Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Xenophobia or Culture Shock?

Xenophobia is one topic that many writers find unfashionable because of the way it has being recycled over and over in the media. I however find that the writings on Xenophobia unrepresentative of me, the young foreign student.

University brochures emphasize on how South Africa offers international students, “Exotic combinations of landscapes, people, history and culture for a-larger-than life experience." a tempting prospect. These glossy prospectuses almost guarantee a smooth transition into the South African way of life. They did not however prepare me for the hostility I face for being a black foreigner. Or for what some call culture shock.

With the credit crunch hitting the finances of my parents badly, attending university in America or the United Kingdom became a fleeting illusion, the best alternative, was enrolling at a university in the country whose people killed mine in xenophobic attacks. When I boarded my flight to OR Tambo airport, I shrugged off the possibility of been a victim Xenophobia. I thought xenophobic attacks were isolated to townships and illegal settlements.

Like most foreigners (and many South Africans I have come to learn) my perceptions of Johannesburg were fashioned by the media. This, with the news headlines in mind, is what I kept telling myself each time I walked out my flat:
• There is a criminal lurking behind every corner waiting to stab somebody and that somebody might be you.
• Move with a pocket knife everywhere you go.
• If you’re going to a lower income area travel on a tourist buses with guides to take you to the safe places.
• If you left someone at home, call them every hour to find out if they are safe.

In the same way I perceived Joburg as a city with bullets flying around at every corner, South African Xenophobes may tacitly agree with news and feature stories that portray the immigrant as a parasite bent on feeding off benefits meant for South Africans. This could be one of the reasons for implicit and explicit acts of xenophobia in this country.

My friends often jokingly say the worst place for a foreigner to be in Jozi is a reception manned by security guards. My own experiences of being the foreigner attended to by a guard have gone something like this:

"Heita" the guard greets me while wearing a smile.

"Enter" I answer.

The guard then begins to speak to me in Zulu.

“I cannot understand you sir. I’m a foreigner.” I tell him.

“What language do you speak?” the guard asks, now frowning.

“English.” I say, knowing that English is where our language skills intersect.

“No what traditional language do you speak wena?”

“Bemba, Nyanja and bits of Ki-Swahili.”

“Oh, where do you come from mfana?”

“Zambia.” I respond.

A black woman walks in, she and the guard speak in vernacular. The guard helps her fill in the entrance forms before letting her in. He then turns his attention back to me, speaking in his native tongue and expecting me to follow.

“I cannot understand what you are saying” I tell him.

He continues speaking Zulu. I ask him to switch to English, but he ignores. Then a whitey walks in "Good Afternoon Sir, how can I help you?" the guard asks paying attention to the way he pronounces his vowels.

"Am headed to see a friend, picking him up for lunch."

"Yes Sir. Fill in this form, write your name here and your contact details there. Thank you and have a good day" the guard tells the whitey.

"Thank you."

I get angry and tell the guard off but he still responds in vernacular. I decide to walk past the guard without filling in the form. The guard stops me and says in English “Ey fill these form. You can't leave the building without having this slip signed." I fill in the form while wondering whether or not to lodge a complaint. I have had similar experiences in restaurants, at roadside markets and even in banks. I decide against lodging a complaint, as reporting such acts has become tiresome.

I can construct a few sentences in Zulu and when the bit of Zulu I know is sufficient enough for me to get to the end of a conversation, I make a new friend. But when I can't get to the end of a conversation without asking to switch to English, I get cold feedback. At these times I feel like leaving, quitting my degree and catching the next flight home. But then again it could be culture shock; my failure to understand that blacks 'ought' to speak vernacular or risk been shunned and that a white man can get around fine without speaking a word of Zulu or Xhosa. Or maybe I’m a victim Xenophobia and should count myself lucky because I do not get a tire lit around my neck.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


I was taking a piss on a graffiti ravaged wall when over my shoulder I saw a police patrol car pull over. I managed to quickly finish up between muffled curses and an effort to decipher what the policemen were shouting in what I presumed is Zulu. "Hey wena come over here" a policeman shouted. I walked over to the car in which two policemen were seated. One spoke in Zulu calmly, then begun to rant angrily all of a sudden.
"I can’t understand what you’re saying officer." I meekly stated.
"What language do you speak?" his partner asked.
"English sir" I informed him.
"What!" the angry officer shouted.
"I’m a foreigner." I hurriedly explained, "I’m Zambian."
"Ah the same country with Mbesuma." the angry officer said now smiling "How is he?"
"His well, I think. His scoring lots of goals I hear."
"I like that guy, he is a good player." the angry officer said keeping his smile "So, do you urinate in public in Zambia?"
"I’m sorry officer. I will never do it again."
The policemen begun to speak in vernacular, they laughed as they spoke. "So how much do you have for us?" he asked, "You know I can arrest you for this neh? And you’re drunk" he judged.
I pulled out my wallet, and only found had a R100 note. I gave it to him and asked "can you give me R50 change?" He scoffed at my request then drove off.

