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Lack of proactive approach, political will pointed out as main reason xenophobia keeps recurring.

Christopher Ncube

JOHANNESBURG – Panelists at an Africa Month dialogue this week lambasted the continent’s political leaders, especially South Africa, for their lackadaisical approach towards curbing violence against migrants, widely referred to as xenophobia.

The seminar, dubbed “Anti-xenophobia, anti-racism stakeholders dialogue”, was held at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, Wednesday and pooled civil society leaders, anti-xenophobia activists, academics and government officials, as they sought to map proactive ways of putting a check on the violence, which has claimed hundreds of African lives since it first grabbed world attention with at least 62 African deaths in May 2008.

The dialogue was organised by the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CORMSA), African Diaspora Forum (ADF), Action Support Centre, Amnesty International, South African Congress of Non-profit Organisations (SACONO), Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the Jesuit Refugee Services, Foundation for Human Rights, South African Human Rights Commission ProBono and Constitution Hill, among others.

ADF Executive Chairperson, Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, said the situation was being exacerbated by some politicians whose cheap politicking tactics saw them align service delivery and social problems in different countries to migrants.

“This is habit of creating cheap politics where problems faced by local citizens or a country are aligned to migrants should stop forthwith.  Let’s hold those who are wrong accountable regardless of whether they are local citizens or foreigners,” said Dr Sibanda.

“It is very wrong to bark at the bush leaving the tree that blocks the road.  We want a peaceful Africa when we prioritise humanity as we Africans are better known for our oneness.”

Sibanda said Africans should not sacrifice their morals on the altar of quick money availed to them by unscrupulous politicians in the form of bribes, encouraging them to instead strongly condemn such actions.

“If we allow such things to happen, then we are likely to see our people suffering till donkeys develop horns. Our main problem is our governments that tend to sugarcoat problems instead of solving them,” added the ADF chairperson, who said failure by some local citizens to integrate migrants into their communities was one of the main reasons some migrants felt unsafe at certain events.

“Migrants so much want to associate with locals in any way possible but they do not attend some social gatherings because for fear of being identified as foreigners. That has forced some migrants to masquerade as South Africans, as we see them try and talk the local languages so that they can be seen as local citizens.”

The centre manager of UNISA Ekurhuleni RSC, Pat Lethole, rallied South Africans to take advantage of the presence of their better skilled African brothers and sisters to learn a number of good skills they possess to better their knowledge.

“Let’s stop fighting our sisters and brothers from other countries. Instead of fighting them claiming that they take our jobs, we need to be close to them and ask them how they do certain good things in their countries that we are not able to do,” said Lethole, who called on locals to show a sense of concern to fellow Africans. She reminded people that the big building festooned with all decorations was built by the migrants, which tells how much indispensable migrants are in each and every country.

“There is no way we can say we are free if our fellow Africans from or in other countries are not free. Let us make them feel at home and loved. A sense of belonging will make them to care when things go wrong.”

UNISA-based Professor Mojalefa Koenane deplored what he termed “Afrophobia”, which he described as the main element of xenophobia afflicting South Africa, but also implored authorities to listen to the cries and reasons being proffered by those who instigate the violence.

He called upon the political leaders to acknowledge that there is a big problem in the form of Afrophobia, adding they should attend to problems that frustrate local citizens. He classified people in three different categories.

“We have low level people who think they can only solve the problem through violence,” said Prof Mojalefa.

“It’s a low-level thinking where the problem is characterised by violence. In the middle level are those who would say migrants should not be killed but should go back to their countries. We have got the professionals who do professional jobs. These lose jobs to migrants who, although having similar qualifications, have an advantage because of their countries’ quality of education compared to ours. “

Prof Mojalefa said locals would not complain if they lost out to a white person in a job posting, but were fast to attack their fellow African brothers.

“We were made to hate each other. It is not something that happened by mistake but it was planned and structured. Those people made us see each other as enemies because they feared us when we were united,” he said.

“We need to train our people to the levels of those from outside so that they can be equally competitive. We must not say things and not do them. I do not get it when some people say they are failing to solve a problem. There is no way we can fail to get solutions if we really want to solve the problems because where there is a will there is a way.”


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