and hatred and fed to the angry masses.

Xenophobia is about our territorial natures. For some of us, it is harder to share our utensils, bedding and clothes with others. For some, it is about our own survival: who are they to take our land, our wives and our jobs? Maybe the story of those five foreign children at the babies’ home could teach us all a lesson. Maybe it’s time to dedicate ourselves sincerely to a zen created through peace and harmony, even after the festivities of the World Cup.

Match-mania en Afrique du Sud

VANESSA SMEETS

Le stade s’allume. La foule se tait. Silence avant le match. Respiration, transpiration, anticipation…

Les joueurs sortent un par un. Les spectateurs crient – “Booth! Mphela! Pienaar! Gaxa!” Le grand Matthew Booth a un sourire contagieux. Il est revenu en Afrique du Sud spécialement d’Europe pour représenter son pays.

Les petits enfants de la première rangée regardent son corps de deux mètres avec des grands yeux émerveillés, en agitant des bannières bariolées. Les pères ont des larmes aux yeux, les mères sont joyeuses: elles chantent, elles dansent… Muscles bien définis, moulés dans leurs maillots vert et jaune, les héros sont prêts. L‘hymne national Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika retentit dans le stade. Il veut dire « Dieu bénit l’Afrique du Sud». Toute la foule chante en chœur avec eux. Les spectateurs devant leurs télévisions, eux aussi.

A Hatfield, Prétoria, 6 000 personnes sont réunies pour regarder leur premier match. C’est 2 000 personnes de plus qu’au réveillon. Pour R20, on se peint la figure. La plupart chantent des chansons de victoire.

Quand on sort de l’aéroport, on est entouré par des drapeaux sud-africains sur l’autoroute et sur les taxis. C’est un spectacle pour chaque touriste. Un pays connu pour son passé d’indifférence, de ségrégation et de haine est maintenant réuni par un sport aimé par tous. On oublie les signes sur les bancs du passé qui lisaient « Whites only » et « Non-whites only. »

C’est un pays béni par la diversité de son peuple, uni par l’amour du sport et rétabli par des hommes et femmes incroyables: Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, Steve Biko, Beyers Naudé, Desmond Tutu et Helen Suzman, et tous les autres.

peuple

NOUS TOUS: L'Afrique du Sud est un pays béni par la diversité de son peuple. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

16 ans après la déclaration de la démocratie en Afrique du Sud, 2010 sera une année inoubliable, anticipée et espérée par sa population de 52-millions. Même au SABC, l ‘annonceur national à Johannesburg, est entouré de ballons géants. Il y a aussi une montgolfière en forme de ballon de foot qui flotte autour de Soweto.

Quelques semaines avant la Coupe, j’ai essayé de parler à des personnes à Cape Town de leurs espoirs pour cet évènement. Long Street, la rue la plus connue à Cape Town, s’attend à la foule. Je trouve Ahmed et Omar, amis depuis 20 ans, à leur mosquée au Bokaap, près de Cape Town.

« Je m’attend à un spectacle incroyable ! » dit Ahmed avec un grand sourire. « On regardera chaque match à la maison en famille. » continue Omar, avec une petite moustache. Un jeune couple marié un peu plus loin me dit : « Pour nous, la Coupe du Monde c’est notre voyage de noce. On sera en esprit de fête tout le temps !»

Au V & A Waterfront, à Cape Town, il n y a pas encore de signes que la coupe est arrivée. C’est très calme, mais un groupe de danseurs s’entraine déjà. Néanmoins, quelques mois avant cet évènement, les étudiants de l’Université de Stellenbosch plongent déjà dans la Foot-Mania. Le 3 mars, 500 étudiants se sont réunis pour le plus grand match de football, 250 joueurs par équipe. Chaque joueur reçoit un vuvuzela comme souvenir.

vuvuzela

VUVU VOUS: Emotions avant le premier match, Mexique contre Afrique du Sud. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Le “vuvuzela” est devenu un symbole national : une sorte de trompette qui fait beaucoup de bruit ennuyeux et incessant. Parfois, les commentateurs des matches doivent s’arrêter de parler, leurs voix inaudibles dans le vacarme, suffoquées par le bruit. Mais presque tout le monde en possède un. On a même commencé à fabriquer des bouchons pour les oreilles en forme de vuvuzela! Une pièce de théâtre à l’université explique l’origine de cette trompette et pourquoi elle reste si célèbre. Ce n’est pas uniquement un instrument pour faire du bruit, c’était un moyen de communication entre les tribus et était à l’origine une corne de Kudu (antilope d’Afrique).