When I got home I told my housemates, Katlego and Olufemi (the Nigerian), about my run in with the police.
"Dude! You paid a 100bucks, you idiot. Foreigners have kak for brains" Katlego said.
"Hey shut up your mouth, I no go let you insult us like dat." Olufemi finishing off with 'Idiot'.
"You paid a 100bucks!! haw" Katlego repeated ignoring Olufemi, "I would pay 20rand tops mate."
"It was an act of goodwill bruv, to ease the policemen’s troubles and mine." I told Katlego "Yo man I hear JZ is introducing a tax on bribes, he made the announcement at the state of the nation address. This is in a bid to recoup the billions his ministers will steal."
"See what your government is up to, you now go tax bribes" Olufemi said.
"Don't even go there." Katlego warned. And we fell silent.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Owning A Dream In Lusaka Twas

An asylum is what cities strive to be,
All but the silences of it-
Unnecessary busy modes of transport transport;
Of which men and menful women hide in and on;
Talking to themselves-
Yet threatening to keep themselves unaroused of the realisation that it is to their own lone they talk;
They call it wireless.
Decorating collars with knots-
And cuffs with cufflinks;
Once more in manacles;
Lusaka has been accepted.
There is a whole world out-
Waiting on you;
To this knowledge brimming of esoteric keep steadfast;
For the stone city bothers no longer with sleep;
Honking,Pop music and harlots moaning in exaggerated bliss-
Having something to do with economics.
A mind warped in the idiocrisy of infancy dreams even whils't awake;
Always striving to remain dreaming despite Mother Knocking for to give childhood porridge;
Whose aspect only serves as a winding,moist and slippery stairway to a necropolis of reminiscences.
Now let there be Will;
First it was Will to find a way-
Down to bare Will.
Scribbling everywhere,
Fiddling anywhere;
A fiendish mind continues to keep a dream;
Somewhere in a mollycoddle little town in the breast of backwardness-
An intellectual harlequin refrains for to awake.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


There it was;
that look that says 'i sell sex to mankind';
it was there in all its degradingful femininistic loyalty-
with or without the R,
written it was in her eyes almost with a dash of dare;
Instantly i was filled with such a swell of respectful ardor;
for she lived a life in the esoterical extremes of the resolute.
The white serpent shook his head 'no'-
my heart whispered 'burn!' as it scooped rioting hot oil onto his face to have him just right;
Mary you are forgiven;
Mary you can go home now,
You are forgiven.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

I met her in a restaurant reading,
A plain act but one that corrupted my thoughts with interest.

‘Hey, what are you reading?’
‘The heart is a lonely hunter’
‘Good read that is, John singer amused me. Nkandu is my name’
‘Lerato, nice to meet you’

She extends her hand,
I look at the finely taken care of fingers,
Perfect for turning pages, I think.

I return the hand shake
And during the period that my hand, in hers, moves up and down-my eyes wander at the contours of her lips
I think- I should say more

I said more,
Spoke mainly about what I perceived were her interests.
She mentioned him,
I paid no attention.
A meeting later,
Then a date,
After which she became my mate.

She then said ‘Nkandu, we can’t do this no more’
‘Is it Katlego’
‘But why?’
‘I do not know, this just feels evil’

And so my heart began to hunt on its own.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Guess Lions Tore Us Apart

Is it reasoned I drew the wrath of Eros
That we had to part?
I, this way, and ye, that?
Permit me to reminisce;
Standing in your presence was when i I joked-
That only could I keep a commitment-
with my love for pens bleeding black 'stead the red that livens your heart.
Looking into your eyes, those big brown eyes;
There you sat.
The ones that rose me up happy or sad. Gently.
Those same eyes;
That told me that if ever I wished, I would even fly;
Today I looked into them and they cared less;
Of all the jokes we ever did tell-
They cared less;
Of times we made love and your emotions did swell.
Those brown eyes so distant,
So cold, so cross,
I dared not push on,
I dared not to fight for what couldn't be won;
Ne'er to be complete as I dare not anger Anteros.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Rush of Blood to The Head-Nkandu

All my efforts rest in a paper bin, in a crample fold.
Ideas sparkle; blue as lightening.
Yet all my tales have been told.
A grudge held, fueled by poets of old.

I wait on inspiration,
I wait in vain.
I make a girl of unfashionable beauty mine,
hoping she holds infant joy, to lift me out of this gloom.
Then I meet her pain of virgin experience.
I tell her I love her-I lie.
I lie in a bid to covince myslef I mean every lie.
our relationship spirals to friendship, I sigh, relieved?
Yet my tales are still of boyish experience.

I end by rushing blood to my head; I drag, take a swig and sniff.
The belfry signals both joy and sorrow; consumation of death.
Don't funeral bells sound alike? I return to the church for relief.
I give poetry one last glance while prose lays a wreath.