Uncle Tom takes issue with afrophobia.

Visiting my family in Crossroads, Cape Town, we came to talk about xenophobia. That was because it was on the news all the time and because my aunt Dolly had bought some new curtains from Congolese Susie who sells in St George’s Mall in town. Aunt Dolly likes Susie’s fabrics because they are cheap but good, “in a way that you can’t get here, it’s straight from China.” She says this as if ‘China’ is a hallmark of excellent quality, but I let it rest.

When Dolly said she was fearing for Susie, cousin Amos started about xenophobia, -which he called ‘afrophobia’- and how we must ‘shake off the shackles of racism,” “embrace our Africanness” and realise “all Africans were our brothers.” He had just returned from a meeting at the university in Belhar with all the middle class students there, that is why he was talking like that. Excuse me, I said, but I think I am the only ‘brother’ you have ever embraced in this RDP house of yours and I have a feeling that my US dollars may have something to do with that.”

I was going to say more, especially that such talk was cheap and empty and could only come from someone who never actually had gone hungry, but Uncle Boetie interrupted me. He said I was right, that foreigners were not out brothers and that they should go home to their countries because they were stealing our jobs and houses and women. He slurred a bit, so I guessed he had spent some time at Felicity’s shebeen.

I cursed myself for not having seen him come into the house. But fortunately aunt Dolly saved the situation. “No foreigner is ever going to steal your job because you don’t even have a job,” she said, “and I don’t recall you ever even wanting one.” As for this house, she continued, it was she who had filled in all the forms and stood in all the queues and saved up for the deposit, not he, so he could just go back to drink Felicity’s homebrew and if in the meantime a foreigner would come and steal her she would happily go along.

Aunt Dolly always knows just how to shut Uncle Boetie up.

Then cousin Amos asked me, -in that wounded ‘but surely we are both great revolutionaries’ kind of way-, we must fight xenophobia? I suggested that we should start by fighting the corrupt rulers in the countries that chase these poor people away, like that dictator Jammeh of Gambia, Nkurunziza in Burundi, and Prince of Thieves Joseph Kabila in the Congo.

He agreed with me that these guys were not his brothers and should be fought, but then asked if it wasn’t right, in the meantime, to welcome the poor sods who were running away from them. I said I thought that South Africa should find ways to do exactly that. Rather than dumping them in ghettos with thousands of other poor and miserable people and waiting for the next explosion, South Africa could do with some Zimbabwean teachers. Why not find ways to channel people into spaces where they could be useful?

That went for Europe too, I thought. How many desperately needed nurses and nannies and farm workers will have drowned in the Mediterranean by now?

“As long as Susie can stay here,” aunt Dolly said. “I like the foreign traders. South Africans are lazy and they cheat.”

I wondered if there was such a thing as southafrophobia.

Note: An RDP house is a simple house, usually part of a whole set of newly built houses, made available at a good rate to people below a certain income level. RDP stands for South Africa’s ‘Reconstruction and Development Plan.’

Uncle Tom