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Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .


By unknown | May 14, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THIS week is the second anniversary of the xenophobic attacks that swept through our nation with alarming force and left 62 people dead. About 100000 more were displaced.

THIS week is the second anniversary of the xenophobic attacks that swept through our nation with alarming force and left 62 people dead. About 100000 more were displaced.

Many of us might not have been shocked that there are South Africans who harbour ill feelings against foreign nationals, but we were paralysed at the extent of the hatred unleashed. It was a dark time in our country. After the mayhem, many South Africans declared "never again".

But this week the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA is warning that xenophobic violence will flare up again after the World Cup.

I am not so convinced that it will happen after the World Cup but they are basing this on information they have received from anxious foreigners.

The threats have apparently come from neighbours, colleagues, taxi drivers, passersby and even nurses!

Sceptical me thinks there is a bit of mischief and scare-mongering but the possibility of violence always exists, especially in a society that is very good at sweeping matters under the carpet and pretending these collisions can never happen in our democracy. They can and they have. Even two years ago, authorities were exposed for being baffled and un-prepared.

It is still possible for this kind of violence to flare up, especially since those responsible for the 2008 attacks have not been brought to book. They are in our communities, living their lives, raising their children and carrying these dark secrets.

I have great admiration for those with a clear and unambiguous position on the treatment of foreign nationals.

There are some who call for their total displacement and for them to be returned to their home countries. As unpalatable as it may be for some of us, that, I am afraid, is a clear and bold position.

Proponents of this stance make the valid argument that our government can hardly provide for poor South Africans. So how do you accommodate your guests when your own family is barely surviving? And then you find a category of bleeding hearts like me - liberals who believe in the universal right to safety and protection, but cannot always give practical answers as to how to make these rights a reality.

There is a serious disjuncture between my convictions and what is possible. If only the world's problems could be solved by a belief in human rights.

The sight of men and women, weeping and desperately trying to hold on to their meagre belongings, is enough to maul your emotions. Our response to this kind of human suffering should transcend our political leanings and ideologies.

We should be able to commiserate with fellow human beings in their hour of need, regardless of their nationality.

Our government is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, which sets out the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

This document sets out the standards for their treatment in the countries that receive them. But things always look better on paper.

There is no doubt that in many instances our country's response to displaced people has been abominable. Conversely, the generosity of many South Africans at that time, cannot be understated. It provided temporary respite but the problem has not gone away.

I am convinced that the ANC government is genuinely sincere and compassionate to the plights of displaced persons. Throughout this sorry saga, the government has tried to negotiate, cajole and bargain with them but, unfortunately, without effective systems to process and accommodate displaced people, all of this sympathy comes to naught.

I suspect that authorities have their hearts in the right place but deep down want to wish this problem away, instead of confronting it head-on. Unfortunately, problems do not solve themselves.

If we sweep this under the carpet we will have more explosions, often with dangerous consequences.

Let us not forget where we were two years ago. Remembering will help us to create a just and compassionate society.

Two years ago, our streets were aflame with the burning body of Mozambican national Ernesto Nhamwuave, men and women, weeping and begging to be allowed the basic right to live.

It cannot happen, not again.


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