Who wants to live in an SA such as this?

2015-05-21 11:57
March against xenophobia in Johannesburg.

March against xenophobia in Johannesburg. (Denzil Maregele)

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XENOPHOBIA/AFROPHOBIA is our worst nightmare; it signals a slide to complete lawlessness. Without law and order, South Africa will degenerate into anarchy.

We have heard of threats from terrorist groups and African governments threatening to close South African businesses because of it. Surely, all this will not create financial opportunities for local communities but rather cause our communities to deteriorate.

Xenophobic attacks, in a sense, are worse than what the perpetrators feel they are correcting or addressing. They represent collective action of the worst kind and there is no certainty that the correct “perpetrator” has been identified, the sanction is not proportional to the crime committed, and without fail in each recorded case, a horrific brutality has been meted out.

And it demeans the dignity of the executioner — how is it possible that people are content to burn a person to death because this person is darker than they are, or from a different geographical location? Can one feel happy and at peace as a person after such a dastardly deed? Does it not put one in the same category as a murderer?

Who wants to live in a South Africa such as this, where humanity is so cheap, whether at the hands of the primary perpetrator, or the vengeful collective community, or indeed the state?

But, we cannot all flee from our democratic land to far-flung overseas territories, so we have to stand our ground, determine what is causing this response, and for goodness sake do something about it.

Although much cause will be found in formal government functions, or lack thereof, much can be said about the role of the family, community, the public and society in general, in combating this scourge. Gone are the days when we could glibly blame poverty and deprivation for our crime rate. Yes, crime plays a role, but it is so complex and its causes are multiple. Moreover, it is offensive to our millions of poor people to hang the crimes of xenophobia and vigilantism around their proverbial necks.

Law enforcement alone cannot break this cycle, although the lack of early and effective police responses have been shown to be a trigger, as are the processes of the justice system, which are still an enigma to many who have to access it, whether as accused, victim, witness or interested onlooker.

We have seen no real conviction of the perpetrators of xenophobia — we saw a man torched in front of law-enforcement personnel and little was done. It has been seven years since the first wave of xenophobic attacks, with one image that remains fresh in many minds — the burning man. To date, there have been no resulting arrests or convictions. Seeing an alleged perpetrator of a crime walk free after a successful bail application or receive a non-custodial sentence, is enough to spur the community into action as they perceive this to be another example of police and judicial intransigence.

Given our past, violence as a means of conflict resolution is now embedded in our psyche; our history attests to this. Violence towards partners in the home, violence on school campuses, violence by law-enforcement officers, violence by parents towards their children, violence on the roads and violence on sports fields — these are all examples of how entrenched violence has become. Xenophobia attacks are one more example of this, with the caveat that it is a response to the desperation communities feel due to the constant and endemic avalanche of crime against them.

Xenophobic attacks cannot be condoned, notwithstanding what causes them and how desperate and victimised a community might feel. We cannot go that route if we are to salvage anything like a half-decent life in our democracy. But, we must do something about it.

We all have a role to play, Emmanuel Sithole could be any of us, could be our lover, brother, sister, child. We need a collective approach to find a lasting solution, connecting communities and uniting Africa

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