Le même jour, une centaine d’étudiants protestent à l’université contre la transmission du sida. Beaucoup d’entre eux pensent que la coupe du monde va promouvoir des rencontres sexuelles non protégées et opportunistes. Un individu sur quatre l’a déjà contracté.

Pendant le week-end de Woordfees, un festival culturel, parents et enfants se sont réunis à la fête de Mardi-Gras. Le thème? La Coupe du Monde. Les hordes de chanteurs, danseurs et clowns sont habillés en vert, jaune et doré. Mains couvertes de crème glacée, les petits dansent et chantent.

trompette

MOI, PAPA: Un petit garçon de trois ans montre son talent à son papa. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Un petit garçon de trois ans court vers la trompette, et met sa petite bouche autour de l’embouchure. « Montre-moi! Montre-moi! » crie-t-il à son papa. La trompette fait un bruit étourdissant et l’enfant sursaute de peur. Son papa rigole – « Regarde-moi… » « Lui, c’est mon papa, il est super doué! » le petit Rico dit à la petite fille qui marche devant eux.

Pendant la journée, à Stellenbosch, les couples se promènent dans les rues ornées de ballons géants. Le petit café, le Plataan, est décoré lui aussi par des ballons : jaunes, roses et oranges. Chaque jour, une personnalité de la radio vient parler de la coupe – est-ce que l’Afrique du Sud est prête? Est-ce que le foot est autant célébré que le rugby? La nuit, les couples se retrouvent dans des cafés dédiés au foot – des posters, des T-shirts, des chansons, des photos des joueurs et les journaux annoncent “100 jours…95 jours…70 jours…Demain! Aujourd’hui!” Même au cinéma, il y a des ballons au plafond. Dans les shopping centres, on est entouré par des gros ballons qui flottent dans l’eau. Les enfants sont fascinés !

Chaque Vendredi devient « Football Friday ». On vend des T-shirts de chaque équipe entre R150 et R400. Pour Jean et Jacques du Cameroun ils ne vendent pas assez. « C’est encore très calme. » explique Jacques, « Je m’attendais à plus de touristes. »

Le marché à Bird Street est encore vide. « Les touristes sont en retard ! » explique Richard, un taximan. Endormi un peu plus loin, un mendiant apparaît très serein sous des drapeaux peints sur les murs.

« Je m’attend à une grand fête ! » dit François, un autre taximan. Son petit garçon le serre très fort. « C’est dommage que je n’ai pas l’argent pour amener mon fils à sa première coupe du monde. C’est beaucoup trop cher ! »

FOOT FETISH: Les boutiques en Afrique du Sud étaient encore pleines quelques semaines avant la coupe. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Pour Kensington et David, des vendeurs au marché Africain, ils n’ont pas les moyens d’aller à un match. « Je doit rester ici, dans mon magasin. On attend beaucoup de touristes, même des centaines. » dit David, entouré de belles peintures faites par lui et sa femme.

Nico Koopman, 60 ans, est très heureux que la coupe soit enfin arrivée. « Je regarde le foot depuis l’âge de 5 ans. Enfin en Afrique ! C’est un rêve réalisé » La nuit, l’esprit Africain se réveille. Le Drum Café de Cape Town est en tournée à Stellenbosch. C’est un grand succès chez les étudiants. « Montrez-nous vos talents ! » crie la troupe de Zimbabwéens et Congolais. « Montrez aux touristes comme c’est un don et une fierté d’être Africain ! » Après, les étudiants rentrent joyeux chez eux ou vont aux brasseries où ils jouent du football de table.

A Johannesburg, les touristes apparaissent un peu plus nombreux. Ils sont gâtés avec des shows incroyable comme « Umoja : Spirit of Togetherness. » qui explique les danses, les cultures et l’histoire de l’Afrique du Sud.

A Melrose Arch, à Johannesburg, les touristes sont joyeux pendant le match d’Allemagne et Uruguay. Les équipes jouent pour la troisième place. La foule continue à grandir. Il y a plus de 10 000 personnes.

