Language has a way of uniting people. The minute you hear someone speaking your mother tongue you almost feel a kinship towards them. Language has the power to build a sense of community amongst those who share it.
But, it also has the power to create a dangerous “us and them” scenario. It is often the catalyst for what we call ‘Afrophobia’. A term used to refer to a range of negative attitudes and feelings. Directed at black people or people of African Descent around the world.
Language is Your Identity
When a South African greets a black African immigrant in isiXhosa, its not only saying hello or being friendly. It is about so much more. University of Cape Town (UCT) PhD candidate Ivan Katsere (a lecturer in the Department of Psychology) puts it this way: “It’s not only a ‘How are you doing?’. It’s packaged with where are you from, identify yourself, can we proceed further, can we open the gates to our community, or do we have to close them?”.
The reality is that negative attitudes and isolation are not the only worrisome issues that Afrophobia tends to bring about. As we have seen far too often in the past, it can lead to violence too. This is because local South Africans fear that immigrants are going to ‘steal’ their jobs. The problem has gotten so bad. Black Africans who cannot speak one of the official South African languages (other than English) will completely avoid interacting with locals. This out of fear of attacks against them.
How Can You Make a Difference?
Local universities are chockfull of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. What better place in which to start celebrating these differences. Why shy away from them? Now is the time to immerse yourself in new cultures and languages. Learn more about them, taking the time to encourage fellow students to do the same. If you happen to overhear hate speech or prejudice, step in and say something. It is also important to report any attacks. Even dangerous situations relating to Afrophobia should be reported to the authorities.
It is about opening your mind and your heart to those who may be different to you. Transform the “us and them” into “we” and we will take massive steps towards creating a better South Africa for all.