My name is Boipelo Manyowa, I am black, I am 28, I am an African, but I am ashamed to stand as a South African.
I am a pebble in the sea, that is how small I am and probably how little my opinions matter in the ocean.
But I cannot as a human being, an African, a mother and a wife, remain silent. In the last few days, South African criminals have run riot, attacking fellow black Africans in the name of fighting crime. Their method of dealing with crime has been to commit crime. (I will touch on this later.)
The most unfortunate thing about all this is that they have targeted the most vulnerable members of our community (yes, foreigners are a part of our community as long as they call our country home).
People who have travelled great lengths just to provide for their families, are being targeted, beaten, stoned, burned alive and their properties destroyed.
This is wrong on all levels.
A hundred years ago some of these borders did not even exist. European gangsters colonised our land and told us we are different. They divided us and shared our land among themselves as if it were slices of pizza.
Years after defeating these racists we now enforce their borders and their definitions of our forced differences louder than they do.
It hurts me, because everywhere I have travelled, first as a young student, then as a budding businesswoman and later as a companion to my husband, I have been treated with so much love and respect.
From the warm streets of Lilongwe, to the clean ones in Rwanda and the mesmerising ones in Nairobi, I have been loved and respected. I have lived in these places with an unshakable sense of peace and security, something I can only crave for my fellow Africans in South Africa right now.
My husband is a 29-year-old Zimbabwean whom I have known since 2003 and loved for years. He was my pen pal who became my everything. He is a very complicated man of many talents and weaknesses in equal measure. When he first came to South Africa, he was fleeing persecution by his government for his work. He is a journalist with an adrenaline addiction. He arrived in Pretoria with a dream, a dream that made me give up everything to be a part of it.
Together we have seen all but one of the continents in this world. My family have grown to adore him, and he has made Zimbabwe a home for me, and a place where I will be buried.
More importantly, my husband is responsible for more than 20 children here in South Africa (and he will be upset I let this secret out). These children are South African and all but two are orphans. He does not make a lot of money (journalists are poor), but the little he makes he uses to change lives.
Perhaps I should mention that my husband is no longer based in South Africa and only returns rarely to perform critical business. The orphaned children in SA who look up to him have not been abandoned or left alone.
From the shores of the Far East, he makes sure they are fed and clothed. He does not see these children as South African children but just children. He is not alone, not an exception to the rule but the norm.
I have had the absolute pleasure of living in Zimbabwe for a considerable amount of time too. I love the people there, their amazing culture and the serene beauty of the landscapes. My stay and my contact with many Zimbabweans have not always been pleasant.
I have been insulted, heckled, attacked, lied about, harassed and bullied by strangers who do not know me but long ago made up their minds that I deserve to be hated. My nationality played some part in this.
Comments asking for “that South African b*tch to be raped and killed together with Maynard (my husband)” are something I deal with daily but have never got used to, though I refuse to let them affect me (I generally never allow other human beings to control my state of mind, let alone emotions).
I have had several unpleasant encounters with Zimbabweans, but I don’t recall being made to feel any less Zimbabwean. (Yes, I am a Zimbabwean.)
Despite all the abuse, I have never had Zimbabwean people attempt to set my business alight in Harare, or my car or my house.
To add to that, I have learned that the cruel and abusive hounds that dislike me and abuse me do not represent the majority. I will never allow a few rogue elements in a country of 18 million people (local and abroad) to define my relations with everyone else.
Zimbabweans, like Malawians, Zambians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, Sudanese, Congolese and Burkinabe people are among the warmest, most hard-working and honest individuals I have ever met. As my experience has taught me with Zimbabweans (I interacted with them a lot) and Malawians (my husband works for and with Malawians), there are always bad apples out there.
I am saying this because I hope my own brothers and sisters committing these acts know that crime has no nationality. I have been the victim of crime four times, and not once were my assailants foreign.
I grew up in the North West before moving to Pretoria. It’s simply not true that it’s only foreigners who commit crime. This evil scapegoating is wrong and makes me hang my head in shame.
I do not understand how people fight murder by killing others, stoning cars, or firing randomly at passing trucks.
Ever since all this began, the only people I have seen committing arson, robbery, malicious damage to property, attempted murder and assault are South Africans. The people they claim are criminals, many of them poor, vulnerable women and children, are only running for dear life. So, who are the real criminals?
I am yet to see any druglords busted in this crime spree. I am yet to see any real criminals arrested. All I see and have seen are desperate vendors, barbers, car guards and cleaners being targeted.
Much of what is happening makes me sick to the stomach. It also makes me hurt in deep places. Angry too.
I do not want to bear testimony to things I did not see, so I won’t speak about the role other countries played in South Africa’s independence. I will speak as a human being with compassion for others, as a black African who has called nine African countries home.
Even as I write this, my heart is heavy, because, in places like Hong Kong, far, far away, where blacks are as rare as hens’ teeth, my husband and I have been allowed to settle, establish business, and exist on this planet without being made to feel like some kind of other.
What you are doing to fellow Africans is wrong. Whichever way you try to justify it. You are the criminals and not the other way around, and I am ashamed that people look at me and think I too think like you – in such an evil, depraved and cruel manner.
Again, I am a pebble in the sea, that is how small I am and probably how little my opinions matter in the ocean. But you all need to reflect. DM
Boipelo Manyowa is a Hong Kong-based South African and the executive director of documentary journalism company MaynManFilms, and investigative journalism website Khuluma Afrika among others. She writes in her own capacity.