“I felt that South Africa would be the best place in Africa”

Posted on Monday, 7 June 2010 08:40

As the world counts down to the kick-off of the World Cup on Friday, we’re looking at the way South Africa is seen by the rest of Africa. Today, Azad Essa talks to an Ethiopian journalist who fled to South Africa in 2003.

For more on the Rainbow Nation through African eyes, read an extract of the article by Parselelo Kantai in The Africa Report June-July edition, or buy a copy now via our online store

Mulugeta-Ayalew Birru sits outside an Ethiopian tea room on Moore Road in Durban. The 35-year-old Birru was a journalist in Ethiopia but escaped to South Africa in 2003 when he got word that security forces were after him. He says the new South Africa is a disappointment.

“When I first came here, I was selling clothes on the streets in Durban, and for the past three years I have worked as an unofficial interpreter at the Department of Home Affairs,” he says. As an African, he says he feels excluded from the FIFA World Cup in June 2010. “They told me it was impossible to buy a ticket; that I had to be South African to buy a ticket. So this once in a life time opportunity – I am going to watch it on TV like every other World Cup,” Birru says with disappointment.??

He chose South Africa thinking it would be the most accommodating country on the continent. “When I was in college, I read [Nelson] Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. After I read that book, I felt that South Africa would be the best place in Africa,” says Birru.

“The way I saw it, was that this country would be accommodating and racially unified. Mandela says in Long Walk to Freedom that a trip to Addis Ababa will be more satisfying than the combined trip to Paris, London and Rome. So I thought there would be special attention for people from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique, as they gave special support for the liberation struggle,” he adds.

The xenophobic attacks in 2008 and the continuing tension have left him deeply disenchanted.

“I thought it would be different, but they have no regard, unless of course if you are white man from Europe. South African blacks will give you more respect if you are white than if you are from an African country,” he adds. “After been mistreated by whites for 400 years, to turn on foreigners who helped them during the struggle time is a real shame. It shouldn’t happen here,” Birru says, shaking his head. “I escaped from the political turmoil in Ethiopia and returning there is something impossible.”?

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