The year was 2007. I went on a doctoral fieldwork in Johannesburg where I shared a house with an interesting fellow from Bloemfontein, Free State. Things were going well for him. Wits graduate. Chattered accountant. Lucrative profession. Bright future ahead. Worlds to be conquered. Money to be made. Pleasures to be enjoyed. And women to be impressed. Quite clearly, a perfect case of a “Black Diamond”. We shared meals and had conversations on various questions of life. Among these conversations, one in particular left such a lasting impression on my mind.
We were in the middle of such a wonderful conversation about love affairs and mixed-up relationships between local women and foreign men. I was happy to keep the conversation safe — abstract, academic, theoretical, detached, cold, impersonal, unemotional. And why not? Was I not pursuing an excellent PhD in sociology? But then he ruined it all, including my comfort. Suddenly he made the conversation personal. Damn! He implicated me directly. Can you imagine!
“Man, I want to introduce you to my sister”, he said.
“Really? Would you do that?” I asked.
“Yes, you and my sister should hook up.”
I could not believe my ears. I looked at him to see if I could spot any bodily sign that he was pulling my leg. Nothing of the sort. He looked back at me, studying my reaction. I wondered why he would bestow such an honour on me, trusting a stranger with his own sister’s life. We had known each other only for a few weeks.
“To what do I owe such an honour?” I asked
“Because you are a foreigner”, he said. “Our sisters love you guys, the foreigners”, he added.
I hate the word foreigner. I have my reasons for that. My hair stands. I feel a rush of goosebumps on my body. Cold shivers down my spine. When I hear the word, especially in South Africa. The word is emotionally and politically charged. It can have, and has had, deadly consequences. It’s part of human evolution to experience chilling emotions when faced with threatening situations. In any case, my companion went on to explain how marrying a foreigner had been his sister’s romantic dream. She had been waiting for that type of prince charming to sweep her under her feet. And that prince charming was me, the African foreigner. He sensed I wasn’t buying it, so he went on:
“Especially you. She would love you to pieces man. You are such a nice guy. You are educated. You’re almost a doctor. Practically, to me you’re a doctor already. You are well traveled. You will have an excellent job. My sister would kill to have you. It’s hard for you to believe. But the truth is that our sisters always talk about marrying foreigners like you.”
It was a flattering proposition. I mean, here was a guy offering his sister to makwerekwere within the context of a public culture that says “Woe to makwerekwere!” In the middle of a hostile public discourse against non-nationals, especially those from the greater continent, I stood before an outlier, an exception of a man, going against the grain, doing something too good to be true. While the public opinion court charged makwerekwere as thieves, pimps and exploiters of local women, here was a local man matchmaking his own sister, his own flesh and blood, with makwerekwere.
You are probably wondering whether I took the deal. Whether, in fact, I did meet the Sotho girl. According to the north American popular wisdom, if something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. I still can’t tell whether this wisdom was an appropriate approach on this one. Somehow I had mixed feelings about the deal. For how could I possibly be this man’s sister’s dream? The prospect didn’t seem realistic. So I passed on the pleasure. With a grudge, of course.