Africa Day is the annual celebration of African cultural identity, and the continent’s common heritage. The day is observed on the 25th of May to commemorate the founding of the Organization of African Unity, later the African Union.

And what better way to celebrate Africa Day, I thought, than immersing myself in the culture of other African countries and breaking bread? So I visited a Nigerian restaurant in Cape Town, Long Street – the Africana Café.

As you enter the restaurant you can feel the vibe change. Up a long flight of stairs, and you’re in Nigeria! There were soothing afro-beats in the background, and a vibrant crowd of Nigerian patrons conversing in Igbo, and Nigerian pidgin.

I joined the men – who seemed surprised at first – and I introduced myself, and asked them what to have as this was my first experience of Nigerian food. One of them suggested West Africa’s most famous dish, jollof rice. I didn’t know you can’t have jollof alone as a dish, and they all chipped in on what to add on my plate.

My plate finally came: jollof rice, fish, and plantain. “Dig in!” they said in unison.  The jollof rice hit me with a combination of flavours – it was spicy and savoury. The fish was crispy and a bit too salty for my liking. The plantain was the star of the plate. It looks like fried banana; it has a sweet side to it and is crunchy but soft in the middle.

After having my delicious meal, I continued to converse with the patrons. The Africana Café is more than just a restaurant to them. Most of them haven’t gone home in a while; the restaurant is a home away from home and the food holds memories.

I asked them if they were worried about #OperationDudula. Most of them were hesitant to answer the question. One said, “Man it is what is, but I no dey pay it no mind. No be my business; it’s in Joburg.” But we’ve seen these xenophobic attacks start in one province and spread across the country.

#OperationDudula is a branch of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst campaign. The campaign is a movement to prioritise South Africans when it comes to employment. The campaign stems from the anecdotal information that the service industry is dominated by foreign nationals while we have a high number of unemployed South African youth, and so the campaign wants South Africans to have first preference when it comes to hiring. Most people do not consider the campaign to be xenophobic but justified in the fight against youth unemployment.

#OperationDudula on the other hand is considered xenophobic and dangerous and is led by Nhlanhla ‘Lux’ Dlamini. The campaign rose to fame when he led hundreds of his followers on a march through Soweto on June 16th, 2021. The masses targeted alleged drug dealers/traffickers and business that allegedly hired foreign nationals so they could pay them lower wages. Following the march, many anti-immigrant groups started growing in parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal under the same name. Poverty, unemployment, and crime is said to be the driving force behind #OperationDudula, as is the number of illegal foreigners making their home in South Africa.

Many stereotypes exist about Nigerian people and their migration to South Africa. They are alleged to be drug dealers/traffickers and human traffickers. However, when crimes such as these come to light, it has been shown that they are not exclusive to a certain nationality and even our own South Africans do participate in them.

After my meal experience and vibrant conversation with the patrons of Africana Café, I can say we need to sit with people, get to know them, and not follow stereotypes. I was in a warm environment of men who were just happy to have someone who was trying out food they loved, and to which they have attached beautiful memories of home.

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Tell us: What is the best way to celebrate Africa Day?