Sarah-Leah Pimentel

“Doo Bee Doo” by Freshly Ground

South Africa is a country of contrasts. The miracle and the curse. Beautiful and ugly. Love and hate.

Another song on my playlist is a vibey, fun tune called “Doo Bee Doo” by Freshly Ground, a more modern South African group. This is a song that speaks of possibility:

Say you want to live and love in kindness every day
Say you know the meaning of love

See every person that you meet
As every you and every me
And then I’ll know you feel the rhythm of love, love, love.

The same country that welcomes the disillusioned musician and gives him back his dreams is the same country that robs foreigners (especially from other African countries) of their dream of coming to find a new life in South Africa. Amakwerekwere is the derogatory name that many black South Africans give to foreigners, who they accuse of ‘stealing’ their jobs and wives.

During my student days I volunteered at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Johannesburg. It was the late 90s. Some of the refugees arrived here with nothing, fleeing the genocide in Rwanda, rebel factions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or civil war in Burundi. Others came as economic migrants from Malawi and Mozambique in search of better opportunities, education for their children, more sophisticated health care.

Listening to the stories that brought these people into an unknown land taught me that we all share a common humanity. Regardless of the language we speak, the creed we profess or the colour of our skin, everyone has the same basic needs: security, food, health, and enough resources to live a dignified life.

The stories of these African refugees were not so different from the story of my own parents, who had arrived in South Africa a quarter of a century earlier, fleeing the racial bloodbath that followed colonial independence in Angola. Just like many of the Portuguese families who had crossed the Namib desert on foot, these migrants and refugees had crossed rivers, and braved wild beasts as they traipsed through large expanses of wilderness in their desperate flight from danger.

Just like my parents, these migrants had left families behind and feared for their loved ones who were still back home. Likewise, they anxiously wondered about what the future might hold.

Indeed, when we step into the shoes of another, we begin to see others as the “every you and every me.” This should make us more compassionate and give us empathy for the plight of others.

But what happens if the other is perceived as a threat to my own existence? If I really am to look at the other and put myself in their shoes, I can see the other side of the argument too.

Operation Dudula is an ultranationalist group created during the COVID-19 pandemic that calls for foreigners to go home. They claim that foreigners work for less money and therefore take the scarce jobs away from South Africans. Many migrants also enter South Africa illegally, crossing over the long, porous border. They will never be able to participate in the formal economy without the necessary documentation. But in the eyes of local, poor, and desperate South Africans, these new arrivals use up stretched resources.

Most recently, Operation Dudula set up protests outside state-funded (and often poorly equipped) hospitals and clinics and physically prevented foreigners from accessing medical services.

Watching from the relative comfort of my middle-class life, it is easy to judge these xenophobic actions as a propaganda campaign to draw attention away from the real source of South Africa’s problems. But is there any truth to the claims of Operation Dududla and their adherents? Perhaps.

Our housing complex contracted a South African gardener. Over time, he became slack in his duties and required constant supervision. He refused to do some of the tasks that were part of his contract, telling management simply that he didn’t like them. Unfortunately, he had a car accident that paralyzed him, making it impossible for him to work as a gardener. Management terminated his employment. They knew that he had no medical insurance, so they included three months’ salary and a contribution to his medical costs as part of the severance package.

Unsatisfied with that, he took them to court, citing unlawful termination of his contract. The court ruled in management’s favour. But the incident made them wary of employing a South African again.

Based on a referral, they brought on a Malawian immigrant who entered South Africa legally to do the work. In contrast, he was wonderful. He required no supervision, and instead told them what he’d be working on each day and explained if there were things that would require additional effort. He recommended ways to enhance the beauty of the gardens and knew when his work tools needed to be replaced. When he went on leave, he found someone to stand in for him while he was away to ensure that there was no interruption in service.

One could argue that they were unlucky with their South African hire and that they lucked out with the Malawian gardener. But vignettes like these often lead South Africans who are able to employ others to choose the foreigner over the local.

There is another side to this coin for unscrupulous employers. Foreigners are more likely to work for less than the minimum wage and less likely to stand up for their rights…simply because as foreigners, they don’t have recourse to the legal service that protects the rights of workers.

So can we really blame Operation Dudula for their xenophobic actions? From their perspective, the presence of foreigners means that there is far greater competition for jobs.

Foreigners – and this was the same for my parents decades ago – know that they have no local support structures and cannot readily tap into state institutions to support them. Faced with the very real prospect of starvation unless you can work, you know that you have to perform better than your competition to survive.

There is far greater incentive for foreigners than citizens who know that they can apply for social security if they find themselves unable to feed their families. They know they won’t starve.
Is there a way for us to live together, in peace side by side?

Perhaps. But it requires good leadership. Apart from one or two politicians who have voiced sympathy for Operation Dudula, none of our leaders has openly condemned xenophobia or made moves to improve mechanisms to properly document foreigners in South Africa.

Freshly Ground imagines a world in which:

Politicians have agreed to honour and obey

They’ll come down and listen to what the people say
I can’t wait to be there in line, no, no.

Against hope, I continue to expect that somewhere true leadership will emerge and put an end to the blame game. Admit that their poor efforts and corruption are what have robbed South Africans of jobs. Not foreigners. That they can come up with actionable plans to grow the economy and listen to what the people really want: the ability to live a dignified life.

Hope against hope that we will one day learn how to “live and love in kindness.”

(…to be continued…)

Transadaptation Volume 4 – Material Dissent

January: A Blinding Light and Then, All Darkness – Jonay Quintero Hernández (Spain)

February: The Opportunist – Lauren Voaden (United Kingdom)

March: A Stranger in my City – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

April: A South African Soundtrack – Sarah-Leah Pimentel (South Africa)

May: Full Circle – Ina Maria Vogel (Germany)

June: La Lluvia en Bogotá – Adriana Uribe (Columbia)

July: Freedom – Krisztina Janosi (Hungary)

August: A Bus Ride – Svetlana Molchanova (Russia)

September: Transcendence – Armine Asryan (Nane Sevunts) (Armenia)

October: Motherhood – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

November: To be announced – (hopefully) Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

December: Open – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

Background – Context

Transadaptation Volume 3: Evanescent – Young Adulthood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2022)

Transadaptation Volume 2: Conceived – Childhood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2021)

Transadaptation Volume 1: In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits (clockwise from upper left-hand corner): Arniston, South Africa – Fast food – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Avontuur, South Africa – The shopping centre – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Strofkraal, South Africe – Nama village – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Struisbaai, South Africa – The harbor – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Thaba Nchu, South Africa – At a funeral parlour – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock)

Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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