This chapter explores representations of diasporic black African foreigners’ identities in David Mutasa’s novel, Nyambo Dze Joni (Stories from Johannesburg) (2000), and in Welcome to Our Hillbrow (1999), written by the South African author, Phaswane Mpe. The two novels expose the hypocrisy of the South African officials and masses who scapegoat African black foreigners for crimes ranging from snatching of local jobs, taking local girls and drug peddling. For most African black foreigners and some local black South African citizens, diasporic experience in the new nation is a paradoxical physical space and spiritual experience in which stories of milk, honey and bitter bile might be authorised to capture the fact of being doubled as both potential subject and citizen. Despite experiencing bare lives characterised by nervousness and precarities, most black African foreigners in Johannesburg or Joni command, recall and deploy multiple identities whenever required to confront the ugly underbelly of the physical and verbal violence of xenophobia. Thus, an irony inherent in African diasporic experiences is that most black foreigners appear to retain some semblance of humanity and organise their worlds relatively creatively, and becoming successful by immigrants’ standards, in the most hostile circumstances.
- diasporic experiences
The ambiguity at the core of the meaning of the term diaspora is captured in the characterisation of the post-apartheid space as one redolent with stories of milk, honey and bile (, p. 41). The influx of migrants from different countries of the continent into Johannesburg in particular and South Africa in general are whetted by descriptions of the new South Africa as the rainbow nation whose perception of itself and the promise of an interactive conduct with African foreigners would be based on the dispersed ideology of Ubuntuism. The diasporic journeys enacted at both the physical and spiritual levels imply a crossing of physical and cultural boundaries from one African country towards an imagined South Africa, locally known as Egoli—the city/country of gold. However, when diaspora is understood as dispersal, this conjures images of marginality in the conflicted relationship between imagined foreigner and citizen, centre and periphery. Epistemic conditions that spur such migrations involve both push and pull factors from economic collapse of modern African states due to corruption, bad governance and perennial wars.
However, the response of South African black citizens to the influx by African foreigners might not result in a “hyped celebration of multiculturality” (, p. 25). Most South white and black South Africans seem to feel that their own experiences have not been a smooth or unproblematic consummation of a dream from slavery to freedom. As a result, African black foreigners have experienced confusing reactive ideologies of exclusionary discourses in which the trope of homelessness is an irony whose butt is the South African masses. Nevertheless, memories of the past that is being escaped and the present that is anticipated as a greener pasture are performed unevenly by individual migrants as well as groups of migrants, showing their capacity to command, recall, assume and deploy multiple identities of one’s selves as and when they are required (, p. 52). In other words, black African foreign immigrants might be haunted by the ambivalences of occupying their pain in new spaces. However, they often maintain ties with kinship and build strong networks with their families at home through communication and remittances. This provides an added leveraging, although a situation of ambiguous relationship might also exist between migrants and those left at home.
The crux or problematics of diaspora as a form of alienation arise when, sometimes, African foreigners expect South African citizens to understand why immigrants are in South Africa. Black foreigners might view South African citizens as being unreasonable when they show signs of not wanting to share what foreigners feel they are entitled to by virtue of having kept and fed South Africans in their countries during South African people’s struggle against apartheid. At the same time, South African citizens might start to consider also as unreasonable the continued influx of African migrants whom they believe have ruined their own countries and thus have come to displace them, hardly before the citizens have enjoyed the fruits of their struggle. The mnemonic topographies of African diasporic immigrants are manifested through senses of perpetual perplexity and positive embarrassment. On one hand the country of origin is connoted as tyrannical for its perceived disregard of its citizens, now viewed as vagabonds and denizens by local citizens who appear to have little if any respect of the visitors (, p. 26). On the other hand, diasporic experiences are not lived by African foreigners in a similar way even by migrants from the same country, let alone, by immigrants from different African countries. Thus, the traumas of diaspora as dispersion might manifest on the body of African foreigners as a site of conflicting memories. Trauma may scatter immigrants throughout South Africa and make them appear as vermin. However, displacement triggered by home politics might also mobilise the energies of immigrants to form communities in which new identities, habits and agencies are acquired and presented as success stories. These new stories enable immigrants to keep options open in such ways that can translate economic advantages and social positions gained in one political setting into political, social and economic capital in another context.
