How to understand and prevent xenophobia: thoughts from a xenophobia dialogue

How to understand and prevent xenophobia: thoughts from a xenophobia dialogue

The ACTION Support Centre presented its work around Local Peace Committees at an anti-xenophobia conference. It highlighted that LPC’s were launched around Gauteng in 2010. The following are the areas where there is an already established presence of LPCs made up of both South Africans and non-South Africans: Snake Park, Alexandra, Diepsloot, White city, Soweto and Orange Farm. The purpose of these structures is to address emerging forms of local conflicts commonly labeled as xenophobia, promote collective dialogue, and encourage reflections and effective strategizing to address local challenges. An example was shared of the remarkable work that the Alexandra LPC did during the April violent attacks against non-South Africans. She said the outbreak was limited to only one night because the LPCs were on the lookout, and reacted immediately and effectively to thwart the plans of perpetrators of violence.

Fisani Nqobu of the Centre for Community Justice and Development shared that their organization was established in 1990 and has 15 support centers based in police stations and courts. The Centre advises people/refugees on where and how they can access justice. The organization helps especially women and children who are most vulnerable, and most of its stations are located in rural areas. Some of the programs the Centre has are aimed at integrating immigrants and refugees, and includes training and workshops for immigrants and refugees that will assist them with permit issues, networking sessions with the Department of Home Affairs, Department of Health and schools. Part of their work is also liaising with local schools to have migrant children continue with schooling while the Centre is assisting parents to acquire the necessary documents, and working with South African Police Services and community leaders to raise awareness.

 Photographs that depicted the cruelty of violence perpetrated against Non-South Africans in Durban during the April 2015 xenophobic violence were shared by Mr. China during his presentation. He attributed the influx of migrants in South Africa to the negligence of other African states that do not take care of their citizens and said every country should be accountable to their citizens. Senator Sekai Holland revealed the importance of Ubuntu as a way of life by highlighting that what we learn in our homes is exactly how we should relate with others and that should inform the infrastructure of peace. She gave an example of how when someone falls everyone ‘feels their pain’ or runs to their rescue as reflective of the way in which human beings are interconnected and African states should understand that when one suffers or experiences difficulty every other state gets affected. She emphasized the importance of respecting the African worldview and channeling that positive influence into the betterment of the continent.

 Participants also commented on Senator Sekai Holland’s presentation as follows;

  • There is a need for inter-generational learning exchanges, finding ways to bring about the social cohesion of the past.
  • Regional and international organizations must come up with policies that are all-inclusive and non-discriminatory.
  • African regional organizations should advocate for relaxed immigration laws.
  • South African government needs to develop migrant and labor market policies.
  • Primary school curriculum should include peace education as well as practical subjects that could equip people with life skills.
  • We need to have one education system instead of separate private and government schools, which perpetuates discriminatory mentality.
  • Most importantly, non-South Africans should be taught how to co-exist with South Africans.

 The meeting agreed on strategies for promoting peace regionally, which include; holding peace vigils, mobilizing past peaceful structures, legal definition of citizenship, espousing Pan-African values as well as embodying a narrative and discourse that energizes and discourages any form of violence. Moreover, regional organizations such as the AU should hold countries and presidents accountable for mistreating migrants and perhaps consider the adoption of the EU regional integration model for Africa. Information sharing at grassroots levels in various languages and the need to incorporate African history and solidarity in primary school curriculum were deemed important aspects of the solutions.