DATE: 22 FEB 2017

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation calls on leaders from all sectors of society to publicly condemn the recent xenophobic incidents and rally their constituencies against anti-foreigner sentiment.

The Foundation expressed concern over the attacks that have occurred in the Tshwane and Johannesburg South regions, as well as the overt expressions of xenophobic sentiment.

The Foundation’s Director, Neeshan Balton, said that it was “deeply worrying” that in democratic South Africa, a march against foreigners was being organised. “Lawyers for Human Rights has called for a boycott of the march. We echo this call and reiterate that leaders from all sectors of society must do whatever is possible to quell the outpouring of xenophobic sentiment. Furthermore, government must employ all efforts to stem violence, including heightening police presence in xenophobia hotspots.”

“It is nothing short of a tragedy that South Africa has failed, since 2008, to deal with xenophobia decisively. Thus far, we have addressed the issue reactively. It has become almost normal to have foreign owned shops periodically looted, and for physical violence to be meted out against foreign nationals before measures are put in place.

“This time, xenophobia has also resulted in attacks on homes of foreigners perceived to be involved in crime. Anti-xenophobic sentiment and action appears to be more orchestrated and if left unchecked, can spiral out of control,” Balton said.

Balton highlighted three key issues that fuel xenophobic tendencies:

  • “Poor leadership – Trump’s election win has certainly given rise to right-wing, fascist mentality globally, but we need to question who are our own ‘local Trumps’ that have ensured that xenophobic rhetoric becomes mainstream. We must look back to certain incidents in which leaders have made statements peppered with anti-foreigner sentiment. If leaders are not rebuked for xenophobic talk, then we should not be surprised that citizens feel emboldened to propagate such views. A 2016 panel discussion at the United Nations concluded that anti-racist legislation could be used as a mechanism to break the political careers of leaders who propagate hatred, as well as to curb the rise of extremist parties. South Africa should not be immune to the idea of stringent action being taken against leaders who propagate xenophobic views.
  • “A failing criminal justice system – A crumbling centre of power and climate of instability fuels the problem. This is of particular concern for the criminal justice system, which because of internal political wrangling, has been at war with itself. Instead of focussing energy on fighting crime, law enforcement agencies have been used to protect corrupt officials instead. The failures of the criminal justice system only reinforce the notion that mob justice is ‘acceptable’, resulting in illegal attacks on foreigners based on perceived notions about criminality. In recent days, we have witnessed how mobs have become judge, jury and executioner.
  • “Prejudice against anyone deemed to be the ‘other’ – Today, foreigners are seen as the ‘other’. Tomorrow, it will be Venda people, or Indian people, or Xhosa people, and so on, until there is no one left to blame for South Africa’s woes. Stereotypical views and myths that associate particular crimes to an entire nationality must constantly be challenged.”

Citizens must support #NoToXenophobia campaigns

Balton stated that ‘dinner-table’ xenophobia must be tackled. “Discriminatory views often find their way very casually to the dinner table,” he said. “By calling out stereotypical generalisations, or pointing to facts, xenophobic arguments can often be countered. Take for example the false notion that foreigners alone are the main perpetrators of crime. Statistics compiled by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research in 2015 show that foreigners only make up 6.3 percent of those incarcerated in South Africa’s jails. Surely, this would mean that there are thousands of South Africans who are guilty of all kinds of criminal activity.”

He added, “South Africans should be championing #NoToXenophobia campaigns, rather than leaving it up to foreign nationals to take up the cause. It is the least that individuals can do to help ensure that progressive ideals remain mainstream in a bid to counter the xenophobic narrative.”

Balton however, indicated that long-term solutions are essential. “We require concentrated national effort to tackle perceptions underlying xenophobia. Just as there is a National Action Plan to tackle racism, similar plans should be developed to combat xenophobia.”

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