A friend of mine was once asked, “If you had to add one more face to Mount Rushmore, whose would it be?”
For those of us still struggling to catch up, you might have seen the 2003 comedy, ‘Head of State’ starring Chris Rock. Nearing the end of the movie after Mays (Chris) had won the presidency, there was a shot of his face hewn into a massive stone structure beside the equally sculpted faces of four former American presidents. That is Mount Rushmore (picture below) – without Chris Rock of course. It is a historic structure in America forever remembering the feats of four great past American leaders – George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).
So my friend thought for only a second before saying that the one face he would have added to Mount Rushmore is that of Nelson Mandela.
I completely agree with him. Nelson Mandela preached forgiveness, resilience and freedom to South Africans at a time when the ideals sounded hollow to them. And with love, determination and immense sacrifice, he showed his people how. As I read Timi‘s piece below, I wondered what emotions would be going through Mandela’s mind if he were alive now to witness the waves of xenophobic hostilities sweeping across his beloved South Africa.
I wondered and I came to a conclusion – shame.
FOR THE LOVE OF ‘BLACK’ – by Timilehin Osunde
Okay, this is coming some days behind. But it has got me thinking for days on end, this South African issue of hostility and violence towards black foreigners – XENOPHOBIA, they call it.
This one video just leaves my stomach unsettled. You are walking home after a hard day’s work in a foreign country; someone walks up to you and hits you in the face without any prior altercation or exchange of words. That leaves you dazed for some minutes sitting on the hot tarred road with vehicles whizzing past. You’re still in confusion when another brings a building block meant for construction and hurls it at you and you hit the ground in shock, in pain. Then a young man still wearing his school uniform decides that your lying on the ground looks good for a trampoline practice and chooses to use you for his sport.
A man, a human being suffered this fate. One can only imagine what would have been racing through the mind of such a poor soul. He probably just ended a call to his wife back home in his country or even a sick parent back in his village. He probably just promised to send them a little out of what he struggles to earn in harsh, uncertain conditions.
I didn’t want to join the list of people who have had to remind South Africa of their dark times and how other African nations lent a helping hand. While these sibling African nations could have looked the other way, they did not because they identified with the South Africans on many levels of value. The first of these levels is the colour of the skin which I right now so want to believe goes beyond the surface covering.
There are a whole lot of others on this values’ list which we cherish as a people, a continent, and a ‘race’. Yet, for whatever reason, South Africa has subtly over time chosen to act the odd one out (personal observation) since the apartheid era ended. This nation has in so many tiny but significant ways sent subtle signals that they do NOT want other Africans. They could have voiced this stance a long time ago, and it would have made life easier for the many ‘foreign’ Africans who have continued pushing across their borders.
I know some Nigerians who have had the ‘poor luck’ of visiting South Africa and have not had anything good to say about the reception they get. Maybe this goes for some other African countries as well save a few but again, maybe this issue reaches far deeper than what is happening right now; maybe it is more of an African disease than a South African flaw. Maybe our leaders need to start working on the value system of each nation on this beautiful continent, maybe our ideologies are flawed in Africa, maybe that student in the school uniform on his way home needs to understand the value of life, be it that of an insect or a human.
Maybe the so many unions across the continent with the apex African Union need to re-strategize on workable, possible ways to avert future occurrences of such hostility in the many states that make up Africa. Some of the objectives of these unions have been written to include; achieving greater unity and solidarity between the member countries and its citizens, defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of member states, to accelerate the political and social-economic integration of the members amongst a whole lot of others. Maybe these objectives need to be effected before the whole issue spirals down the drain into a messy mass.
So many maybes…
Now it’s the turn of Nigerians to hold a rally on this xenophobia matter somewhere on the Island in Lagos soon and that leaves one with the question what next after that.
I would like to put a hold on my thoughts at this point to avoid going round in an unending cycle of heartbreak. As humans living in Africa, when we choose to leave our home country to either visit or do business in another African country, all we ask for is security and a sense of belonging. It really is as simple as that.
God bless Africa!
Timilehin is a journalist, a communications and social media expert with the Weed Science Centre at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).