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Africa's crisis of identity is xenophobia

By unknown | Sep 28, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Sammy Davis Jnr was a black man who embraced the Jewish faith after a horrific accident in which he lost an eye.

Sammy Davis Jnr was a black man who embraced the Jewish faith after a horrific accident in which he lost an eye.

His handicap could have interfered with his meteoric rise in the world of US entertainment. He belonged to the Hollywood Rat Pack, led by Frank Sinatra, that included Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. They were all white.

The Rat Pack starred in the first Oceans 11, the film in which George Clooney and Brad Pitt acted later. Sinatra was Danny Ocean.

Davis lived at a time when the US was overtly racist. People probably gave him more problems because of his race than because of his religion. Like so many black people, Davis died of cocaine addiction. But it could just as well have been the curse of being black that drove him to that addiction.

Davis married May Britt, a Scandinavian actress. There was very little comment in the media about their relationship or his religion, only about his race. Eventually, Davis and Britt parted. Davis "came back home" when he married an African-American woman.

By the time of his death at the age of 75 in 1990, he was a great singer, actor and dancer, and a credit to his race.

Racism is xenophobia and African politics has been blighted by xenophobia.

This is in spite of the universal declaration: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Or sisterhood.

Sound familiar? It is Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10 1948.

That year is notable for another huge blot in world history: the Nationalists came to power in South Africa and a new form of slavery, apartheid, was born.

Xenophobia abounds on the African continent. Former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, had a taste of it when he lost power in 1991. His critics said being a son of a Malawian father, he ought never to have been president. For 27 years?

Alassane Outtara, an opposition leader in Cote d'Ivoire was barred from contesting an election because his father was not Ivorian. There has been bloodshed in that country since then.

In Zimbabwe, a law in recent years deprived people of citizenship if one parent was not Zimbabwean. Millions were disenfranchised.

It was no coincidence that President Robert Mugabe had earlier publicly denounced supporters of the new opposition MDC as "people without totems" - foreigners.

That law was repealed only a few months ago. Yet the bitterness it created is probably incalculable and not erasable.

Africa's most urgent problem is poverty eradication. Yet without solving the nagging but real "crisis of identity" that is xenophobia, that goal could take longer to achieve.

Zimbabwe is a case in study. Gukurahundi had an element of xenophobia in its bloody origins. Now people are expected to believe that it is only the generosity of Zanu-PF that has restored their birthright.

The expectation is that their gratitude will be counted in millions of votes in next year's election.

Someone warned a long time ago, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but . so on and so forth.


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