The Institutionalisation of Xenophobia

I really wasn’t going to say anything about the most recent xenophobic attacks and anti-foreigner marches taking place in South Africa. But, my palms were itching. I am no journalist or political activist of sorts. I am a human being. One with an opinion and a platform to share this.

My initial thought to not get involved was not due to apathy as some might think. No. The thing is, we keep coming to this point over and over again. Every couple of months, there is an outcry against blatant xenophobic attacks where foreign nationals in South Africa are displaced, undergo irrational and inhumane treatment from their fellow African brothers because “they do not belong”.

There have been many hashtags, Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, articles and the like speaking out against this. Which is all great. But why do we keep coming back to this same place?

Janine Jellars put it so aptly in a string of Tweets where she spoke about this xenophobia, or more precisely, Afrophobia.

She is so accurate about this. These macro and microaggressions seem to only target Africans with a higher dose of melanin as compared to foreign nationals of a fairer skin tone. This is aptly termed ‘Afrophobia’ which “refers to a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards black people or people of African descent around the world” according to the RED Network. This is most certainly the case for many black Africans. We feel it. It is inescapable.

In a conversation with my South African friend who’d messaged to find out how my sister in Johannesburg is doing while I’m on a break back home in Zimbabwe, I couldn’t help but spew all my thoughts about this matter to her.

You see, xenophobia runs deeper than those who are rioting and attacking foreign nationals in Mamelodi or Soshanguve. Yes, what they are doing is unacceptable, but the world needs to understand that they are not the only problem.

How many years have these attacks been going on for? Someone documents the attacks, there is public outcry against it and then things hush for a bit – life goes back to normal, it seems. Afrophobia is removed from the spotlight for a little bit. But the truth is, for foreign nationals like myself, it never really ends. Everyday for some, most days for others, you are reminded that you do not belong. Especially because of the colour of your skin and the country you hail from.

This deep dislike of foreigners has also been institutionalised. In being institutionalised, how exactly do we then expect the average man to understand that Afrophobia is not alright?

My brother was accepted into the LLB course at one of the leading universities in South Africa. A few days into the new year, he was invited into the Dean’s office. It was here that he was advised that the university had been given a quota  to adhere to in which a certain number of South African nationals had to be accepted into the LLB course. As a result, he (a foreigner) no longer had a place and was shifted onto another course. What does this signify? Even university admission is no longer a meritocracy, it’s a numbers’ game rooted in institutionalised Afrophobia.

In the working world, I don’t want to tell you how suffocating it can be. Trying to work legally in South Africa has been made nearly impossible, an expensive exercise which leaves many foreigners, myself included, feeling helpless. At the same time, Home Affairs cracks down harshly on undocumented workers. But more people would pursue legal, documented work if there was a fighting chance for that, but can’t afford to do so from a time, cost and productivity perspective. As a result, most resort to bribery or living life on the run.

The argument here is the high levels of unemployment in South Africa and the South African government wanting to look after its own. I used to think that was fair enough. But I still do not feel it warrants the marginalisation and gross ill-treatment of other Africans.

As you can see, it’s not just about the man on the street who is marching against foreign nationals. No. It’s a whole system that’s at play. And one wonders if there will ever be any winning. At the rate we’re going, I highly doubt it.

And I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The ones with a decent job who is not forced to live below the minimum wage just to survive. But don’t get me wrong,  I will never forget being asked by South African counterparts “why don’t you go back home and fix your country?” I am aware of the high price we pay as foreigners to try get a car loan or bond on a house, if at all we can afford it. I am acutely aware of being spoken down to because you can’t understand a local language. I know all too deeply how it feels to not belong. I never forget that I have to work twice/thrice as hard to be relevant and indispensable at what I do. And the way things are going, I know that even that will no longer be enough.



The Duo That’s Reinventing African Gospel

From the moment I first heard them, I knew there was something different. Something so incredibly special.

‘Simon & Esther’ was their name. Someone in the crowd joked that their name sounded like ‘Simon & Garfunkel’. Another quipped that Simon ought to change his name to ‘Ahasuerus’ – a more appropriate, biblical moniker given this was a church service. In spite of these light-hearted jokes, there certainly wasn’t anything ‘light’ about these two.

The honesty, vulnerability, truth, passion, humility and strength of their music was nothing to take lightly. From the first phrase, the audience was captivated. Never had we heard anything like this before. We were moved, touched and inspired by more than their talent. We had been touched by God.

So it came as a no-brainer to me that I wanted to – needed to interview this duo. Simon and Esther have reshaped the way I see gospel music and are the epitome of individuals who allow the Lord to use them for their work.

Speaking to them on a one-on-one basis, you realise how acutely aware they are that this is not about them at all. It is their ministry and they do not take it lightly. With their spirits, you can sense they are just like you and I, but in their eyes glimmers a knowing that they are on the path of fulfilling their purpose.

Simon, the brains, strategist and planner of the two. Esther, the gentle but strong spirit who lends her testimony to their performances. What a duo. I introduce to you ‘Simon & Esther’.

Simon and Esther

Simon and Esther


Who is Simon? Who is Esther? Tell us a bit about where you are from

Esther: I’m the youngest in a family of four. Mine is a very musical family and that is where I obtained my musical side. As I grew up, that musical side has developed into what it is now.

Simon: I’m 27 and I come from Zimbabwe – Triangle though I spent most of my time in Harare, currently in Johannesburg where I have been working and studying for the past 6+ years.

