In a typical African family, we grow up a lot closer to our extended family than in most cultures. In Africa we do not marry our cousins because we consider them family. A cousin is just like a sibling and that is my experience of the African way of life.
In this experience, I learned that as we grow older in this African family setup, we become our own people. The experience I had with some of my cousins and siblings when I was younger is not the same today, fourty years or so later. The warmth that I felt back then is no longer the same.
In my own family, I have cousins with whom there is no communication. I have siblings with whom communication is not as smooth as it used to be. That is a new reality I have discovered; a reality I am getting to grips with. The other reality I have come to experience both directly and indirectly, within and without my family, is the experience of family feuds. This is a reality in many families. Be they African or not. Family feuds remain a reality all over the world.
Man was created for a purpose and brought into a certain family for that purpose. The direction that his life takes depends on that purpose for which he was created. The attitude that he adopts towards his family and those that he meets is not static, it shifts according to the purpose of their being together.
I believe in life being a school and everyone and everything we connect with our teacher. The attitude and experience at a particular moment in our lives is highly dependent on the lessons that we are meant to learn one from another. I also believe firmly that in man there are qualities of the rock and elements of the mineral kingdom. I believe firmly that in man there are qualities of the plant and elements of the vegetable kingdom. I believe very strongly that in man there are qualities of animals and elements of the animal kingdom.
What does that tell me? It tells me that at any moment any human being regardless of their nature can display either of those qualities, when called upon to do so by the Creator. When man needs to be soft he will be soft. When man needs to cruel he will be cruel depending on the circumstances and the occasion. This is the reason why it is prescribed in the Holy Scriptures not to judge. We are not any different from those we seek to judge.
The attacks on foreign nationals in the country have led to a lot of debate around the attitude of our people and their sudden amnesia regarding their own passed experiences and the treatment they received from their fellow Africans. Some went as far as calling our people xenophobic and ungrateful. Some called our people wicked and cruel. But as a foreign national myself, I am against this belief. I am very strongly against the painting of my people in such a negative light. My people are humans and all over the world many family feuds are experienced the moment we begin to compete for resources. The moment one member of a family begins to achieve more than the other, jealousy and envy set in. This attitude has neither a cultural barrier nor a racial one. It is a human tendency to be envious and jealous, something that love alone can help overcome.
Everyone on this planet earth creates expectations and the moment we approach life with expectations, we become selfish in all of our actions. Everything one does at that moment is driven by the need to satisfy one’s personal needs first, most often at the detriment of the others. In other words, selfishness does not have a heart for family or friendship. It is me first, and the others after.
When an African migrant or a migrant from another country leaves his homeland in search for opportunities, he is not on a mission to become selfless. He wants to be successful at all costs and is willing to do anything just to succeed. He is also ready to accept whatever is thrown his way for the sake of his mission. Unless he is God, he cannot be expected to be selfless. For those that follow the teachings of Christ, His mission on earth was to preach love. In others words, to help humanity deal with this tendency to be envious, to approach life with expectations and to be selfish.
The Bible tells us in the book of Galatians 5:13-26: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
The South African who fled the oppression here and found refuge in another country was not there for the same motives. He was not looking to build wealth abroad. The South African who fled his homeland and found refuge in another African country was seeking a place safe for him to fight for freedom. The impressions he sent out were different from those of someone whose mission is to gather wealth at all costs.
The expectations with which we have approached our stay in South Africa are that which undoubtedly attract to us that which we experience today. Our people are humans and any human being will trigger either the characteristic of the mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom or the animal kingdom depending on the necessity of the lesson to be learned at that particular moment.
To call my people xenophobic and ungrateful therefore, is not only unreasonable but also totally ignorant of the purpose of life in general and one’s personal role in it.
One fact is true, and that is we are African people, God’s chosen people and this carries with it a unique responsibility towards ourselves and the rest of the world. We are expected to conduct ourselves in a manner that befits the character of God and when we veer off, something has to be done and that something can be pleasant as it can be unpleasant. How we feel and take it, depends on the expectations we have established of life.
Many of us want to carry with us everywhere we go the refugee and beggar mentality, even when we are not refugees. The time has therefore come to assume full responsibility for our role not only in improving our own lives but also the lives of those who share this space with us. When done in a spirit of Ubuntu, in love and service, a cooperative atmosphere will automatically be created, and consequently, peace and prosperity will be enjoyed by all.
I am Emmanuel. Nkosinathi. God with us.