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Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A meditation on South African citizenship

I am so ashamed and sickened by the murderous violence that has gripped parts of South Africa and that is spreading like a noxious cancer.


If being a South African means beating on the red door of a shack and demanding to see a green identity book – the dompas of citizenship, then I am a foreigner.

If being a South African means dragging a woman into the road to push up her skirt and drive my boot between her legs, then I am a foreigner.

If being a South African means sharpening my machete to split the skull of a man returning home from work, then I am a foreigner.

If being a South African means ripping an infant from the swaddling on its mother’s back to spit in its face wizened by terror, then I am a foreigner.

If being a South African means dropping concrete blocks on that mother’s head until it bursts like a ripe watermelon on the dry dust of my street, then I am a foreigner.

If being a South African means arrogating the roles of policeman, prosecutor, judge and executioner, then I am a foreigner.

If being a South African means hanging over my garden fence and watching the smooth skin of a man blister as he burns a live, then I am a foreigner.

For that skin was an infant’s once, caressed by a mother’s marvelling hand.

That skins is a man’s, and a lover’s hand passed over it, marvelling at its smoothness. That skin is a father’s, reached for in the night by a child afraid of the dark.

That burning skin was a man’s and if being a South African means I cannot feel that skin as my own

      Then I am a foreigner.


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    May 21st, 2008 @14:22 #

    Margie, I'm trying to acquire SA citizenship - have been for years, looks like it's coming in a few months - but now I feel like walking around wearing a t-shirt that proclaims me "100% Amakwerekwere".

    (I know that's the plural, but it ought to be.)

    Glib, perhaps, Louis, yet born of a sense of powerlessness.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    May 21st, 2008 @14:41 #

    Great, angry, sensitive post, Margie - thanks.

    Ben, what's so affecting about this crisis, I think, is that it's making us all uncomfortable in our skins, making us ashamed of the way we make our lives liveable and of what we love to do. I suppose we always apologise for that in some way or another, but now the equilibrium of our lives versus those of others has been broken.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    May 21st, 2008 @14:51 #

    I haven been a foreigner since my 10th birthday when I left the country fo my birth, and have experienced "mild" forms of xenophobia ever since, in Austria, Wales, United States, and even here in SA. Xenophobia exists everywhere. What shocks me is the magnitude of these outbreaks here. Let's try to help, like Louis did. If we cannot do anything directly, we can at least support others who can:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    May 21st, 2008 @17:10 #

    Powerful words, Margie. Thank you. There's a protest in Cape Town on Friday, if anyone is interested. Details below:



    Please attend a protest vigil outside Parliament, Plein Street corner of Roeland Street on Friday 23 May 2008 from 5pm to 6pm.

    All welcome. We need to make the biggest statement that we can. We need to get the
    message out that we are against xenophobic violence.

    AbaForeigners AbaRefugees Sawubona iSouth Africa ! Foreigners and Refugees are Welcome in South Africa !

    Called by Cape Town Action Forum
    Affiliates: - COSATU, SA Municipal Workers Union, National Mineworkers SA, Walmer Estate Civic, Delft Anti-Eviction Campaign, Right to Food Campaign,Keep Left, APDUSA and others

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    May 21st, 2008 @17:46 #

    Eloquently and devastatingly put.

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    May 21st, 2008 @21:05 #

    Americans just received this message from the embassy:

    In recent weeks, South Africa has seen an increase in frequency, size, and duration of "xenophobic" attacks directed at foreigners - particularly refugees or immigrants from other African nations. The most recent attacks initially centered in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra but spread to other low income neighborhoods and informal settlements. Several recent incidents of mob violence have taken place in other areas of Johannesburg including the Central Business District (CBD), Hillbrow, and Soweto. An undetermined number of persons have been killed in these incidents and many more, both targeted victims and bystanders, have been injured. So far, most violent incidents have taken place at night. While there have been no reports of Americans or other non-African visitors being targeted, these incidents of mob violence have sprung up quickly and proven difficult for local authorities to control. American residents and visitors are advised to listen to local media for reports of such incidents and to avoid areas (including but not limited to townships) where they may be likely to occur. American citizens are reminded that while the most recent outbreak has been concentrated in the Johannesburg area, there have been attacks on foreigners in other areas and potential exists for them to spread to other regions with little or no warning.


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