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Living in hope and working for change

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Nomvelo Chalumbira
March19/ 2017

Being a young Zimbabwean-South African woman living in South Africa, like many I find myself having to explain what it means to belong to a particular space and negotiate my place in my own home land.

XENOPHOBIA continues to be a significant problem in South Africa and we shouldn’t have to shy away from talking about it openly. As a young Shona-Zulu woman living in post-apartheid South Africa, I often find myself having to negotiate and explain my position in the spaces I find myself in. The ongoing rhetoric by government officials and fellow South Africans which sometimes amount to hate speech, don’t help in the current anti-foreigner narrative and perceptions of foreign nationals, particularly our fellow black sisters and brothers.

I spent last year’s Easter weekend in Musina, Limpopo, which has become a second home for me, much like Kumusha (the rural farms) in Zimbabwe and Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal, because that is where my roots are. To get back to Joburg I got on a bus from Zimbabwe.
I am no stranger to the long distance bus experience; but, this particular bus ride struck a nerve. The bus I was on was stopped at every single roadblock, and in every instance, the police harshly demanded that every passenger produces their passports. Correct me if I am wrong, as this may be police protocol, but is there a real need to be stopped every single time and asked to show your passport? I have never felt so unwelcome and unwanted in my own land and home. Why do we treat each other like foreigners in our land? Simple: Power is the name of the game.
This made me think about the general treatment of immigrants. This is particularly close to my heart and deeply saddens me because as a Zimbabwean and South African, I am sometimes caught between these two worlds. I am often confused, baffled and, quite frankly, annoyed at some of the reactions I get when people cannot believe that I am a Shona-Zulu woman. I understand that my skin tone, name and unfortunate lack of fluency in Shona may throw people off a bit, however, there are countless times where it seems as though people don’t believe me. Look, I am not naïve to the workings of the world, I know that judgement will always be there. However, I guess more than ever I realise what a long way we have to go before we really learn to accept one another and live together.
I find it entirely disrespectful and invasive to keep affirming that I have a legitimate right to be here, despite South Africa facing issues of illegal immigrants and corruption. Perhaps we need to look deeper at the issue and try to understand why such issues are at such a dire state. Things are already tough as they are; being black is not easy – having to always negotiate and ask for a space in this world, let alone a chance to be something other than the colour of your skin.
But why do we perpetuate colonial attitudes in our lands? Why do we feel the need to alienate one another from our homes and treat each other like strangers? I am not saying that we must now all Khumbaya and be one big happy family… BUT THINGS MUST CHANGE. We can no longer continue to rip the scab off a wound that never has a chance to heal in this country and continent. A wound that bleeds with every event of mistreatment, racial profiling, injustice and intolerance, leaving us once again to explain the endless puzzle of racial inequality.
I may be an idealistic woman but I’d rather live in hope, strive and work for change than to accept this oppressive and exclusionary system. We have to free up movement and space. We need and must do better and be better. As I once heard and firmly believe, “Hope dies last” and Singabantu ngabantu. Everyone has the right to dignity and space.

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Nomvelo Chalumbira