In South Africa, foreign African immigrants—whether educated or not, rich or poor, or coming from those who have escaped poverty and those who decided to use their skills voluntary in a new context—all have been described as
2. Xenophobia and blackophobia in
Nyambo Dze Joni
The ideological ambiguities outlined above are deftly depicted by David Mutasa’s
As portrayed in the novel, in South African official narratives of the political journey from apartheid to democracy, the role of black foreigners is minimised. What appears to be hidden from public view is the fact of African pain that people of the frontline states suffered from bombardment by agents of apartheid as political punishment for supporting black South African’s quest for self-determination. In other words, discourses of reconciliation occurred between black South Africans and white South Africans, and this was not extended to African foreigners many of whom also remember the gratuitous violence performed by the apartheid government on their territories. Many African foreigners also remember sheltering black and white South African freedom fighters who were fighting apartheid from the military bases provided by Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia .
To the black foreign immigrants’ consternation, in the new South African political dispensation, African people who migrate from their countries for different reasons remain outsiders. The irony is that most white foreigners from Asia and Eastern European countries who also poured into South Africa are viewed as investors, while black Africans who are foreigners are considered as a social burden (, p. 68). This differential allocation of opportunities means that the humanity and dignity of black foreigners is subjected to the raw fact of violent invasive behaviour . Under the government of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, black foreigners from Somalia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria and other African countries continue to be accused of taking jobs meant for black South Africans. African foreigners are viewed as throwaway people (, p. 211). The spirit of Ubuntu does not apply to African foreigners who are also accused of taking South African women. Violence on African foreigners occurs on the watch of South African police.
Furthermore, it appears as if the political leadership from both isles fear losing votes from South African citizens. Official voices against the persecution of African foreigners seem muted. Even the most raucous political leaders in South Africa’s opposition parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters [EFF] and Democratic Alliance [DA] rarely condemn in vociferously terms the mass murder of African foreigners or the looting of Somali-owned shops in the same way the same leaders have condemned the South African police and the ruling African National Congress for ordering the massacre of black South African workers at Marikana. Even most of the South African women in whose name some foreigners are murdered rarely speak against xenophobia. It appears then that very few black South African people who have committed acts of collective murder of African foreigners in South Africa are not likely to be prosecuted with the same agency as might happen when a black foreigner commits a crime.
Put in other words,
This differential allocation of blame might explain why in
3. Xenophobia and blackophobia in
Welcome to Our Hillbrow
3.1 Narrative of loss of political, economic power and moral authority in
Welcome to Our Hillbrow
The opening sentence of
Furthermore, Tiragalong is provincial, and people appear to be known as the mother of so and so. The constant refrain of an aspired for national collective vision comes out in the insistence on collective identity that unfortunately is honed on the idea of cultural purity shared by most locals. However, since the language of soccer is not a mere detail of popular culture. This is so because in the novel, the language of ethnic particularity indexes that part of the nation has failed. Bafana Bafana’s defeat is the metonymic of a brittle entry into a South Africa freed from some most visible and bizarre remnants of apartheid’s ideology of separate development between local whites and local blacks. The irony of South Africa’s political transition into a democracy is magnified by some “…people jubilantly singing Amabokobo ayaphumelela…in the streets, because the South African rugby team, the Springboks, [then a deeply racialized sport] had just won the Rugby World Cup” (, p. 22). This suggests that success belongs to the white nation in post-apartheid in South Africa. This new situation seems to undermine and incense local blacks who are imaged as voyeurs to a dream that they can only share through the absence of its materialisation.
