Refuge repaid with xenophobia
”It is heartbreaking to think of what our struggle was about and to see the xenophobia in our country,” says Sibongile Khumalo, former uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) freedom fighter and chairwoman of Pan African Genesis.
The non-profit organisation focuses on socio-economic upliftment for South African military veterans.
It remains vocal about the double standards that still play out in the way many South Africans mistreat people who come from other countries.
“The same people we burned alive and stabbed to death in 2008 and in last year’s xenophobic attacks were the people who sheltered us when we fled South Africa during apartheid. It was a time when the country was crumbling and the black man had to seek sanctuary from his brothers and sisters across the border,” she says.
She was just 15 when she fled the country. She spent the next 20 years in exile, using the nom de plume Promise Lamula.
Khumalo, who lived in Soweto, remembers the planned march against Bantu education and the use of Afrikaans as a teaching medium in June 1976.
She remembers too the reverberation of freedom songs echoing from a distance and knew that thousands of students were marching towards the Orlando Stadium where a rally had been planned.
But the march took an ugly turn, ending in teargas and gunshots.
During her time in exile, Khumalo underwent military training in Tripoli, Libya. For many years she was a broadcaster for Radio Freedom - then the voice of the ANC and MK in different parts of the continent.
The ANC sent her to the International School of Journalism in East Germany and later to San Francisco State University.
“The freedom we fought for could not have been accomplished without our brothers and sisters in other African countries,” she says.
Last month Khumalo launched her book, Xenophobia: The Greatest Tragedy of Our Time. It details her experiences during the xenophobia attacks in South Africa in 2008.
“I hope giving exile a human face through exchange programmes will change people’s mindsets about xenophobia,” Khumalo says.