South Africa has been plagued by xenophobic experience causing periodic social instability particularly in our metropolitan areas. It has become a course for concern for the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) and other non-governmental organisations. Our community safety is being threatened, lawlessness is creeping in, criminality is on the rise and law enforcement agencies are struggling to cope. Some among us are even suggesting the involvement of the army.
We think that the problem is bigger than it meets the eye. At the social level, immigrants live and run their businesses in communities. It is not a bad thing in itself but proves detrimental at this point because we are failing to manage social cohesion. It therefore means that our people are not ready for this type of socialisation. Our people are being asked to deal with someone who comes into communities without being profiled for the community to know who he is, where is coming from, what drove him out of his country and what is his status in our country. This is not just a socialisation issue but involves political decisions too. Society must be properly informed about this situation.
Society must manage its socialisation processes and we think that much has to be done to attain stability. Education is key and nothing must be left to chance, which brings me to the next point; what was our experience when we were in exile. How were we socialised in those countries that we found ourselves in? We are not advocating for sameness in this matter but it is critical that we get a grip on control and management of all people who enter our country whether legally or otherwise. You can only show compassion when you fully appreciate circumstances of person you interact with. People need to be informed so as to make better decisions in the socialisation process.
At the political level, it is only proper that you have institutions that helps you help others who find themselves in such a precarious situations. First, rules must be observed, people must be documented and profiled. Identification is important and circumstances of his plight if any must be known (for example, a political refugee) to our people at large so that s/he enjoys equal social protection. Second, our law enforcement agencies must also be empowered to act in a socially conscious manner through effective legal instruments assisted by communities. This can only be achieved when our actions are guided by human rights-based constitution such as ours.
Fear is a dangerous emotion particularly if unfounded and based on unknown. The xenophobic attacks are more fear orientated. The immigrants react using unlicensed weapons and shooting children in fear of their lives and communities react in anger by burning their shops. The criminal element takes advantage of this chaos and loot. A society that lives in fear and suspicion is a recipe for constant social upheavals.
On the economic front we are bound to face slow growth and even be stagnant. Nobody would like to invest in a country that has political and social instability where the rule of law is undermined. It is imperative to address this situation but government should take the lead and create an environment conducive for social cohesion, community safety and peace. We need to revisit our institutions particularly around immigrants coming into our country. Laws must empower us to deal with any situation in managing social interactions, be it protecting immigrants or socialising them within our communities. It cannot be left to chance.
We have traditional authorities in our villages, municipalities in our towns and districts and metros who must take lead in the fight against xenophobia. This requires the partnership between government and civil society. Civil society should assist in educating our people about the channels open to them for addressing their queries but authorities must open their doors. Our justice system must also be robustly engaged for social justice to be effective. We call on our people to exercise restraint, respect human rights and act in a manner befitting a caring nation.
For more about SANGOCO, refer to www.sangoco.org.za.