The moral decay of Hillbrow (, p. 17) plays itself out most on black characters and in black communities. Hillbrow evokes a nightmarish image of a dream deferred and a monster that threatens to swallow the newfound pride of local black South Africans. When wealthy white and Indians move out of Hillbrow, local blacks claim authority over this departed cityscape in ways that restages or rehashes separate development between locals and black foreigners (, p. 3). The institutionalisation of poverty among black citizens of Hillbrow further reveals that the asymmetrical relations of power and powerlessness inherited from apartheid have not significantly changed. Hillbrow is a paradoxical physical, cultural and economic space in which its local and foreign black inhabitants might speak of as a place where one could create contradictory narratives of “milk and honey and bile, all brewing in the depths of our collective consciousness” (, p. 41). The extent to which locals or black foreigners might harness the resources in Hillbrow depends on necessary acquisition of educational and life skills that are not distributed evenly between and among local and foreign blacks. This characterisation of black on black relationships resists, partialises and revises a view shared by most South Africans and some of their political leaders which is that the release of Rolihlahla Mandela from Robben Island is a miracle in which there would be “…no violence – at least not on any large scale – as had been anticipated by cynics” (, p. 100).
In Welcome to Our Hillbrow, a romanticised narrative version of the Mandela era is not allowed to stabilise. A mythopoetic representation of Mandela as the African cyborg with all solutions to the social problems faced by local blacks is carnivalised through the narrative’s frank acknowledgement that under Mandela’s presidency, discriminatory ideas against foreigners and acts of blackophobia violence refused to die. The novel, thus, resists “solitary criticism” (, p. 133) of the Mandela era which was meant to create an impression that all “…ambiguity and contradiction [were] completely shut out, and the only permitted [narrative was] that between the old and the new, as if there were only bad in the past and only good in the future” (, p. 132).
In rural Tiragalong, values and vocabularies that contain perverted blackophobic tendencies circulate freely among locals. The local women who suffer from the heavy-handedness of locally driven patriarchal discourses are some South African female citizens. Some of these women like Refilwe’s mother are named as witches merely because the rural patriarchs have the power to do so. Working with quack witchdoctors, the rule of South African rural men prescribes punishment by death to native women so accused. The mobs of Tiragalong are empowered by the silence of government officials, and these hordes feel permitted to carry out gratuitous violence on innocent South African female citizens. The banality of the process of killing local women imitates the brutal originality of apartheid’s methods of vanquishing those suspected to be political opponents. A large tyre is put around the neck of Refilwe’s mother by mobs under the command of rural patriarchs. Petrol is poured on her onto her, and her whole body becomes a site destruction by fire (, p. 3). This death is not of a black foreigner from outside South Africa, but of a native of Tiragalong, a black South African in the evil hands of her own kind. Gratuitous acts of violence against vulnerable rural women or black foreigners are justified or explained away by intellectuals and authorities as representing the new normal in community policing . In short, the fate of Refilwe’s mother shows that one can be a South African citizen but perpetually marginalised, murdered and her body disposed of as if her life is not worth living or mourning. Diasporic identities that create senses of vulnerability in weak women and black foreigners are manufactured in black-controlled local communities and used to impose new forms of governmentality by those locals invested with power that is often arbitrarily used to coerce, when such situations might have benefited from community dialogue.
May  draws attention to the fact that physical and spiritual harms to social groups in xenophobic and genocidal situations manifest in how individuals are killed. This view is supported by Ndebele who observed that in South Africa, the ways human life is lived spectacularly after 1994 in black rural areas and urban townships encourage violent acts in which the will to “kill off the man [leaves] us with no knowledge” (, p. 26) of how to stop the circulation of genocidal views in the community. Sachs, another South African critic and freedom fighter, comments that discriminatory killings, either from xenophobic attacks or mass murder of black foreigners, affirm the principle that “there is nothing that the [former] apartheid rulers would like more than to convince us that because apartheid [was] ugly, the world is ugly (, p. 133).