Pour Kensington, David, Jean et Jacques leur souhait est réalisé : les touristes sont venus de partout au monde. Les Néerlandais dansent avec les Sud-Africains. Ils montrent aux autres comment jouer au vuvuzela. Ce n’est pas facile !

Il y a des fans italiens, allemands, brésiliens, français tous unis. C’est magnifique ! Ils sont aussi fascinés par Zakumi : le mascotte de cette coupe. C’est est un léopard avec des cheveux verts et peau jaune (les couleurs de Bafana Bafana). Pour quelques touristes à Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, ils s’amusent à l’arranger autrement. Tout d’un coup, Zakumi fait pipi. Tout le monde rigole. Il est entouré par plusieurs touristes.

Il y a des fans allemands contents avec la troisième place de leur équipe. Les fans néerlandais font une ribambelle, en préparation pour le match le lendemain. Ils sont fascinés avec un Sud-Africain en costume bleu plein de drapeaux différents. « C’est ma femme qui l’a préparé » qu’il m’explique.

Et oui, les fans du football et de Bafana Bafana sont réunis ! Vive la Coupe 2010 ! Ou, comme on dit en Afrique du Sud : “Viva le match-mania! VIVA!”

Another day in paradise?

VANESSA SMEETS

Locals call it the town of oak trees, acorns and squirrels. Visitors will argue it is a real-life painting of coffee shops and antique stores, bustling with neo-hippie students. The experts will tell you it is the wine capital of South Africa, gathering a score of international wine amateurs and connoisseurs. Stellenbosch: a student town that caters for lovers of art, music, wine, theatre and literature.

Or, so they claim… Walking down Bird Street, one of the busiest streets, you realise how intricate this place really is. The local celebrity, Moksie, is singing in front of the petrol station, waving as she sees my camera.

moksie bergie

LOVE BITE: Moksie has had a long-lasting effect on Stellenbosch students, with them even setting up a controversial Facebook fanpage for her. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

“I’m going to be on the cover of Die Son!” she screams, as she sees two girls in mini skirts approaching. Die Son, according to the Naspers website, is one of the fastest growing newspapers in South Africa. Bewildered, the girls run into on-coming traffic, missing a truck by a few centimetres.

Moksie is Stellenbosch’s most popular bergie (beggar). She even has her own Facebook fan page, with 3 470 fans. But, for many, the online page is a disgrace. Human rights activists at the university claim the page degrades her, as some students use it to mock her or make hurtful comments about the way she looks, speaks and acts. Die Matie, Stellenbosch’s campus newspaper, wrote a piece about the page and about her as a person in their last issue for the year to raise awareness amongst students.

She is aware of the page she tells me. “I’m a celeb,” she laughs. “I wish I could see it for myself, but I can’t read very well.”

Abandoned at a young age, many people took advantage of her. “I learnt to be tough,” she says biting on her lip with the teeth she has left. It is custom here for bergies to remove their front teeth.

“Love bite” the locals call it. I ask Moksie for her interpretation. “It started as a trend. First with the gangs, then with us ladies,” she tells me.

“It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” she asks, softly touching her gums.

I nod and smile. I reveal to her the disappointing news that I’m not from Die Son, but a journalism student intrigued by her story. “What does ‘intrigued’ mean?” she asks, confused. I explain, but it’s hard to keep her attention.

Every time a student approaches, she screams. It’s obviously a game to her. “I love to see their reactions!” she says with a grin, “Try it!” I open my mouth and she laughs. “What a silly girl! You were really going to do it!”

Unlike other bergies, Moksie claims she does not use the money she gets for alcohol. “I have three children. I miss them. I must see them again.” They have been sent to foster parents. She talks about her youngest Elton (11) with tears in her eyes. She confesses she drank last night and felt bad. “I must learn to stop. For me. For him. But, I like my Savannah! And when the students offer me their bottles, I can’t say no.”

She pauses, then looks at the traffic stopping around us. People look at us. Some point.

“At least I’m not alone,” she says, as she wipes away the tears. “The students are now my children. I give them advice. I tell the girls their dresses are too short. I tell the boys to wear aftershave. If they help me, I help them.”

