Let’s get it right this time

2015-04-26 15:00

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South Africa was galvanised into saying #StopTheHate this past week.

It started last weekend, when President Jacob Zuma cancelled a trip to Indonesia to stay home and manage the crisis of a second major round of xenophobic attacks.

He held talks with ambassadors.

For the first time, South Africa was feeling the blowback for the attacks on foreigners. Marches were held at our consular offices; trade with big partners was threatened by tougher laws and borders were blocked by protesters.

The governing ANC started a massive campaign instructing that anti-xenophobia meetings be held in more than 5?000 branches. King Goodwill Zwelethini – who lit the xenophobia match – was forced into an imbizo that had symbolic peacemaking importance (although he did not properly apologise).

The army was deployed to hot spots. And civil society was galvanised into a programme of vigils and marches. The upshot: it’s pretty clear xenophobic violence is a minority pastime, even if anti-foreigner sentiment is probably more widespread.

All good – even great – for the scale of mobilisation we witnessed. But there is still this unfortunate fact: South Africa had a “grand plan” after the 2008 attacks. The plan ran the gamut from more effective criminal justice to community-led efforts to deal with anti-foreigner sentiments.

The plan included the installation of a desk in the police commissioner’s office to deal with xenophobic attacks and the development of an early warning system to enable a faster response.

But only one person has ever been convicted for xenophobic violence.

Now, we have another grand plan led by another interministerial task team.

This time, civil society and the chapter 9 institutions need to ensure accountability by insisting on a tracking system to ensure that the new plan is implemented and it works.

The only thing that must come from this season of killing is the lesson that it should never happen again.

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