AS IS commonly known, before southern African countries were liberated, numerous freedom fighters and refugees lived in Zambia, turning the country into a hive of artistic and cultural activities.
Questions can, therefore, justifiably be asked regarding the xenophobia exhibited by South Africans today, and how this has negatively affected previously strong ties with Zambia and the region.
It is these questions that William Miko raised and tried to answer in his presentation on the Proximity of Distance: (South) Africa in Relation to (Global) Africa at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States in March 2011.
An active artist, curator and culture consultant based in Lusaka, Miko has a master of arts degree in Fine Arts from Middlesex University in the United Kingdom and is a lecturer at the Zambian Open University School of Media, Performing and Fine Arts.
Miko calls his artworks â€œEchoes of My Mindâ€ and his contribution to the development of the arts as a process of â€œCorrecting the National Anomalyâ€.
He says Zambians and other southern African nationals today can boast that they produced South Africa.
â€œThe Freedom Chatter on which the constitution of our big economic brother, â€˜Rainbow Nation South Africaâ€™ is based was drafted in Lusaka.
All liberation protocols, peace treaties and conventions were signed at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka.
â€œSouth African leaders of today spent all their youthful lives in Zambia and need no translators or interpretations for any Zambian languages. How can any Zambian artist phantom xenophobic behaviour from many a comrade, one he or she shared a drama performance with, in a theatrical play at Lusaka Playhouse, an art exhibition at Kalemba Hall, a protest match along Cairo Road, shelter, food and water in a refugee camp?â€ he wonders.
Mikoâ€™s argument is that while the cries may be placed on South Africa as a powerful economic nation in the sub-region, which has distanced itself and ostracised its liberation â€˜comradeâ€™ today, xenophobia is being perpetrated by a young generation of South Africans, mainly indigenous black youths who may not be privy to the historic facts of their liberation.
So, who do you blame then?
â€œThe current political leadership, for failure to educate their children who by the time of the liberation struggle for independence were under the ages of five and now are in their 20s. This point takes us back to demographic figures and growth of a nation,â€ he says.
â€œIt is very clear in the minds of everyone that there are two South African parents today, â€˜in-exiles and exilesâ€™. These two categories of South Africans belong to the same group of nationals who fought in the liberation.
â€œThe only difference is that â€˜in-exilesâ€™ never left South African soil, but lived within the apartheid regime keeping their ear to the ground as they roamed the streets within the isles of the internal liberation struggle, but remained alive to the state of their â€˜exileâ€™ relatives abroad in the sub-region.â€
In his presentation titled â€˜Tuli Pano (We Are Here): The Distance between Zambian Art, the sub-region and the international arenaâ€™, Miko argues that the art produced in the country is deeply informed by inspirations drawn from traditional epochs that were transgressed by colonialism and liberation movements.
Unfortunately, the strong relationship between a Zambian and South African artist that existed during the liberation struggle has not been translated, as much, into serious collaborations as one would have wished.
Miko says although South Africa cannot entirely be blamed for this distancing in connectivity, on the other hand, xenophobia is yet an occurrence which it needs to explain to the sub-region and the international community.
He believes it is this same generational distancing permeating through southern Africa, which has led to issues of xenophobia in South Africa.
â€œBy and large, the Zambian artist is yet to connect to the commercial gallery system of South Africa. Or, best still, the commercial gallery operators in the market of South Africa are yet to faucet into the Zambian crop of artists producing art that challenges the contemporary boundaries on its way to the international market,â€ Miko said.
He is an art interlocutor who has worked at various levels, including running national and regional European Union-financed cultural projects in Zambia.
â€œExcept for a few artistsâ€™ personal efforts to link up with counterparts on rare opportunities of studio, residence, workshop and exhibition exchanges, an actively practising Zambian artist still remains optimistic and looks to the South African art scene as a window to the global art world.â€
Miko says both the political leadership in South Africa and southern Africa should remember how vibrant the arts and cultural life was in tune with the liberation struggle through the use of theatre and drama, music and exhibitions.
He says although he may not personally harbour fears and worries about the South African art scene due to his sound relationship with friends on the arts scene in Johannesburg and Cape Town through a long-established connectivity before 1994, he doubts how many Zambian artists can claim the same connectivity.
The question therefore remains, why and how can xenophobia be directed at the very people from countries that hosted South Africans in their homes?