How to com­bat xeno­pho­bia ef­fec­tively

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -


THE dis­tress­ing im­age of the neck­lac­ing of Ernesto Al­fa­beto Nhamuave in 2008 cir­cu­lated around the world, high­light­ing the bru­tal­ity of xeno­pho­bia in South Africa. From Jo­han­nes­burg to Dur­ban and Cape Town, for­eign na­tion­als were at­tacked, dis­placed and killed.

In 2015, vi­o­lence flared again in some parts of Gaut­eng. This time the im­age of the fa­tal stab­bing of Mozam­bi­can ven­dor, Em­manuel Sithole by a group of men that ap­peared on var­i­ous me­dia sites sym­bol­ised the sense­less and rep­re­hen­si­ble acts of in­tol­er­ance. On May 30, KwaMashu in Dur­ban be­came an­other epi­cen­tre of xeno­pho­bic at­tacks as com­mu­ni­ties surged in frus­tra­tion, tar­get­ing for­eign shop­keep­ers.

At its core, xeno­pho­bia and its re­sul­tant vi­o­lence is not a phe­nom­e­non iso­lated to town­ships and in­for­mal set­tle­ments – it has as its roots the in­her­ent oth­er­ing of those who are dif­fer­ent, and the lack of in­te­gra­tion at all lev­els of so­ci­ety. Dur­ing apartheid, labour­ers not from ur­ban ar­eas mi­grated from the Ban­tus­tans us­ing pass­books which were is­sued to them un­der the false de­mar­ca­tion of th­ese ter­ri­to­ries as au­ton­o­mous.

This in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion re­in­forced the si­los of those liv­ing else­where but trav­el­ling to work in ur­ban ar­eas. Mi­grant labour to the mines was also con­sti­tuted of those who trav­elled from other African coun­tries, but re­turned home every few months – never truly in­te­grat­ing with the South African labour force. Sim­i­larly, black South Africans phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally tra­versed a land­scape of oth­er­ing where they en­tered sub­urbs with their pass­books, as if tourists in their own coun­try. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing their value as in­her­ently linked to the un­der­val­ued labour they pro­vided, they would re­turn to their com­mu­ni­ties to ex­pe­ri­ence the alien­ation and de­hu­man­i­sa­tion of apartheid. For this, and many other rea­sons, South Africa is char­ac­terised by struc­tural and phys­i­cal vi­o­lence that re­sults from the cre­ation of “oth­ers” – where iden­tity, poverty, in­equal­ity and labour in­ter­sect.

A 2008 study by the Cen­tre for the Study of Vi­o­lence and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion con­cluded that the xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence in in­for­mal set­tle­ments could be traced to high lev­els of poverty and un­em­ploy­ment. Struc­tural in­equal­i­ties and so­cio-eco­nomic chal­lenges con­trib­uted to the per­cep­tion that for­eign na­tion­als were ben­e­fit­ing from state re­sources or di­rectly con­trib­uted to crime in com­mu­ni­ties.

There is a re­spon­si­bil­ity on com­mu­nity lead­ers, civil so­ci­ety, coun­cil­lors and po­lice of­fi­cials to be re­spon­sive to griev­ances at the on­set – so as not to ag­gra­vate lo­cal ac­tors into vi­o­lence. Where gov­ern­ment agen­cies, such as hos­pi­tals and po­lice sta­tions, en­gage in de­hu­man­is­ing ways with for­eign na­tion­als, they repli­cate in­sti­tu­tional xeno­pho­bia that re­in­forces the at­ti­tudes in com­mu­ni­ties.

Some­times, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are the ac­tors driv­ing xeno­pho­bia due to the rhetoric used dur­ing gath­er­ings – send­ing an im­plicit, and ex­plicit, mes­sage that for­eign na­tion­als are un­de­sir­able and sub­hu­man, thus le­git­i­mat­ing xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence.

Politi­cians need to take greater re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ut­ter­ances that can be con­strued to con­trib­ute to vi­o­lence. In ad­di­tion, there needs to be greater al­lo­ca­tion of polic­ing and other re­sources to the com­mu­ni­ties that ex­pe­ri­ence the high­est lev­els of crime and so­cio-eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion. Coun­cil­lors and lo­cal gov­ern­ment must al­lo­cate and im­ple­ment re­sources in ways that are trans­par­ent – the In­te­grated De­vel­op­ment Plan frame­work makes ex­cel­lent pol­icy pro­vi­sions for this. But im­ple­men­ta­tion must be ac­count­able and re­spon­sive, par­tic­u­larly in how it ad­dresses polic­ing, hous­ing and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Al­le­vi­at­ing the le­git­i­mate anger of cit­i­zens through re­spon­sive gov­ern­ment is key.

There is a need for bet­ter poli­cies re­gard­ing in­te­gra­tion of for­eign na­tion­als into com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly for refugees pro­tected un­der the Refugee Act. It is not just enough to offer asy­lum.

We need to en­sure the com­mu­ni­ties in which they dwell un­der­stand their con­texts, and so­cial pro­vi­sions are made to fa­cil­i­tate in­te­gra­tion. State ac­tors must be con­tin­u­ously ca­pac­i­tated to be re­flec­tive and re­spon­sive to the needs of for­eign na­tion­als – demon­strat­ing an un­der­stand­ing of their le­gal obli­ga­tions and re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect.

Short-term pri­or­ity strate­gies to ad­dress xeno­pho­bia in­clude es­tab­lish­ing an “early warn­ing sys­tem”, and rais­ing aware­ness of this among stake­hold­ers and lead­ers. Es­tab­lish­ing early warn­ing sys­tems in com­mu­ni­ties with a high like­li­hood of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence would re­quire teams of re­spected com­mu­nity lead­ers trained in me­di­at­ing con­flict with clear lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with po­lice and other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In ad­di­tion to rais­ing aware­ness around xeno­pho­bia and the rights of for­eign na­tion­als, lead­ers need to di­rectly en­gage with and chal­lenge hate­ful agen­das that spur vi­o­lence – send­ing a mes­sage that vi­o­lence is not the an­swer. Till now, the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse is mainly re­ac­tive rather than proac­tive. For ex­am­ple, the agenda of asy­lum seeker’s rights is only em­pha­sised when vi­o­lence has bro­ken out.

Xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tudes, like racist at­ti­tudes, are passed down to the younger gen­er­a­tion through in­for­mal and for­mal ed­u­ca­tion – it is im­por­tant the cur­ricu­lum at all lev­els in­cludes an un­der­stand­ing not just of apartheid and its im­pact, but of African his­tory, coloni­sa­tion and the role of fel­low African coun­tries lend­ing sup­port to the strug­gle against apartheid, of­ten at great cost to them­selves.

Xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tudes, like racist at­ti­tudes, are passed down

Modiegi Merafe is a com­mu­nity prac­ti­tioner, Masana Ndinga-Kanga is re­search man­ager and Richard Chelin is a re­searcher at the Cen­tre for the Study of Vi­o­lence and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

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