The narrative of moral degeneration that makes preparation for mass assault of black foreigners possible is community-sanctioned. The idea that murder is planned from below suggests that ordinary black South African people in whose name some progressive revolutions are carried out have not psychologically been decolonized. The murder of Refilwe’s mother follows a predictable sequence: exposition that a witch should be killed, justification that Refilwe’s mother deserves to die because she caused the suicide death of her daughter and legitimation of murder of local women by the opinion of the “medicine men” (, p. 43) and “bone thrower” (, p. 45) who are sought to confirm the adoption of a decision to murder the woman. Later, the masses implement their evil schema in which the innocent woman is executed painfully by being locked in her hut, with blazing tyres around her neck. The intent to kill Refilwe’s mother is choreographed with careful planning as soon as an ideological warrant (, p. 115) is created and accepted that the woman in question is a witch.
Regrettably, the ideological warrants advanced by the community to kill Refilwe’s mother are baseless and unfounded because “it was only after the witch had found her punishment by necklacing, that Tiragalong was given cause to realise its mistake….” (, p. 45). Perpetrators of xenophobic atrocities are akin to genocidaires who act precisely through omission and commission; they do not need to reason scientifically. Once persuaded by fear rooted in superstitious stereotypes, they authorise spurious narratives that then are taken as truth and which forms the basis of actions. The wilful suspension of the rule of law in a neoliberal constitutional democracy means that South African public life is also characterised by states of exceptions in which mobs become the law, with which they pronounce death penalty on others. Thus, while the street court operated by mob injustice imposes death penalty, the unresolved judicial hiatus is that South African official courts have no provision for death penalty.
The implication to official silence against wilful violation of foreign blacks is that in a South African neoliberal democracy, the official discourse of peace, tolerance and coexistence might function to camouflage the desire to disarm defences and make the killing of foreigners acceptable. Without suggesting that all South African citizens have fascist ideas, xenophobic acts are amplified through a coded language that hints at the final solution on the question of foreign immigrants in South Africa. When the masses warn foreign blacks to go back to their countries or die here, little or no consequences are visited on these citizens who intimidate black foreigners. The community of Tiragalong in the novel, does not understand, does not wish to understand and does not wish to live with that which they view as strange. This fear of freedom to know is rooted in the unbearableness of individual powerlessness and isolation predicated on the illogical thinking that the individual or the community might escape the feeling of its own powerlessness in comparison with the world outside oneself by destroying it. It becomes duty or work that is considered patriotic to beat with cudgels and kill using machetes any of the Makwerekwere viewed as basking in the sanctuary that Hillbrow temporarily affords (, p. 4).
The narrative of loss of conscience, of loss of moral values and of loss of shame in Tiragalong’s brutalisation of their own is both a test and an affirmation that this community can commit more hideous crimes of harm on black foreigners with whom they share little else other than the colour, black. Morgan argues that looters and murderers find it is necessary to lose shame in order to commit atrocities. Shame generally might force humanity to reckon that humans have some notion of how it should be or ought to be, the kind of person it ought to be, and the kind of person others ought to expect people to be in terms of which human actions are shown to have failed, to be deficient or to have diminished in status. This means that when one is ashamed, one has lost face because the face one values and hopes to have has been displaced or defaced by another face, which is one that one regrets having or one that disgraces or embarrasses (, p. 308). Refusal to feel disgraced or embarrassed in killing another human being is precisely the condition of possibility for sustaining a campaign of verbal and physical terror perceived as indispensable when preparing to launch blackophobic attacks on some local African blacks and foreign black nationals.
3.2 Narrative of HIV, stolen jobs and despoiled South African women by Makwerekwere in
Welcome to Our Hillbrow
Thus, in the epistemology of blackophobia in South Africa, homophobic language performs the function of the matchet; it contains ideological warrants which are the cues through which the black foreigner is spoken, thought of and written about as dispensable humanity or the “throw away people” (, p. 211). Linguistic violence presages physical violence and might render thinkable, the rehearsal of genocidal mentality. Homophobes establish a single causal relationship between their actions in the service of their murderous purposes. The actions are then justified using historical insights to produce new narratives that have to be packaged ideologically in terms of us and them to ramp up their potential invasive acts. In addition, the determination of the human will has to be in the mix, along with social and political structures that can implement that determination. When all of those pieces are in place, genocide may well be on its way (, pp. 119–122).
