The Gauteng Local Peace Committee Awards Ceremony was held on the 12th of December 2014 to honour the individuals and organisations whose tireless efforts to promote peace and solidarity are transforming their communities. The ceremony was intended to promote both discussion and thought on the challenges that communities face, and to recognize those involved in peace efforts and encourage others to also contribute meaningfully to their communities in this way.
Before the awards celebration started, a review session was held with members of the Local Peace Committees, featuring speakers such as Ambassador Welile Nhlapo. The session centred mainly around the challenge of xenophobia, and an exploration of why xenophobia is such a problem, and how we can address it.
The issue of stereotypes and misunderstandings was raised, and the question was asked, “do we really believe that foreigners are here to take away our resources and jobs?”, and “if we exercise violence against foreigners, how can we expect them to welcome us in their countries?”. The session sought to question what some of the beliefs are that fuel xenophobia, and what the solutions might be.
Participants pointed out that with resources and jobs already being scarce, the effect of foreigners coming in is to strike panic and resentment in those who are already struggling to find jobs to meet their own basic needs. Another point raised was that often foreigners are willing to accept lower wages, making them difficult to compete with. Still others remarked that they felt foreigners did not have much regard for the needs of the locals, and were willing to do whatever they wanted at the expense of others.
There were mixed responses, with some arguing that it is the government and local officials who offer misinformation in order to keep the focus on foreigners instead of the responsibility of the government. Others suggested that due to an apartheid and colonial legacy of “divide and rule”, an inherited culture of division is standing in the way of unity. Others suggested that there was a problem of jealousy or even laziness amongst South Africans.
Amidst the discussion about why xenophobia exists and how legitimate the reasons for it and reactions to it are, there were many resounding calls for unity, to look beyond the problems, the division and heritage of colonialism and focus on a way forward – one that balances a call to hold other parties accountable for their part, but is also motivated from within. There was a call to look at the root causes of the problems, and to address these rather than lashing out at foreigners who are themselves often the products of injustices and oppression, and equally in need of the security and resources that we all seek.
The discussion was a rich source of insights on the motivating forces behind xenophobia and demonstrated the motivation of the communities to engage with the issues and find non violent ways to address them.
The celebration started shortly after rounding up the discussions, and included addresses from Elinor Sisulu, and the deputy minister of defense Kebby Maphotsoe, among others. They praised the efforts of those devoted to building peace in their communities and offered messages of support and encouragement.
The evening culminated in the ceremony to present certificates of recognition and awards to individuals representing the local peace structures and civil society organisations. Applause, music and dancing filled the hall with an atmosphere of celebration around the efforts and achievements of everyone present.
The evening was successful in its objective to validate local peace initiatives and raise awareness about the work of these individuals and organisations, alerting the wider community to the existence of these structures and encouraging more people to either become directly involved in these efforts themselves or to partner with these initiatives.