Born in 1968, her family constantly moved about because of Apartheid. “I’m used to this life,” she says of her gypsy lifestyle. I ask about her clothes. “Nice students give me something warm. Terrible ones throw stuff like beer on me to make me go away.”

She lives in a shack at the foot of the mountain and saves her money to buy cheap shoes and McDonald’s burgers, her favourite meal. She refuses to tell me how much she makes. “I don’t want the others to get jealous. They know the students love me best.”

As the sun sets, I tell her I have to run home. I thank her and give her R20. She hugs me tightly. “No, no, thank you for listening. God bless you, my child.”

Obsession behind the lens

VANESSA SMEETS
famine africa

MAMA AFRIKA: Finbarr O’Reilly’s depiction of famine-stricken Africa won him World Press Photo in 2006. COURTESY: Finbarr O’Reilly/ World Press Photos

There’s something exhilirating in holding your first camera. You feel invincible. People in front of the lens may be smiling, crying, shaking or playing, but you are absolutely still and focused. You wait and watch. There you see it – that split second that makes the photo stand out above the rest. Click.

Content, you take it home and watch it over and over again on your PC screen. It has a unique story; maybe it was the last tear drop escaping a child’s face as she fell. Or, maybe it was the smile she had as she realised her ice-cream escaped the fall unscathed.

Johann van Tonder, photojournalism lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Journalism Department, lists the three characteristics that set photojournalism apart: a subject, a subject which stands out and a story told by the picture.

Often, people mistake photojournalism with art. You may take a pretty picture of a child, an insect or a flower, but if it doesn’t tell a story, it is NOT photojournalism.

The best photojournalism picture often has a heart beat. It is able to speak to the viewer. It even has the power to move, intrigue or disgust him/her.

The Bang Bang Club by South Africans Joao Silva and Greg Marinovich captures the thrill, pain and glory (or lack of it) photojournalists go through. Their friend, Kevin Carter, won a Pulitzer prize for his photo of a child stalked by a vulture in famine-ridden Sudan. He was criticized for being insensitive. People in his own profession called him a coward for taking the picture, rather than helping the child. He became increasingly depressed and eventually committed suicide. As Marinovich points out in the book: “That image is engraved and burnt into your mind forever.”

GENIUS: James Nachtwey covered the Bosnian war, amongst others. His black & white technique proved that composition can be more powerful than colour. COURTESY: James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey has similar views in a National Geographic documentary made about him and his work. Nachtwey has been to some of the most war-ridden places in the world. His experiences in Bosnia turned him into an insomniac and recluse. He couldn’t confide in his wife or children. He found solace in taking even more horrific pictures. When his skin began to melt while taking a picture of an explosion, he realised his obsession with the right shot and addiction in getting it was taking over his life.

“Nothing prepares you for the pain afterwards,” says a former Zimbabwean photojournalist. His PC is filled with images of bruised bodies and raw flesh; after ZANU-PF officials threatened him and his colleagues as they tried to get rid of journalists in Zimbabwe.

They were harrassed and beaten; their camera straps used to strangle them.

There’s a price to pay for being a serious photojournalist. It demands determination and courage. It includes long hours, days or years of being in threatening places for a few published pictures. But the best photojournalists know that there is power in their profession. It is the power to paint a more realistic world, one defined by the eyes which were brave enough to look first.

stalked child

PULITZER PRICE: South African Kevin Carter was criticised for taking a photo of a starving child being stalked by a vulture. Many believe the criticism led to his eventual suicide. COURTESY: Kevin Carter/ archives

Sutherland: shooting stars, chained dogs and a telescope

With its population of 2 840 inhabitants and its freezing cold temperatures, Vanessa Smeets explores a different side to Sutherland in the Northern Cape, through its fascination with weird names, chained dogs and famous telescope.

 

lost child

CHILD's PLAY: Children in Sutherland's township are often found wondering alone. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I’ve known about Sutherland’s existence since I was a little girl, when my mom would comment about each city at the end of the news, during the weather. “I feel sorry for those Sutherland people. It’s cold all year there,” she would repeat season after season.

So, when our class was told we were to go there for a short weekend of star-gazing, I felt a little apprehensive. Unfortunately, my warmest clothes had already been sent back to Pretoria. Thus, my duvet and pillow were my first priorities.

