Sunday, February 18, 2018
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" Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and attaches her curse on all inaction. "

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Xenophobia De Ja Vu!

By Dudu Radebe
The nightmare that is xenophobia continues to haunt us as South Africans, despite the efforts put in place to ensure that what happened in 2008 did not repeat itself again. We are then left with the question: what did we not do correctly then that we need to do now?

You will remember the dark cloud that hovered over the country two years ago, when we were confronted with media reports of the attack, robbery, assault and killings of foreign nationals in South African townships in various parts of the country. There was an outcry from all sectors of society from politicians to artists to activists to churches to traditional leadership. There were great messages of solidarity, offers of assistance and calls for unity. Within two years we have come full circle, back to where we were.

If we are, then we need to do some introspection as civil society. First of all, before we start pointing fingers, we have to look at what we have been doing to address this challenge which needed urgent attention in 2008. Of course there are different schools of thought when it comes to the question of xenophobia in South Africa:

One school believes that the socio-economic challenges facing the poor sections of society push the poor to look for scapegoats to explain the scarcity and unavailability of services and resources.  The other perspective says that xenophobia is a disguise for criminality in areas where foreign nationals operate their businesses and are seen as making easy money from local communities. • Another view says that xenophobia is a creation of a third force that seeks to disrupt social cohesion in the country and eventually this will benefit forces that have economic and/or political agendas that thrive in such chaotic social circumstances.
There is also an approach that indicates that the reason for xenophobia rests with disadvantaged communities not understanding or appreciating the concept of Pan Africanism. Xenophobic citizens do not understand that Africans have the same challenges politically, socially and economically.

It is important to consider the above perspective and reflect on which of them inform the manner in which we, as civil society respond to xenophobic tendencies and actions nationally, provincially and locally. We know for instance that the response by government at a national and provincial level has primarily been to curb the attacks through dispatching the South African Police Service to address the threats and attacks.

As civil society what can our role be? In 2008, an Eastern Cape anti xenophobia collective was convened, bringing together a diverse number of organisations to speak in one voice against xenophobia in the Eastern Cape. The hosting of an anti-xenophobia event at Fort Hare University marked at one key activity to highlight the issues and to call for unity and develop a common voice. While this highlighted an important moment for the fight against xenophobia in the Eastern Cape, the energy with which it was initiated could not be sustained.

With the threats and actions that have taken place following the World Cup, the concept of the anti-xenophobia collective has once again been revised within the province. Organisations such as churches, forums of foreign nationals Eastern Cape Ngo Coalition(ECNGOC) and government departments gathered in July 2010 to further discuss strategies for addressing this challenge. At this meeting it was clear that in the Eastern Cape, whilst there are tensions that have been picked up, there have not been serious incidents of xenophobia. This does not mean that there is no need to engage in ongoing activities aimed at prevention. A task team was therefore nominated and given the responsibility to further developing the plan of action that would enable them to explore the strategy for implementing sustained or ongoing activities to fight xenophobia and related tendencies. The task team consists of the Eastern Cape Council of Churches, Eastern Cape Social and Economic Consultative Council (ECSECC) and the ECNGOC.

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