‘Foreigners’ still don’t feel free

LAUREN O’CONNOR-MAY

Emily Post, an American author famous for writing about etiquette, said: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Does the same apply to freedom? Is the measure of how free a country is, how free its people feel while living there? By that same extension then, could a good yardstick for our hardbought freedom be, how free do people feel in South Africa if they do not call this country home?

During apartheid many exiled liberationists took refuge with our African neighbours but do those neighbours feel free here? Well, that depends on who you ask. The Constantiaberg Bulletin chatted to foreign nationals in Wynberg Main Road to try and answer this question.

Givemore Chifamba, a 27-year-old Zimbabwean chef, came to South Africa in 2010 because he was told that South Africa is a land of opportunity. He had received hospitality training in Zimbabwe and came to South Africa to look for work.

“Everyone said, ‘Go to South Africa, there’s a lot of opportunities there’.”

He settled in Pretoria for a while before making his way to Cape Town, all the while “working, working, working”, he said.

He found work at a local restaurant and his boss sent him for chef training after which he was promoted to head chef.

He’d certainly found the opportunity he’d looked for in South Africa but did he feel free?

His short answer was: “No.”

“People call us names,” he said. “Back home I am more free. I can move around like I want to because I’m not labelled a ‘foreigner’.”

Fiston Lesley, 32, from the Democratic Republic of Congo is a refugee. He came to South Africa seven years ago but he too does not feel free.

“I can’t say I’m free due to all the things that’s going on – the xenophobia,” he said.

Asked whether he felt more free in his home country, he replied: “I think it depends on the conditions. I feel free in the DRC because there’s familiar people around me but because of wars, especially in the east, I’m not free.”

Nkadi Saint Flaure, another Congolese, shared this sentiment. Mr Saint Flaure has been in South Africa for eight years. He also said that despite the conflict in his country he felt less free in South Africa. “I can’t get access to things here,” he said.

While walking down Main Road, the Bulletin found it wasn’t difficult to find foreigners in South Africa, which in itself is a stark contrast to pre-1990, when sanctions were still in full effect. The foreign nationals in South Africa stick together in groups and, for the most part, they gave me a wide berth. My camera and notebook was eyed with dubious suspicion. Judging by body language alone, it seemed they did not feel free, and warily eyed most South Africans who approached them. Only a few were willing to speak to the newspaper. None wanted to have their photos taken. Some were only willing to speak if they were paid and some were so fearful, they would not even tell us their names.

A Nigerian man, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he came to South Africa to find work but has been so unhappy here, his main motivation is now to go back home. However, he cannot get enough money together to do so.

“I felt more free in Nigeria,” he said.

Another foreign national shared this sentiment. When ask-ed what country he was from, he responded: “Which country do you think I’m from? If I told you now which country I’m from, im-mediately I am a suspect. So which country do you think I’m from?”

Shamefully, I answered: “Probably Nigeria.”

“You see,” he said. “Even you know it.”

This outpsoken man, harsh- ly critical of South Africa, has been here for three years. He said in Nigeria foreign nationals were treated “like queens and kings”.

“We welcome them and treat them well,” he said. “But here I can’t be proud and say I’m from Nigeria because then I’m a suspect.”