Sophie Kanza: The young woman bringing awareness to institutional Afrophobia

by: Terry Simelane-Mathabathe - 24 November 2017

Sophie Kanza: The young woman bringing awareness to institutional Afrophobia

While many may call it xenophobia, the truth of the matter is, the discrimination that happens in South Africa is a bit more specific because the foreign nationals that are discriminated and targeted during xenophobic attacks are African.

We spoke to Sophie Kanza, the founder of the Sophie A. Kanza foundation, a non-profit organisation that was created to empower and unite woman from all over the African continent.

We spoke to her about her experiences of Afrophobia in South Africa and the institutional barriers faced by African migrants.

“I grew up [in South Africa], this is the only home I know.” Sophie and her sister Louise migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to SA at a very young age and have been living in the country for over 20 years. The sisters started the foundation to assist vulnerable migrants and fight afrophobia.

“We are victims of Afrophobia by everyday people and then we are barred by institutional afrophobia as well.”

While many may recognise Afrophobia through violent acts, like when spaza shops are burned down, it exists in different forms.

Recently, Jo’burg mayor has led the charge in driving Afrophobia in the city. His comments on African migrants in the inner city have been labelled as inflammatory, his raids on “hijacked” buildings have been critiqued and he has been accused of fueling xenophobia in Johannesburg.

“(Illegal immigrants) are holding our country to ransom and I am going to be the last South African to allow it,” was just one of the comments from Mashaba.

He was also quoted as saying “foreigners‚ whether legal or illegal‚ are not the responsibility of the city” and that “[the city of Johannesburg] will only provide accommodation exclusively to South Africans.”

The African Diaspora Forum (ADF) criticised Mashaba’s statements saying that they are reckless. The ADF said that it was worried these remarks “may incite more xenophobic violence”.

The mayor has vehemently denied the allegations. Speaking after a sit down called by the SAHRC to address a complaint laid by the ADF, Mashaba said that the comments he made had been “twisted”‚ which led to people thinking that the city is xenophobic.

Speaking about the challenges faced by migrants in SA, Sophie says officials in the SA government have actively created institutional barriers for migrants.

“I have heard locals speak about the pleasant experience they have at Home Affairs, as a migrant, I have never experienced that. The only Home Affairs building that I can go to for documents is in Marabastad. You have to wake up early, some people sleep there and then you get “helped” by someone who is uninterested and rude. The officials sometimes refuse asylum applications depending on their mood and then the whole day was for nothing.”

Sophie alleges that companies are taking advantage of the skewed legislature that makes it difficult for migrants to find work.

“We have become the face of cheap labour. Migrants are forced to accept any salary even if it’s below minimum wage just so that we can make a living.”

Before hiring a migrant, companies need to state that they have interviewed 5 South Africans and the migrant has skills and qualifications that South Africans do not have.

As part of-of their awareness campaign, The Sophia Kanza foundation has produced a short film. Singabantu is an Afrophobia awareness short film that highlights the humanity of African migrants. The film is set in the remains of a house in Rosettenville, Johannesburg that was known for being a brothel. The house was burned down in September last year.

“For us, choosing to shoot the film in a brothel, was to show that we as migrants do not condone the crimes committed by fellow migrants nor do we condone the destruction of property,” she concludes

Watch Singabantu below.