SA Dispatch | Perceptions, Xenophobia, Sangomas and a word with the Out-going Ugandan Ambassador.
Dispatch from South Africa — As a Ugandan student moving to South Africa for further studies after graduating from high school in 2013, I did not know what to expect. I had received my acceptance but was discouraged by rampant crime statistics, especially in Cape Town, and I did not find at all reassuring the nickname of “Sangomas” given to Ugandans. Sangomas (diviners) are legally recognized in South Africa as “traditional health practitioners”, under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act of 2007 along with herbalists, traditional birth attendants and traditional surgeons.
South Africa has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, with major cities such as Johannesburg, a.k.a the “New York” of Africa, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, a.k.a the “Miami” of Africa, with beautiful women and white sandy beaches. As a result, many Ugandans looking for affordable world-class degrees, investment opportunities and a better quality of life in general frequent these destinations.
While in Uganda I discovered that there were many South African-owned companies like DSTV, MTN, Wine re-sellers and South African Airways that hailed from this land of the Madiba, which seemed to provide evidence of healthy relations between the two countries. Upon further research l found that Uganda has a bilateral investment treaty with South Africa signed in 2000 that created favorable conditions for greater investment and recognizes the encouragement and reciprocal protection under international agreement of such investments in both countries.
After very limited contact with my fellow Ugandans in South Africa, that all changed in 2016 during my second year when a mutual friend introduced me to a Ugandan student on my campus who then acquainted me with a number of Ugandans who have been living and working in the country. To my pleasant surprise, there was nothing mythical/ ancestral or traditional about them, they were simply hard-working professionals trying to make a life for themselves.
With all this in mind, my excitement about this revelation brought about the opportunity to interview the outgoing Ugandan Ambassador, H.E. Julius Peter Moto, who had just served 4 years in Pretoria.
Late one sunny Saturday morning, a 55-minute phone call from Cape Town to Pretoria commenced with some fun facts. Did you know that the two main Ugandan exports to S.A are coffee and copper wires? Yes, to my surprise the balance of trade is in favor of South Africa., Uganda to S.A. trade is estimated at around USD 3 million. H.E. Moto stated that the main reasons for this deficit were due to supply side bottlenecks that hinder productivity. He went on to stress the challenges Ugandan goods face on the international platform, such as marketable volumes; when demand increases and the Ugandan supplies cannot cope, the S.A. markets are able to switch their preferences to suppliers like Brazil who are more dependable with regards to coffee.
It was eye-opening to learn that H.E Julius Moto had won a number of accolades, one standing out above them all: “Best Performing Envoy 2014”, attracting investment in Uganda recognized by the Uganda Revenue Authority. It was interesting to discuss his contributions to trade, investment and tourism. He expressed his gratitude for the recognition and talked about how Uganda participated in the 2014 Design Indaba in Cape Town and won best stall and presentation. This helped to increase recognition and build strong relations with foreign investments, tourism and business meetings at the Ugandan Embassy in Pretoria.
“Uganda is not land-locked, it is land-linked” says the Ambassador, a powerful statement that stood out. It was interesting to learn that South Africa has a strategic interest in Uganda which is a member of East African Community (EAC) and COMESA, with an estimated 33-35 million people that investors may have access to.
As H.E. Julius spoke, it was easy to notice that he is passionate about Uganda and promoting the country’s agenda, even as we broached the topic of the headlines from South Africa that plagued the local news channels and tabloids in Kampala, “Ugandan MPs robbed at gunpoint in front of guesthouse.” H.E recognized the unfortunate event and was in contact with local authorities but said that the issue was handed over and dealt with appropriately, adding that thankfully nobody was physically harmed. Upon further research it was found that the MPs are given travel allowances which led them to opt for relatively affordable accommodations, little knowing that thwey would be staying in a less secure neighbourhood in Johannesburg.
The Ambassador smoothly transitioned to the setback of the public image of Ugandans in South Africa, when headlines both in Ugandan and Southern African media outlets, online and in print sensationalized the story of Ugandans as Sangoma scammers and con men. “Sangomas are recognized practices by S.A Law” says H.E. Julius Moto, going on to say that there are Good Sangomas and Bad Sangomas.
Another fact worth noting is that there are professionals from Uganda who are respected teachers, engineers, lecturers in universities, owners of schools and consultancy firms in S.A. Not only do they exist but as H.E. pointed out , they are recognized by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), emphasizing that they do make more money than the infamous “Sangomas” but they are reserved and prefer to protect their public image and reputation. H.E. stated that the Ugandan Embassy in South Africa recognizes all contributors including the good legitimate Sangomas but that we should aim for quality and world-wide recognition.
As we went on, I had to hold back countless questions about the plans to have Uganda included on the free visa list. H.E. Moto went on to say that the visa regime is being negotiated by Home Affairs in Uganda. He laments that, “based on our submission, which is for citizens holding visas of business persons, professionals, students, and diplomatic passport/documentation, such people may receive visa free access to S.A. once their visas expire, if the negotiations are successful.”
There was no time for conclusions but it was impressive to see the freedom with which the Ambassador gives his opinion and good to know that here is a Ugandan leader who is a man of the people, realistic and straightforward with his ideology and views. With regards to his new posting to London, Ambassador Moto acknowledged the announcement in the media but he is yet to receive the official communication deploying him and he says he will react accordingly once he receives the documentation in person.