What are you currently doing aside from music?

Esther: I’m currently doing my final year of Economic Sciences Bachelor’s degree at (the University of) Witwatersrand.

Simon: I’m currently working as an analyst for a management consultancy in the energy industry. I’m also a tech startup founder– launching a product (in) 2017.

What defines you?

Esther: A woman who has given herself to serve God through music of the olden day with a modern feel.

Simon: not sure if this is the answer for your question but I like to be “defined” by my value system – my beliefs, my family, my passions, my fears, my dreams, hopes and not necessarily what I have or what I’m able to do.

Tell us about your history in music that brought you to this point.

Esther: I was a member of choir in high school and at church, though I was rather a reserved member. Over the years I developed a fascination of music that is rare in its taste and was fascinated by how old hymnal songs could be given a unique nowadays arrangement. It sounded beautiful to me and to others I shared with. That is mainly what I do as opposed to composing new songs.

Simon: The guitar was a dream from about 4 years old – I remember praying to God for a guitar to drop from the skies. My proper introduction to music came when I was 15 when I was taught about music production and creation via DAW (digital audio work station) by a musical urban grooves singer that used to stay next door to my brother in Harare. So I spent a lot of time making beats, mixing and arranging instruments on Fruity Loops 3. And I remember thinking thank you Lord for blessing me with all these guitars and instruments. So that went on for a while and died down. Fast forward to 2010 on my 21st birthday my cousin bought me a guitar as a birthday present and the rest is history – I taught myself through YouTube videos and theory almost on a daily basis from 2012 onwards.

Simon & Esther

How did the ‘Simon & Esther’ duo come to be? When did you meet?

Esther: We met at a Wits fundraiser concert in May 2016. In addition to being in the mighty Wits SDASM choir that was hosting the event, I was presenting two songs with some friends of mine. Back then, I wasn’t very active in ministry work but was keen to start, so I’d prayed that God would make it possible that I meet somebody whom I could work with. Right after the concert I met Simon for the first time and he asked if I could sing over an acoustic background which he would provide. At first, the purpose was simply to hear how it would sound, simultaneously sharpening our own vocal and guitar skills. We agreed to meet and our first practice session which was very successful and full of inspiration

Simon: In addition, I [Simon] had received inspiration from God to start a unique acoustic sound (guitar and vocals) and I remember sharing it with a friend of mine in the music space. I felt that there was a need for a different sound and approach to our (sda) music as 90% of it is mainly acapella which has been stretched. So I prayed to God to start a guitar and vocal duo and I started keeping an ear for a good unique voice.  4 weeks later, Wits SDASM choir had a fundraiser concert which I became aware of on the day and had no intentions of going but I decided to go and see a friend of mine from Zim that was performing a solo act. As soon as I heard Esther literally the 1st line I knew the reason why I was there and like she said I approached her after the concert and the rest is history.

How would you describe each other?

Esther: Simon is my older brother from another mother.

Simon: Esther is a gifted young lady, a sister, a friend and a talkative person often disguised as very quiet and reserved. She will laugh at any opportunity regardless of the expense.

Your musical style is very unique to what most would associate with African gospel music. Tell us a bit about your creative process and what inspired you to almost reinvent how we have come to know gospel music to sound? Do you write your own music?

Simon: I often come up with short melodies on the guitar and 90% of the time I just record them and then I revisit them and look for words that are fitting (existing songs or new words or a mixture of both) and allow it to be a workshop with Esther so that she puts her ideas, feel and style to it.

Esther: I am still trying to learn the art of music writing. I rearrange old hymnals. Simon writes some of our song and other friends as well.

How long does it take for you to complete a song?

Esther: It usually takes me a day; however it only comes by inspiration. I can hardly just come up with a beautiful rearrangement randomly.

Simon: Anything between a day and a week and months J

How often do you meet and rehearse together?

S&E: Depends if there is a concert or new song for presentation but at least once a week.


Esther, your voice gives Tracy Chapman/Chiwoniso-esque vibes. Could you share your inspiration?

Esther: I will be very frank that I did not even know about Tracy Chapman until people mentioned this as we were doing the ministry. I want to believe that God can inspire people by himself because I also do not know why my voice is inclined to that kind of music.

Simon, how long have you been playing the guitar and who inspired you? Do you play any other instruments?

Simon: Consistently for 4+ years (almost every day). I just liked the instrument without any particular inspiration somehow as I said from like 4 years old. However when I started to learn and play the guitar I was attracted towards more quality music as opposed to noise so the likes of Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Asa Louis Mhlanga etc. I’m a beginner on the keyboard.


As a duo, what is your objective?

S&E: To spread the message that Jesus Saves, He cares and He loves Mankind.

What do you think the world needs to realise about Christ’s soon coming?

S&E: We want the world to realise that this event should be viewed as an exciting event as opposed to something that arouses fear within us.

If you could perform anywhere in the world for any audience, where would that be and why?

S&E: The idea is not to limit our music to “SDA’s” (Seventh-Day Adventists) but to genuinely take it out there so one day we would like to present at a church with a huge following  or on the DSTV gospel channels, but of course we believe we are going to travel abroad as well and wherever English is understood would be nice to go and minister.

When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?

S&E: The duo that sang more than music. They sang Christ.

Safe to say these two are doing just that & I look forward to following their ministry. To keep up with them, be sure to like their Facebook page: Simon & Esther Music.