Time for Sadc people to unite too

THE harassment of citizens of Sadc countries in member states seems to be declining — or is it? South Africa, the strongest economy in the region, is justifiably wary of pursuing an “open door” policy on immigration.

In any case, like every sovereign country in the world, it has to guard against criticism by its own citizens that it is allowing “too many foreigners” into the country.

This is quite apart from the xenophobia which has victimised Sadc citizens without proper papers in that country.

Sadc governments seem united on some key fronts.

But it is high time the governments recognised the rights of their citizens to interact with each other.

This may not be up to the governments themselves.

It has to be the responsibility of the citizens themselves, to remind their governments: you don’t exist in a vacuum, but to serve your citizens.   

I was shocked when, a few months ago, a number of Mozambicans were killed by soldiers during demonstrations against a steep hike in the price of bread.

If there were any protests from citizens of other Sadc members at this atrocity, I didn’t hear or read of the government’s brutal response to an unarmed protest by its citizens.

Did the demonstrators deserve to be killed?

In another incident which, for me, was very personal, a South African journalist, John Matshikiza, died as a result of injuries he sustained during an armed attack by robbers.

The attack bore frightening similarities with that in which the reggae singer, Lucky Dube, was killed.

I was tempted to write to the South African government: how many citizens were they willing to allow to be killed before they took drastic action?

I met John Matshikiza in Lusaka in the 1960s.

His father Todd was working as a newsreader for the State TV station.

I knew Todd from his days as a journalist on Drum magazine. In Lusaka, I was a columnist for The Central African Mail.

Todd must have recognised how much my column wished to read like something from Drum magazine — by Can Themba, Moses “Casey” Motsisi, Lewis Nkosi, or even the great Henry Nxumalo.

Todd invited me to a cocktail party at his house and I met his wife, Esme.

John was there, a young boy who loved his father, probably even then, longing to follow in his footsteps — which he did.

He had become a successful columnist, until he died that needless death.

Lewis Nkosi died in September.

I didn’t read about his death until a few weeks later.

A friend in London wrote me about it — asking me if I knew him.

Lewis died in South Africa — of natural causes.

For a wild moment, I prayed that he too had not died as a result of an attack by robbers.

Lewis had been hospitalised for quite a while before succumbing to his illness.

I first knew Lewis from Home and Exile, his book.

I read it a number of times before I met the man in person — again in Lusaka, where he was teaching at the University of Zambia.

We met by chance at a watering hole and started to talk literature.

He had read my first novel The Hanging.

I told him of how much I had enjoyed Home and Exile.

We talked until closing time and I drove him to the university.

Lewis brought out Mating Birds, a novel which was translated into a number of languages.

He confided that the theme owed its origin to a part in my novel, The Hanging, in which a Zambian journalist had a love affair with an Afrikaner woman in Lusaka.

We next met in Harare, after independence and had a lot to talk about.

We were joined by Stephen Mpofu, himself a Zimbabwean journalist and novelist.

It was during the day — we could not drink until closing time.

I visited South Africa after the advent of democracy in 1994.

I enquired about Lewis, who had now returned to his country and was still writing.

But we never made contact.

Then someone sent me his obituary, published in The Guardian newspaper in London.

I found it all so unfair.

That was when I began to wonder if the citizens of the Sadc countries ought not to form civil associations to guard their interests — to remind their governments of their duty to the citizens.

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