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Peter Kuthan / AZFA
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« on: September 13 2007 »

Musicians from Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe are putting xenophobia on the cultural agenda, in a musical initiative to get people talking about discrimination.  As the prime destination for migrants from all over Southern Africa, South Africa, especially Johannesburg, is home to thousands of foreign Africans. Some are refugees, fleeing persecution and seeking asylum; others are simply looking for work and a better life.

Many find that life is not what the expected in the city of gold. Many face discrimination from government services, harassment by police and degrading treatment from people, whether in the taxis, schools, shops or streets.   Initiated by CMFD (Community Media for Development) Productions and supported by MMINO, the musicians are working with migrants and young people to create three songs that get to the heart of the matter.

“Music is deeply rooted in African culture; singing and story-telling is at the heart of the African experience,” says CMFD Director Daniel Walter. “We believe that with music we can reach more people, more effectively. Music can overcome  barriers of language and literacy to unite people across cultures, which makes it a perfect tool to promote African unity.”

For musicians it is an opportunity to both share musical styles, and to speak up on the issue. “People love music, people cannot live without music; with music it is easy to transport a message,” says South African singer/ songwriter Judith Mudau, who also participated in CMFD’s music project, Humbanane: A Call to End Violence Against Women.

Though the music focuses on the Mozambican experience, to better understand xenophobia CMFD interviewed 100 migrants from all over the continent about their experiences in South Africa. The overwhelming majority told about how they personally suffered from discrimination, including from police and health services.

“They arrested me because of my skin colour,” said one Mozambican, “They took us to the police station and they told us that we are going back to our zoo, and then we ask them not to send us, there’s no food, no jobs in Maputo and then they said we must give them money.”

“Police came to my shop without a warrant for searching and just started vandalising my shop, looking for anything illegal and I asked why are they doing that and one of the cops said, ‘You foreigners, you bring drugs [into] SA and you cause crime,” told a Zambian shop owner.

A significant number of migrants come to Jozi to seek work. Many do not find what they are looking for, and even when they do, it is often not the end of their problems. “At work, sometimes supervisors call us ‘Makwerre-kwerre, you are not doing a good job, I will chase you back to your country!” told a Congolese respondent.   A man from Cameroon added, “They said to me they will pay me small money because I’m a foreigner.”

From another, “I was selling fruits and vegetables in Bruma and two South African guys took my fruits without paying and when I asked them to pay, they said this is Mzansi’s fruits and you are a kwerrekwerre, so go to Maputo and get fruits in your country, not here in South Africa.”

For many discrimination adds mental stress to an already difficult life, “… inside it’s eating me, and I’m scare[d] to tell my neighbours that they must stop calling me names because this is [their] country, they will just send me back.”

Based on stories collected from migrants, the musicians will be putting together words to give voice to these experiences, calling on all people to respect one another. “Many people do not know these things are happening,” says Mozambican saxophone player Machotte, “Through this music, maybe we can make people know and think about this, and people will change.” For many migrants, it is a chance to finally have their voices heard.

For more information about the project, photos, please contact:
Deborah Walter
073 132 7032
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