SOUTH AFRICA’S WORRYING EXCEPTIONALISM
By: Raymond Padya
A few months ago, Zambian Vice President, Guy Scott, accused South Africa of being an exceptionalist country. He labeled South Africans as having the ‘we against the rest of them (referring to the African continent) mentality’ which has in turn led to cases of xenophobic attacks in the past. Lately, the South African President, Jacob Zuma, attested these accusations to be true.
Whilst defending his government’s plans to introduce e-tolls on the highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, Zuma made a statement on the 22nd of October on Malawi and the African continent that insulted Malawians, South Africans and Africa as a whole.
“We can’t think like Africans in Africa generally. We’re in Johannesburg… This is not some national road in Malawi.”
Several people took to Twitter and Facebook and expressed their disappointment on the president’s mindset. Despite the comment being derogatory to the Malawian people, a lot of Africans took Zuma’s comment as being xenophobic.
@Gift Trapese, a Malawian political activist posted on twitter, “Mr Zuma should have known that South Africa is a leading country on the continent and his leadership should reflect that maturity and seriousness. His statement is nothing short of being xenophobic,” he said.
Father Batanai Padya, based in Italy commented on facebook, “Zuma, all he is telling us from there is that his sense of identity is damaged, and that he lives in a world where reality does not exist. He is simply denying to be who he is and for a president to do that is an unforgivable ‘sin’.”
He went on to say, “It exposes the South African worrying exceptionalism, which makes them butcher other Africans in the name of protectionalism.”
It’s no new thing in South Africa that foreigners are sometimes subjected to xenophobic attacks. A report by the Human Sciences Research Council identified South Africa’s feeling of superiority in relations to other Africans and its belief of exclusive citizenship to be some of the broad causes of xenophobia. Hence, Zuma made a statement with the same ideology and this raises certain concerns; was he being an exceptionalist or he was just held out of context?
Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj responded that Zuma’s remark had been taken out of context and blown out of proportion.
“The presidency has noted reports in certain media suggesting that President Jacob Zuma insinuated that Africans were backward and that they should stop thinking like ‘Africans in Africa and accept that Gauteng roads were not like some national road in Malawi or Pietermaritzburg or Rustenburg’,” he said.
He added that Zuma’s words have regrettably been taken out of context and blown completely out of proportion. Maharaj said that Zuma was explaining that it was not fair to make the whole country pay for Gauteng’s roads.
However, Malawians were insulted by Zuma’s remark, the spokeswoman for the Malawi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Quent Kalichero, said on the IOL News website.
“Off the cuff, it was not a diplomatic thing to say,” she added. “A lot of Malawians have been tweeting about it and otherwise commenting on social media. The majority are insulted and they think it’s not a good thing for a president to say.”
Bongani Ncube, a student, commented on facebook in regards to this issue, “South African exceptionalism is not something they should be proud of in light of the xenophobic killings of ‘African’ foreigners in Diepsloot.”
“Yes, after the fact we can all but hope that it could have been contextualized, or it could have been said better, or that it should be reflected upon within the background of his country’s history…but a better version is one where it was never said at all,” he added.