On Saturday 24 May 2008 ,Johannesburg came to a standstill as more than 6 000 people took to the streets in a solidarity march to condemn irresponsible acts of xenophobia that have griped the country in the past weeks. The xenophobic attacks on foreigners started in Alexandra some weeks back and spread to several other townships across the country. Although many foreigners were targeted in mob attacks, causing thousands to flee their homes to safety in some community centres and police stations, South African citizens were also reportedly victimised.
The march which began at Peter Roos Park (Empire and Hospital Road) at 9am proceeded through Hillbrow and Mooi and Pritchard streets in the CBD, ending at the Library Gardens. The gathering was addressed by amongst others, Dale Mckinley from the Social Movement Indaba (SMI), the Anti-Privatisation Forum’s John Appolis, Kumi Naidoo from Civicus, and representatives from number of immigrant organisations including from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Somila, Ethiopia and Ghana. The messages marchers conveyed was that our struggle is common and knows no borders. Messages on placards included ''xenophobia is racism’’, ''do not attack me I am your sister/brother’’, ''we are African, we are one''.
The SMI believes that what had happened in South African townships in the last few weeks, betrayed the vision of the social movements in the country and majority of South Africans who want to identify themselves with the vision of the struggle of a great and better Africa for all. The SMI has urged the perpetrators of this violence to stop their actions as a matter of urgency.
With the inception of democratic dispensation since 1994, South Africa has steadily built itself to the cosmopolitan country that it is today, grounded in the principles of Ubuntu. However, the SMI acknowledges that South Africa does indeed have numerous internal issues to address including high levels of unemployment, lack of adequate housing for people living in poor communities, and poverty. We acknowledge the social ills that are plaguing our country and we understand the frustration of our local people at the perceived lack of development in poorer communities.
The SMI holds that South Africans cannot justify their frustrations through gruesome murders, rape, violence, and theft. The xenophobic events of the past few weeks brings to mind the dark days of apartheid, an era of immense heartache and pain for many South Africans. Let us not allow ourselves to go back to those days when visions of men being burnt to death were the order of the day. The SMI reminded South Africans of the role that African countries played in our attainment of democracy. They fought with us and they fought for us. Our struggle was also their struggle and we must not lose sight of that.
We as the SMI, representing the interest of not only social movements, civil society and activist organisations but also immigrant communities, have resolved that since our struggle is their struggle, we will keep on fighting side by side for justice and peace . We believe that the police deployment to monitor the situation is not the best solution to their safety and security.
Prior to the recent xenophobic attacks, some members of the SAPS and the Metro Police have been harassing immigrants to solicit bribes as a matter of practice. The refugee communities and other immigrant communities do not trust the police, believing they will be impartial to arbitrate the conflict. To substantiate this, the police conducted a brutal raid on the Central Methodist Church on the 31 January 2008 under the pretext of crime prevention. Consequently, the SMI believes that the police cannot be trusted to be a barrier between perpetrators of the xenophobic attacks and their targeted victims.
We believe that long-lasting safety and security for all does not include the deportation of foreign nationals, whether voluntary or not. Xenophobia's origins lie within the conditions of poverty in which the majority of South Africans live. Immigrants have been targeted for their ethnic differences and for their very similarity with their persecutors. Seen as competitors for scarce jobs and housing, South Africans have misdirected their anger at conditions of poverty that are unchanging. Their fellow brothers and sisters who endure the same situation cannot be responsible for what the economic and political system has created.
While the SMI struggle for a change to the neo-liberal capitalist system that has created this reality, struggles for safety and security of immigrants in the country must continue. The SMI has lauded the efforts of humanitarian organisations, emergency services and churches that are trying to stem the tide of bloodletting and forced removals. However, we believe that this is a temporary solution. The SMI will continue to organise against the creation of refugee camps and work towards the reintegration of immigrants in our communities. In working to recover our common humanity and restore calm, delegations from the SMI will be meeting with community-based organisations in and around Johannesburg to speak to affected communities.
We urge the government to take urgent action and ensure that this xenophobic violence comes to an end and never raises its head again. We also urge all South Africans to come together and work towards peace and harmony for the greater good of our country, and our continent.
Makoma Lekalakala is the Chairperson of the Social Movement Indaba. For more information contact him at email: firstname.lastname@example.org or 082 682 9177
- Pictures courtesy of Picasa Web Albums