Aliens in our midst and borders in our minds

BY BABUSI SIBANDA
Isn't it a crazy world we live in? There was an emotional outcry in Cape Town last year when the management of the Peninsula's National park, which includes the world famous Table Mountain, decided to shoot and eliminate the mountain's tahrs. They brought in specialist marksmen

to do the shooting. An organization called “Friends of the tahr” tried in vain to halt the shootings. Brett Myrdal, a genial, progressive man who is the Parks manager even received death threats from militants.
Now you may be wondering what the tahr (a hardy Himalayan mountain goat) has to do with you. Plenty. The reason it was being eliminated was that it had been declared an undesirable, invasive alien species. The exotic mountain goat was paying the price for not being indigenous to the Cape, having been brought in at the turn of the last Century by a famous immigrant named Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes’ own grave has the place of honour on Zimbabwe’s Matopo Hills. Ironically local authorities had to step in a few years ago to prevent “war veterans” from “evicting” the late CJR’s remains from the Matopos.
It seems that aliens everywhere, are under attack. In the United States, George Bush and his conservative friends (descendants of immigrants, all of them) are attempting to change the law to keep darker skinned newcomers out. In Europe it is not much different. Not to be outdone, Africa has also been busy. And we are not even talking about Idi Amin’s tragic buffoonery. In West Africa a constitution lay gathering dust and an election was held at bay while an incumbent president tried to insert clauses that would make his rival an immediate, unqualifying alien. In Zambia, after more than two decades of being led by Kenneth Kaunda (KK), he was declared a foreigner!
In Mugabe’s Zimbabwe Judith Todd suddenly found herself a New Zealander. More tragically, for every farmer that Mugabe victimized some 50 farm workers (whose forefathers hailed from Malawi, Mozambique and other neighbouring states) suddenly discovered that they were not as Zimbabwean as they had believed.
In South Africa, a small town called Khutsong was burning recently. Politicians had re-drawn the provincial border (echoes of Berlin in 1884 when Africa was partitioned?). Khutsong residents went to bed as Gauteng Province residents and woke up the next day as belonging to North West. National heavyweights were brought in to convince the locals that nothing had changed. They left under escort. Such was the fury of Khutsong.
Some people have gone to great lengths to hide their origins in order to survive. But how do you “out” an alien? The methods used by authorities range from easy to ridiculous. In South Africa if you are Congolese or Nigerian you stick out (and speak out) like a sore thumb. If you cannot give the word for elbow in at least one local language or if you call it indololwane as Zimbabwean Ndebeles do, the cops will bundle you to Lindela deportation camp. Of course some identities are a give away. No money for guessing where someone called Lovemore, Promise, Between, yes Between, Justus, Moreblessings, Remember or Darlington comes from!
As the tarhs discovered, it is not just humans who get caught out of bounds. Animals and plants too. I remember my school biology lessons on seed dispersal. How, over time, some seeds develop wings, claws, floating styles and other characteristics. Just so they can migrate as far away from the mother tree as they can! © Babusi Sibanda, [email protected] is a Zimbabwean born, Cape Town based freelance writer, columnist, food researcher and chef. Member of SAFREA, the Southerrn African Freelancers Association. This article is an extract from a forthcoming book.

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