People Matter Photo Series: Who is the foreigner?

April 29, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I wonder if you will see what I see when you look at these photos? Will you see people who have genuine friendships and who love spending time together? Or will you see one person who stands out, who is unwelcome, who doesn't belong?

In the light of the recent spate of xenophobic attacks, I wondered if I could find South Africans who have close friendships with foreigners who live here, and what their stories could tell us. So off to town we went...

We approached strangers and asked them if they're South African or foreign. Many of them reacted with genuine fear, so much so that we changed our opening question to put them at ease. When we explained that we were doing a photo shoot to highlight the issue of xenophobia, everyone opened up to us and shared their stories with us. We encountered warm people with a genuine love for our country.

I found that love is a force that transcends borders and bridges gaps between cultures. Over the next eight days I will share their stories with you. Often, you won't be able to tell who the foreigner is, and that's precisely the point. The aim is to show you that we're all human, we all have hopes and dreams of a better future, and that there is hope for our country if we embrace love.

A special thank you to my two assistants, Maliyamungu Gift Muhande and Anelga Garcer. Without you this project wouldn't have been possible.


Day 8 of 8: Meet Bronwyn and Odellia:

How long have you known each other?

Odellia: It will be a year on Saturday. I'm very excited about it. We met playing basketball. I've been in South Africa for four years, I'm studying at Wits.

What do you love about South Africa:

Odellia: It's diverse. I like it, and hate it. I can understand the languages now, but the first year I was here people shouted at me for not knowing my culture. Even though I can understand, I'm not always sure what language they're speaking.

What is special about your friendship?

Odellia: I like the fact that we get each other. We've lived totally different lives, but we understand each other. If she doesn't sleep, I don't sleep, it's like we're in sync.

How do you feel about xenophobia as a South African?

Bronwyn: I've had a pretty interesting background. I lived in the States for 10 years, and it's broadened my view on the world. I feel like people are in boxes here, and leaving took me out of that frame of mind. I have a lot of faith in our country that we'll get through this. 

Day 7 of 8: Meet Nicolas and his friends:

Where are you from?

I'm from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I've been here for 14 years, and I might stay, depending on what happens in future.

How do you feel about the xenophobic attacks?

I love South Africa, I'm not here to steal anybody's job. I'm here to get an education, I want to learn from everybody. I love people from every culture.

What's the deal with the masks?

We do a dance routine, they're in character. We're on our way to a hip hop event in Newtown Park.

How do you feel about your South African friends?

They're like family to me. Even though the xenophobic attacks are happening, they don't feel the same way. 

Day 6 of 8: Meet Kgotso and his friend:

Tell me your story:

Kgotso: I'm half South African, half Congolese (my mom is Zulu and half of her family is Sotho). People are getting judged because of where they come from, and at the end of the day we're all from Africa. 

Do you feel like a foreigner, or like a South African?

Kgotso: I feel like a South African, but I feel victimised. I know I just have to ignore these people. It's just a portion of people, not everyone.

Tell me about your friendship:

Kgotso: He's my best friend. I recently moved to Braamfontein, and he's the only guy that's been looking out for me.

What do you love about each other as friends?

Friend: He just makes my day every time. He's so random, it's always good to spend time with him.

Kgotso: He's a good listener, and I like talking. 

Day 5 of 8: Meet Axel and his friends:

What country are you from?

Axel: I'm from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I've been here for 23 years. I haven't been back since I was three years old.

Do you feel that people see you as South African, or as foreign?

Axel: They see me as South African within my circle of friends. I'm not fluent, but I can hold my own if I need to speak vernac. My home language is French.

How did you guys become friends?

Axel: I'm studying Civil Engineering, and we have a soccer team in the Wits Internal League. I met them playing soccer. I only started playing for the team this year, but we've known each other since last year.

What do you love about South Africa?

Axel: I love its diversity. I know as much as different cultures have different issues, it's nice that it's so diverse.

How do you feel about the xenophobic attacks?

