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Nothing’s changed in South Africa

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
07 September 2019   |   2:08 am
Such sad times for South Africa who had long struggled to live up to the moniker The Rainbow Nation. Before influencer campaigns took off and press and blogger familiarisation trips were the order of the day, I got to experience South Africa ..

[FILE] South African looters run through tear gas smoke during a riot in the Johannesburg suburb of Turffontein on September 2, 2019 as angry protesters loot alleged foreign-owned shops in a new wave of violence targeting foreign nationals. (Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP)

Who remembers the glossy influencer campaign South Africa Tourism rolled out a few years back to lure Nigerian and West African millenials to visit South Africa? Nigerian celebrities and influencers such as Praiz, Noble Igwe, Mai Atafo, Kelechi Amadi-Obi delighted fans on social media for days with beautifully captured and curated documentation of the South African experience… and hospitality. Sadly, with the rise of xenophobic attempts on Africans living and working in South Africa, the experience has soured and the hospitality is non-existent.

Such sad times for South Africa who had long struggled to live up to the moniker The Rainbow Nation. Before influencer campaigns took off and press and blogger familiarisation trips were the order of the day, I got to experience South Africa on a 12-day press trip with fellow bloggers from the UK, US, Europe and China. Our trip took us from the urban Johannesburg and its exciting start-up scene to the vineyards of Cape Town and of course Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years her served behind bars.

During my time there, we had the opportunity to speak to both black and white South Africans, and while not openly acknowledged or spelled out, the tension was palpable. The self-made black South Africans felt the government still owed them for the way they’d been treated during the Apartheid, and there was an unspoken but very palpable sense of entitlement and as a result discomfort on the part of white South Africans who felt their black compatriots were given privileges, no longer allowed then, to make amends for their mistreatment during the Apartheid. I recall the lines of a poem I used to teach back in the day echo in my mind for the whole 12 days.

In ‘Nothing’s Changed’ poet Tatamkhulu Afrika riles against the rampant apartheid system in District Six near Cape Town in South Africa and the systemic segregation that’s allowed to continue even though there are no visible signs of it anymore. The ironic title brings to light how the apartheid has changed nothing but the physical appearance of District Six.
“District Six.
No board says it is:
but my feet know,
and my hands,
and the skin about my bones,
and the soft labouring of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.”

Looking through the windows of what was once a whites only inn which is still foreign territory for black people, the persona in the poem is tempted to smash down the window that keeps ‘the other’ out and contrasts in with the working man’s café where black men can eat in on plastic table tops or take away traditional bunny chows.

The poem culminates in an old remembered helplessness mixed with rage:
“I back from the
boy again,
leaving small mean O
of small mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.”

The same rage I felt back in 2013 when hearing a white scholar from University of Pretoria subtly dismiss the Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 which aimed to offer new economic opportunities to disadvantaged communities. His hushed argument that it created a new generation of whites feeling disempowered and unfairly treated.

The same rage I feel now at the African on African violence in the country.
The Rainbow Nation is no more. The culprit is no other than the white man – the very same one that travelled across Africa centuries ago duping the oyinbos and the muzungus with the Bible to steal their riches, divided them into groups, tribes and languages so they could divide and rule them, went around ‘discovering’ and naming natural wonders which had existed for millennia, while discovering and plundering their natural resources, christening the ‘native’ to place them under the yoke of subservience, drawing lines in the sand and calling them new boundaries for lands that had for centuries been united, turning African on African, black on black, showing each a mirror image of themselves as the cause of all their misfortunes. Blinded by blustery speeches, bamboozled by bribery, the warfare began and still rages on today.

The time for Africa to unite is now. We need to show the powers that be we won’t stand for what’s happening in South Africa. Not by machetes and guns, but by our voices and influence, and our hard-earned cash.

This is why I applaud celebrities such as Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage who’ve condemned the treatment of fellow Nigerian living in South Africa. Celebrities need to speak up. We as the ordinary folk must boycott South African brands. Tourists amongst us must opt for Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique – any other African travel destination instead of South Africa. Then perhaps they will wake up and realise that it takes more than a glossy influencer campaign to rebrand South Africa.