In Tiragalong and Hillbrow which might and might not necessarily symbolise South Africa, the popular understanding is that AIDS came from “central and western parts of Africa….[and] media reports [had it that] AIDS’ travel into Johannesburg was through Makwerekwere; and Hillbrow was the sanctuary in which Makwerekwere basked” (, p. 4). Refentse’s death is casually attributed to the fact that he roamed the “whorehouses and dingy pubs of Hillbrow….with Makwerekwere women, hanging onto his arms and dazzling him with sugar-coated kisses that were sure to destroy any man, let alone an impressionable youngster like him” (, p. 3). Native South Africans project images of themselves as authentic, clean and pure, thereby invoking a reverse discourse of dirt and impurity that is easily ascribed to black foreigners. The repertoire of linguistic violence not only reveals how ordinary South Africans fear the story of the foreigner. Stereotypes of black foreigners as “filth” serve to prepare grounds upon which the physical violation of the black foreigners must stand justified. The doubling effect of the discourse of purity emanating from ordinary South Africans can also be said to be replicating its own divisions through the construction of myths of purity and authenticity. These myths are then used by the citizens to enable them to continuity entertaining an idea of a stable dominant discourse even at the very moment it appears to recognise the existence of the other.
The trope of South African people as pure beings used to justify policing of black foreigners is denied inherent authenticity which it seeks to monopolise for itself. The “Bizarre sexual behavior of the Hillbrowans” (, p. 4) was in fact “no worse than that of Tiragalong” (, p. 17). Tiragalongans which both are and may not represent all South Africans attempt to project their rural locality as a place of pastoral quiescence and write a story of it “with a smooth narrative current, stripped of all rough edges, devoid of any gaps” (, p. 60). In the novel, Cousin “insisted that people should remain in their own countries and try to sort out the problems of these respective countries, rather than fleeing them; South Africa had too many problems of its own” (, p. 20). The concept of bounded citizenship is narrow because it defines natives of black South Africa as the only people entitled to live in it. This view enables the accusation that black foreigners or Makwerekwere are “stretching their legs spreading like pumpkin plants filling every corner of our city and turning each patch of Hillbrow coming to take our jobs in the new democratic rainbowism of African Renaissance….” (, p. 26). A mythopoetic narrative of purity of the local natives over black foreigners represented as dirt actually overwrites the actual differences in each of these two groups. Fortunately, a native narrative that emphasises a unitary identity for ordinary South Africans at all times is rejected. This is so because “There would always be another story of love, betrayal, friendship, joy and pain to add to narrative granary. There would always be the need to revise, reinforce, contradict. Every act of listening, seeing, smelling, feeling, tasting is a reconfiguring of the story of our lives” (, p. 61).
3.3 Narratives of fear of black foreigners in
Welcome to Our Hillbrow
Discourses of entitlement to access to South African resources circulating in black local communities arise out of “unmet basic needs” (, p. 98) in the era of democracy. Particularistic and nativist identitarian assertions enable local blacks to loot foreign-owned black shops (, p. 22). Black male South Africans arrogate for themselves the authority of being the guardians of South African women’s sexualities against foreign black men and women spoken of as prostitutes and murderers (, p. 123). Foreign black men are depicted as human thieves; they are accused of stealing black South African women using monies assumed to have been derived from drug-dealing. In this self-proclaimed role, local South African men silence the voice of local South African women while at the same time unwittingly confirming Makwerekwere as successful lovers and romantic caregivers to South African women (, p. 44).
