Battle against xenophobia is for everyone

2008-04-07 00:00

Reports of xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not new and point to a deeper problem than just competition for jobs.

Xenophobia is a sign of societal immaturity and an indication of the need to strengthen intergovernmental relations in this country. South Africa may have attained democracy a few years ago, but there are still glaring challenges for both society and our democratic government.

The recent attacks on foreigners in Attridgeville, Gauteng follow in the wake of the many other such assaults that have been reported since this country quashed apartheid.

The Algerian political theorist, Frantz Fanon, analysed the nature of racism and colonialism and developed a theory of violent anticolonialist struggle. In one of his books, Fanon wrote that he believed that a revolution could only be carried out through violent armed conflict, during which the perpetrators of racial violence would be killed, to allow for rebuilding without those who were seen as evil.

This approach is logical given the conditions under which Fanon and his peers found themselves. But we are in a different struggle, a struggle to rid our country and our continent of xenophobia. Fanon’s approach could still be applicable, but we would need to take out the “violent armed conflict” and replace it with educational campaigns and strong policing.

It is, of course, good and necessary to criticise the xenophobic attacks as barbaric, inhuman and demonic, but it is even better for our government to realise that an effective and long-lasting solution can only come about through co-operative governance.

The South African Human Rights Commission says that an education campaign, aptly named “Roll Back Xenophobia”, was launched nine years ago. Commission chairman Jody Kollapen says the main lesson they have learnt is that xenophobia cannot be dealt with simply by appealing to communities to be tolerant without addressing the economic dimension and competition for resources.

Six years ago, the campaign was still up and running and as a journalist then, I was fortunate to be able to cover it quite extensively. But nine years since the campaign was launched, xenophobic attacks are still being reported while our government continues to address the economic challenges behind the problem.

While xenophobia is being addressed by our government and civil society, issues of humanity and consideration for others should naturally take precedence if we, as a people, are morally mature enough.

Is it too difficult for us to see the similarities between ourselves and our African brothers and sisters without frowning at the geographical differences that separate us? These people are here to live just as much as some of us go to other countries to live.

I challenge the departments of Home Affairs and Safety and Security, and Labour in particular, to partner civil society to ensure that our democracy focuses its attention on educational campaigns such as Roll Back Xenophobia — just as much as we focus on job creation.

Such a partnership would help address issues of lawful entry into South Africa, residence and policing as well as the dynamics of the labour market in South Africa.

As a generation, we owe it to the next generation to ensure that they do not inherit what could be viewed as our failure.

• Musa Cebisa is the communications officer for the KwaZulu-Natal Gambling Board. He writes in his personal capacity.

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