A conversation of intolerance and xenophobia

In 1873, Africa was indivisible and its people shared a common identity.  It was only in 1884-85 that the world scrambled for Africa to win slaves, territory, and resources. Today, as Africa is rising, the world benefits from its fragmentation and its reduction to 54 identities (flags).

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mawere

by Mutumwa Mawere

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It can be argued that new African politics, African regional institutions, and global demand for partnerships in trade and security will necessarily require all of us to review and interrogate our positions on identity with a view to negotiating a new identity compact at the national, regional and pan-African levels in response to the changing demographics of Africa and based on learning from past experiences and recognizing the reality of African migration trends.

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by Mutumwa Mawere

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INTOLERANCE & IGNORANCE

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The diversity of Africa ought to be its enduring strength yet diversity has been a weapon for undermining the very values that ought to bring Africans together to confront the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Ignorance continues to play a large part in undermining the promise of inclusive and cohesive nation-state building programs based on tolerance.

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It is easy to assume that we all have the same understanding on issues that matter in terms of building nations that deliver the promise. Post-apartheid South Africa is the most diverse yet inward-looking nation blinded by ignorance and intolerance that breeds prejudice. The South African experience is too important for African people and black people in general not because of its apartheid and colonial past but because its character and personality is diverse.

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Its experiences in building a new society informed by values set out in its constitution that ranks among the best in the world provide a useful starting point on the prospects of building a united African family. However, ignorance is not only a reality but plays a large part in shaping the actions and choices of the majority of actors in South Africa. As a result, intolerance is inevitable.

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Hatred, intolerance, homophobia, misogyny, religious bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia all emanate from a sense of insecurity that is inherent in human experiences and a projection of fears and concerns about what the future holds. It is clear from the past and recent experiences in South Africa that racism and related intolerance not only undermine peace, security, justice and social progress, but is a violation of fundamental human rights that tears at individual and collective levels. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance continue to be used as weapons to engender fear and hatred.

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I believe in working to foster inclusion, dialogue and investing in knowledge that reduces the possible misunderstanding that often inform choices and actions that undermine the promise of inclusivity and tolerance. It is against the background of the recent violent xenophobic attacks that the need to facilitate a new conversation that seeks to broaden and deepen citizen participation in shaping an inclusive and indivisible personality and character of Africa cannot be understated.

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It cannot be disputed that in building bridges to a better, prosperous, inclusive and cohesive society, the need for the interaction between social partners i.e. business, labour and state-actors cannot be overstated. If Angola belongs to Angolans; then why South Africa should not be reserved for South Africans is the question that we need to address honestly and candidly.

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Only yesterday, the debate was about the statue of Cecil John Rhodes and today, it is not the statue that poses the threat but the presence of black people who look the same as the majority of the people who claim South Africa to be theirs but whose real crime is that they were born outside the borders of the territory of South Africa.

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One may argue that if God wanted to create a nation-state, then he alone would have known how to exclude yet the people who played no part in creating the land, resources and even the air have the audacity to claim that which human beings are inherently incapable of creating. The constitution of South Africa clearly opens the door to all who believe in the values entrenched in the constitution to add value to its personality.

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What is the root cause of the ugly side of xenophobia?  Ignorance perhaps captures all but more importantly misguided nationalism can sufficiently distort values to allow even the perpetrators of xenophobia to take comfort in the idea that their actions represent some form of national interest.

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Indeed, some believe that the elimination of that which they perceive to stand against their personal prosperity in and of itself can deliver the better life when human civilization has confirmed a self-evident truth that the promise of prosperity does not lie in weakening the strong but in using the experiences of the strong to inspire the imagination and creativity of the weak.

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There is a perception that being a foreigner is a license to prosperity yet in reality it is always the case that those who are most challenged to scale the heights of the opportunity ladder often do so by serving the very people that complain of prejudice. It would ordinarily make little sense for someone to leave their place of birth and find themselves in a foreign space to be poor. It would strike me as perfectly sensible for anyone who aspires to be poor to do so better in the place of birth.

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After all, we are all foreigners somewhere to make nonsense the proposition that birth alone can be a positive right that can be legitimately used to exclude others from using the same space for personal progress. It is not the people we see daily in the media that fuel the fire but all of us who choose to remain silent about what truly matters in the business of nation-state building.