“People put borders in their hearts, that’s where xenophobia comes from”

Immigrant and South African women celebrate Africa Day together

By Tariro Washinyira

29 May 2023

“I really don’t understand where xenophobia comes from. We have to know that we’re beads on one string,” Olga Thafeni told a gathering celebrating Africa Day on Saturday. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

“South Africa has experienced many challenges in relation to migration and xenophobia. We are marking Africa Day by bringing together a diversity of women who live in Cape Town to speak about their commonalities as African women and to share their experiences.” This is how the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), Tusimame Wanawake, and the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) described their joint event held on Saturday with support from UNWOMEN at the IJR offices in Cape Town.

About 50 people met under the theme “Social cohesion, human rights, diversity and uniting the women of Africa” – aimed at amplifying the peace-building voices of women on the continent.

The event follows the commemoration on 25 May of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU).

People wore traditional clothing, listened to African music and shared Cape Malay chicken biryani and West African dishes such as jollof rice, dodo (plantains) and adalu (a bean and corn stew).

“I’m a proud, black, rural, independent woman,” said Jo-Anne Johannes, of Rural Women’s Assembly, who grew up on a farm in Simondium. “Growing up in apartheid we were forced to work on farms, but I made a promise to myself that I will finish matric.”

“I also told my daughters they were not going to be farm workers. They have become teachers and social workers through my hard work. There are times we didn’t have food while I was saving for their school fees, but I broke the cycle of poverty in my family.”

“We are suffering today because we have lost our ways. We need to go back to Ubuntu,” said Vuyiswa Lamfiti. “I grew up in the back rooms of this area. My mother was a domestic worker. … I kept on telling myself that one day I will have the same life as my mother’s employer, and I’ve achieved that.”

“I really don’t understand where xenophobia comes from,” said Olga Thafeni, who grew up in the Eastern Cape and now lives in Montague working as a carer. “We have to know that we’re beads on one string – every adult, every child, male, female. No one has a right to discriminate against someone because we are equal.”

“Africa day is about getting rid of all colonialism, apartheid and borders in our hearts. Those things can exist in history books, but in our hearts lets remain Africans,” said science and math teacher Paty Mudiayi of Tusimame Wanawake.

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mudiayi said that when she first arrived in South Africa she had to humble herself. She worked for five years on Green Market Square even though she is an engineer. Later, the Scalabrini Centre organised jobs for people with a maths and science background and she went to teach for LEAP.

“I’m an African in Africa and not Congolese … We are Africans and we have one objective to get rid of poverty and borders. People put borders in their hearts, that’s where xenophobia comes from,” said Mudiayi.