Cutting xenophobia down

2017-03-03 06:00
CEO of the Nigerian Union in South Africa Ekwealor Thomas and fellow member Samuel Umon said they gave the Pacsa roundtable on xenophobia at city hall yesterday a thumbs up for being proactive in preventing attacks before they can spread to Pietermaritzburg.

CEO of the Nigerian Union in South Africa Ekwealor Thomas and fellow member Samuel Umon said they gave the Pacsa roundtable on xenophobia at city hall yesterday a thumbs up for being proactive in preventing attacks before they can spread to Pietermaritzburg. (Omega Moagi)

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Deepening fear arising from recent xenophobic attacks in the country has driven Pietermaritzburg’s foreign nationals to find ways of nipping the issue in the bud.

Foreign nationals and locals from the Pietermaritzburg CBD and Cinderella Park gathered at the city hall on Thursday for a roundtable discussion on find solutions to xenophobia.

“After seeing that the xenophobic attacks have made a come back I started fearing for my children.

Although we felt safe inside our home, I worried about what might happen to them when they leave the house to go to school or something,” said Aldephiner Mboya, who is originally from Tanzania.

Mboya said she has been living in South Africa for 14 years.

Mboya added she believed language barriers and miscommunication were the root cause of xenophobic attacks.

“When someone speaks in Zulu and mentions the word ‘kwerekwere’ we start to fear because we don’t understand what is being said.

“From today’s discussion I found that most of the locals don’t understand that some of the migrants moved from the various countries because of hardships like civil war and that is why they assume that we are here to steal their jobs,” said Mboya.

Nokuzola Ngubane from Cinderella Park said she participated in the discussion because xenophobia needed to be permanently stopped.

“We have seen the xenophobic attacks happen before, and even though it was supposedly eradicated it still came back.

“This is why we need to be proactive in stopping it this time around because if we don’t it will continue,” said Ngubane.

Sufiyan Ahmad, a foreign national from Malawi, said the key to solving xenophobia lies in education.

“Children need to be taught about love and peace from a young age in school. You can’t try to teach an old person new values,” said Ahmad.

The roundtable talks stemmed from a previous research project conducted by Pacsa, the University of KZN and the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work on xenophobia involving the participants that attended on Thursday.

According to the study, prime areas of tension which inflamed xenophobic attacks included jobs, crime, sexuality, religion and cultural differences.

Some of the examples of stereotypes found to be prevalent in the community are that “all foreigners are criminals”, “South Africans are lazy”, “foreign nationals are better lovers” and “Zulu people are violent”.

Dr Vaughn John of UKZN said the success of the project lay in creating a platform that eliminated the “them and us” phenomenon during discussions about xenophobia but rather promoted unity.

“Although the information gathered from the research may not have been unknown … our approach was a proactive one in that it allowed enough opportunity for both locals and foreign nationals to come into dialogue together and discuss the issue,” said John.

He said during the study they also found that using the term xenophobia when addressing the issue “masked over some of the underlying problems” that caused the attacks.

Pacsa director Mervyn Abrahams said it was a pity that government stakeholders and the municipality did not attend the roundtable as the issues discussed required their input and commitment to coming up with solutions.

Among the stakeholders invited were Msunduzi municipality, the Department of Justice, the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Social Development.

Only the Social Development Department attended the talks.

Responding to the criticism late on Thursday, Msunduzi Mayor Themba Njilo said he had not been aware of the meeting and said he “would have loved” to have attended.

He added that he supports such an initiative and will follow up with the organisers about how the municipality can contribute in future.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  xenophobia

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