Lekwere-kwere means you are ignorant

By Lineo Segoete

I find it funny that migrants who have settled in a place longer than others have the audacity to reject and humiliate newcomers. Indeed the world has grown to become an unsavoury and forsaken place where one must always look over one’s shoulder in the quest for survival and security. We look toward strangers with paranoia and aggression and resort to name-calling, forgetting all about brotherhood. We forget that we are all travellers and at some point or another we will be that new guy in a place, in the same vulnerable spot we once put someone else in.

I was cast off as a youth, due to this I found solace within the minorities, be it the group of bmx riders in college, the boisterous Indian girl in University, the introverted and brainy Muslim girl from Tanzania in primary school to the cheeky Finnish photographer who rekindled my love for the place my mother was born (Morija), presently. These characters granted me the appreciation for the wholeness inter-connectedness of life because as others were busy spotting and picking at what set them apart, I identified it as uniqueness. More importantly, I noted the things that bring us together.

There’s a word/label that has become so ingrained within the context of our language that we tend to overlook its implications: This word “Lekoerekoere/Lekwerekere” is derived from the sound interpretation of dialects that originate outside our Bantu and Nguni origins and could mean barbarian in its most exaggerated translation. For many people the use of this word is such a non-issue that it has been adopted as a legitimate term to refer to anyone else of African roots (except maybe American and European Africans), especially the darker their skin tone.

I personally revere a heavily melanised skin tone by virtue of taking pride in my identity, more with the help of popular models made famous by looking unlike their fair-skinned counterparts and what is commonly referred to as yellow-bones (light-skinned individuals of African descent) within their own ethnic group. Unfortunately, thanks to our petty prejudices and even jealousies this word is used to classify our brethren as though they are an exclusive species, to the extent of making them feel inferior and unwelcome.

The absurdity of this label lies in its basis; if someone you look similar to is better qualified than you, looks more exotic than you, has better luck with the opposite sex or has been able to make the most out of limited resources compared to you, which you find unfair and uncomfortable, it is YOUR problem, not theirs. We are all (and I mean world-wide) migrants by virtue of being human, we travel from place to place in search of “greener pastures” and better living conditions and the establishment of borders and the likes has no bearing on this fact regardless.

I’ll admit that before I was enlightened about xenophobia and relieved of my ignorance, I too was prone to referring to people as Makoerekoere because to me it meant the same thing as calling the Chinese “Machaena” or the Zulus “Mazulu” and I realise many other people are still as innocent about it. Still, if we sit back and ignore the implications of its use we perpetuate a form of discrimination worse than racism because it means estranging our own kin.

The next time you visit or move to a new place and expect to be received with warmth and open arms think about being at the receiving end of the names you call new-comers in your native area. At times nicknames can be coined as a form of expressing welcome, which is fine, what’s problematic is when you or those around you deliberately create labels meant to make the next  person feel they are an outcast. Just a thought!

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