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


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.