South African postcolony inherited criminal networks and syndicates run by local blacks and indirectly encouraged by some officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs. This public political structure occasionally sends out “uniformed men” who would coerce the black foreigners to give bribes in exchange for staying in the country. Some black foreign women without money bribed the officials and “bought their temporary freedom to roam the Hillbrow streets by dispensing under-waist bliss” (, p. 21). The stereotype of black foreign women as loose and dangerous is, thus, constructed by the very authorities who disavow it as morally reprehensible. However, the banality power and aesthetics of vulgarity  are further dramatised in the use of inflationary powers that local police command and often use arbitrarily to detain or deport black foreigners known to them as Makwerekwere (, p. 23).
Thus, in a new dispensation, the police still possess the very violent DNA that characterised apartheid methods of policing that included, among other things, a principle of divide and rule between black foreigners and native South Africans. The crimes of rape and murder committed by native South Africans are, in the grand narrative of the epistemology of xenophobia, repressed (, p. 23). What is rendered visible instead are stereotypical crimes attributed to black foreigners such as Nigerians and Algerians who are accused of being “drug dealers, or arms smugglers, engaged in trading weapons for their civil war-wracked countries” (, p. 101). However, this excessive signification of black foreigners is modified by other narratives in the novel that also insist in telling multiple stories of “AIDS and Makwerekwere and the many-sidedness of life and love in our Hillbrow and Tiragalong and everywhere” (, p. 95). The “many-sidedness” of lived experiences of the people of Tiragalong, Hillbrow and the rest of country is recalled through the metaphors of vulnerability of some South Africans who were forced to seek refuge in Zambia, Zaire, Nigeria, etc. during the apartheid era. In the present historical moment of the publication of the novel, new memories of petty murders such as that of Piet by some locals abound. In direct contrast to the destructive streak of some local South Africans, Makwerekwere are portrayed as industrious people who sell vegetables in Hillbrow, thus making their experience of diaspora work to their advantage. National amnesia and forgetfulness is as much at the heart of the project of nation-building just as what is chosen to be remembered of the past. Collective forgetting can serve a narrow and populist nationalism rooted in self-delusion which is that democratic South Africa does not need the rest of Africa.
Perpetrators of xenophobic violence rely on stereotypes to dehumanise their victims. The social figuration of foreign blacks in the collective imaginaries of some local South Africans allows them to depict the social group so defined as an outsider by abstracting the human qualities of targeted groups whose different values are conveniently represented immutable. Language is thus the first tool for killing the diversity of human beings. After the objectification of humanity through stereotyping, homophobes proceed to physically annihilate those that they have marked as victims. When black foreigners are depicted as diseased, drug peddlers and stealers of women and jobs, these descriptions act as ideological warrants that provide justification to violate the black foreigners. In
The instrumentality of language in attempting to constrain the plurality of the newly acquired identities within the communities of foreign blacks reveals that blackophobia is planned. In stage one black foreigners in South Africa are negatively imaged as economic vultures. To facilitate the movement towards mass violence, in stage two the black foreigners are stigmatised, and in stage three, the “vermin metaphor” is used by the perpetrator. In stage four, officials weigh in and further humiliate foreigners through deportations such as that carried out under operation Fiyela, which arbitrarily hold black foreigners in camps and then send black foreigners to their original countries without anything they had worked for. In this fourth stage, those black foreigners without papers are not given time to pick and pack their belongings as they are bundled into
In a book entitled
In the above passage, local South Africans are described as “my people”, and the killing of more than 63 foreign blacks and some few South Africans is demoted to a petty criminal act. When such defence of xenophobia come from the holders of power in the country’s highest political office, this emboldens and licences ordinary South Africans to kill foreign blacks with impunity. Thus, Mbeki provided sanctioning metaphors of discursive violence that the citizens of South Africa would refine and deploy in the future whenever they justified violating black foreigners. “Criminal intent” is precisely one of the UN’s 1948 definitions of genocide, and in all blackophobic attacks after 1994, critical intent and violent expressions of resentment of black foreigners are openly demonstrated by South African masses who police, harass and kill black foreigners on the watch of South African police.
The aim of this chapter was to explore the experience of diaspora as represented in two novels from South Africa. It was argued that in
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