After a delicious ‘high tea’ of scones, koeksisters and cookies in Matjiesfontein, my Journalism class and I drive for another hour and a half to Sutherland.

As we arrive, searching aimlessly for the Sutherland Hotel, I’m fascinated by the original names around each corner: “Jupiter’s Café,” “Galaxy World,” “Sterland,” “Saturn’s rings” and “Shooting stars.” It’s like being on our own galaxy quest. My friend Jean and I make a game up of who can spot the next most interesting name. We get tired after the thirtieth one.

Each street looks exactly like the next one: white, dusty and abandoned. It’s like a scene straight out of the X-Files. The opening song resounds in my head the entire afternoon.

The tired faces we see now and then look different to the ones in Stellenbosch. People here don’t look stressed, worried or anxious about getting somewhere. They carry on walking in the middle of the streets, alien-like in their expressions. We smile and wave, but most do not respond. The few that do acknowledge us, come right against the windows.

“Who are you looking for? Who do you work for?” says one man with a missing tooth. His hand touches the car just slightly, making you wonder if he’ll open the car door. We tell him we’re looking for him. “How do you know me?” he asks confused. We smile and tell him we’re just exploring. He walks away, still as confused. Obviously, there can’t be much to explore in Sutherland…

As Jean and I walk into the liquor store, the owner stares at us with owl-like eyes: large and dark. He never looks us in the eye and blinks very slowly.

SALT OF THE EARTH: The South African Large Telescope's beauty lies in her immense size and power.

“Will that be all?” he says, rustling a plastic bag that is too small for our bottle. “Gosh…it’s all I have.” He forces the bottle inside. The bag tears a little. “There…there…” He says to us, or the bag; I’m not quite sure. He expects us to leave then, but I turn around out of curiosity. “Is this really the coldest town?” I ask, trying to make chit-chat, see his reaction and testing if he’ll blink faster. He stutters, grunts and then quickly replies: “No… you are mistaken, girl. Try Grahamstown.” I smile and thank him. He doesn’t respond.

It’s finally time for the ‘star of our excursion:’ SALT (the South African Large Telescope). I’ve read about her in books, newspapers and friends’ Facebook entries and here she finally is. Immense, grey and serene.

Thousands flock to her each year and yet, as she stands there, you begin to ask yourself why… Well, Sutherland’s arid climate, small population and remote location 1 450 metres above sea level, give it one of the clearest night skies in the world. Unfortunately, we aren’t given the chance to touch or use SALT, the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. We arrive late and are hurried back to our cars.

SALT satellites

GOING NOWHERE SLOWLY: SALT is surrounded by various other satellites, with the white ones being owned by South Africa.

The freezing night temperatures turn our excited class into a lazy bunch. That night, we look at the stars from behind our hotel windows. And yet, they sparkle brightly over the dead town. There’s something mystical about this place…

That night, I dream about the chained dogs I saw that day in Sutherland’s township. Some sat on cardboard boxes or near doll houses, waiting for their owners to return. Most of them had their hair mangled around chains attached to cars, racing wildly as they saw us, mistaking us for their owners.

I also dream of the children I saw playing in the streets with toys made by their own hands. A little boy falls over his tin car and laughs. Another beats his friend at a spinning top game. I see the little girl with mucus running down onto her lip. Her brother gently wipes it as he sees the camera. I hear the dogs howling my name again. I wake up in a sweat. Sutherland will haunt me.

The trip back is an interesting collection of all seasons. There is rain, wind, sun, thunderstorms, waterfalls and rainbows as we head home.

The howling in my head has stopped and is replaced by hooting taxis and the shouting of Bergies walking in the streets of Stellenbosch. What a comforting welcome to the land of civilization…

Interesting facts:
• Sutherland is home to the endangered Riverine Rabbit.
• The average yearly temperature is 10, 6C and an average minimum yearly temperature of 3,4C.
• The coldest recorded temperature recorded was -16,4C on July 12, 2003.
• Sutherland is the second coldest place in South Africa, after Buffelsfontein in the Western Cape.

PUPPY PRISON: Dogs are often found chained to various objects.

SOURCES:

Some interesting facts: http://www.northerncape.org.za
Background info: http://www.wikipedia.org