Axel: It's a group of uneducated, ignorant people. It's not the majority. I know it looks bad from the outside. We have family calling from abroad all the time, asking if we're ok. I haven't experienced it myself, I haven't physically seen it, it's not as bad as it looks from the outside. It's a group of people who are lazy and not working, they're making it bad for anyone. The whole country has been labelled as xenophobic, but it's not like that.

Do you have any other foreign friends?

Axel: I have many. I think it's the way I was brought up. My parents lived in France, then came here. With the way my mom brought me up, I find it easy to communicate with people from different races. Even among my South African friends, there are Muslims, Afrikaans people, and many others. 

Question to Axel's friends: What is your view on xenopobia?

PS: I think it gives South Africa a bad image. Everybody should be accepted. If you're born in South Africa, you're South African. If you've been living in South Africa, you're South African. We should accept each other as Africans.

Phemelo: We as South Africans should change our mentality and accept our foreign brothers and sisters so that we can unite and stop this violence.

Day 4 of 8: Meet Jessy and Luleka:

Where are you from, and how long have you been in South Africa?

Jessy: I'm from Cameroon, I've been here for eight years.

Are you planning on staying in South Africa?

No, I have a home here and a home and Cameroon, so I'll go back and forth.

How did you guys meet?

Luleka: We have a mutual friend. When she was looking for someone to work for her, he phoned me, and that's how we met.

Jessy: We haven't been working together for long, but in the few months we've had a great relationship.

How do you feel about the xenophobic attacks?

Luleka: I don't like talking about it.

Jessy: She hates it, and I also hate it. People are angry, so they just look for the weakest link, and thugs take advantage of that. They use that as an excuse to settle scores with whichever foreigner they have issues with. I love almost everything about South Africa, except its violence. The violence freaks me out. I don't have a problem being told foreigners are not wanted, but you don't have to kill us to tell us this. You can steal from me, but don't kill me, don't shoot me, don't stab me; just take the phone and go. The South African government hasn't reacted fast enough, they took their time to see how many would be killed before they reacted.

Day 3 of 8: Meet Khululekani and his friends:

What country are you from?

Khululekani: I'm from Zimbabwe, I've been here for five years, I moved here with my parents. South Africa is a good country.

Where did you meet these guys?

Khululekani: At varsity. I'm studying BSC Molecular Science.

What do you love about these guys?

Khululekani: They're so friendly, they're really nice.

Amukelani: We've got his back, he's one of us. He has the ability to make me laugh when I'm sad.

Day 2 of 8: Meet Christelle and Tsolofelo:

Christelle owns a hair salon in town. She was busy doing a client's hair, so we chatted to Tsolofelo about their friendship.

How long have you been friends?

It's been three years.

How did you meet?

She was doing my hair in 2012, and we've been friends ever since. She introduced me to this area, and I've got my own business because of her. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here. She motivated me to have my own business. 

What country is she from?

She's from Cameroon. She's been here for about 5 years, and she's staying. She loves South Africa because it's a beautiful country, and we've got beautiful people. She's making her own money, she has a family, and she's expecting another baby.

What do you love about your friendship with her?

She's a great person, a loving person. She's encouraged me in so many ways. I even got a boyfriend from Congo because of her.


Day 1 of 8: Meet Ivin and Thumeka

Where are you from, and how long have you been in South Africa?

Ivin: I'm from Cameroon. I've been in South Africa for three years. I studied accounting here.

Are you planning on staying here in South Africa?

Ivin: Oh yeah, definitely.

What do you love about the country?

Ivin: The beautiful girls; South Africa is a beautiful place. I know people think South Africans aren't very friendly, I think it just depends on where you come from. In my country, not everyone is friendly.

Is this your girlfriend?

Yes (smiles). I met her through my flatmate.

How do you feel about xenophobia?

Thumeka: I think the world has a perception that it's every South African when it's just the minority. People really need to understand that, as much as these attacks are happening, I can't say there's a convincing social predicament that's causing it. I think it's being influenced by crime. You must also look at the targets. If you go to town, they're attacking Somalians because many of them own businesses, and it gives them a platform to steal. It's not ordinary South Africans.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this project.

Till next time,





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