What is most appropriate language for African self-hate?

Sunday September 24 2023

A man is pushed around during a confrontation with foreign nationals in Johannesburg, South Africa on April 15, 2015. PHOTO | AFP


Africa’s cultural, linguistic diversity is as important a resource as the things we have on the ground, above and below. Not everyone sees the richness of our diversity with such happiness.

The BBC just released a short video piece on the “Dudula” movement in South Africa. There are South Africans who feel that foreigners are the cause of serious social problems. By foreigners they very specifically mean immigrants from other African countries and who are dark in complexion.

South Africa for South Africans is the ideology, plain and simple. No economic plan of any kind, no social analysis, just pure xenophobia.

Oh, but how can Africans hate other Africans? We moan and wring our hands.

How untoward! This is the century of celebrating our milestones, our emancipation from the evils of the colonial past. For this we must extol our unity! We need our fellow-feeling, we are better together and not apart, this is only natural. This is what we proclaim, it is what made the likes of the slain Muammar Gaddafi almost as popular as the slain Thomas Sankara.

Read: EYAKUZE: African (dis)unity goes beyond language to art, food, politics


Pray for us Africans, now and at every hour, for our need never ends.

Well, here’s the thing. With the Pan-African movement and the structures that it places on our rhetoric, we have a few problems that we haven’t addressed. Like, how it isn’t natural at all for diverse peoples to come together across a vast continent like the one that we have. Nothing provincial about it, we humans have belonging, and loyalty wired into us.

I believe the consensus is that we can have familial feelings of closeness with 30 people, expand that to a sense of belonging to a group probably numbering in the hundreds, and perhaps a more general sense of something bigger in the nation-state. Debatable how large or small that has to be to generate loyalty. Beyond that things get complicated.

I understand the deplorable xenophobia that some South Africans suffer, I even mull over the burden that Moroccans and Algerians and some other North Africans confront when they are called Africans.

We keep subsuming so much with that blanket term, African. It is such a big concept; it just doesn’t come naturally. And it is a pejorative term, why lie. All this might explain why we are still comfortable in 2023 knowing fairly little about each other in comparison to what we know about the world beyond.

Read: NDERITU: Sometimes a common language binds communities

Circling back to South Africa, a country in whose ultimate liberation from minority racist rule under Apartheid was achieved with the help of so many African countries and individuals, there is something to be learned here. It is very new at self-rule, technically only achieving this status in the mid-1990s, or at least its current all-inclusive format.

The challenges and troubles of early statehood are, thus, real and raw. The late Zulu warlord Chief Magosuthu Buthelezi has been laid to rest and with him a certain chapter of Zulu nationalist sentiment. But let us not lose the lessons therein, because when an African utters the words.

“I hate foreigners” without pause or remorse, the lesson lies in the irony. What is the appropriate language for African self-hatred? Which mother-tongue does it sit on best?

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]