not one life more

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

"There is no excuse for xenophobia. It is evil. We must work every day at eradicating it 'by changing the minds of the people'."

This is the view of Mohammed Valli Moosa, ex- environment and tourism affairs minister who, in the face of the trademark political double-speak, came out unambiguously against the crime that has so far claimed just more than 60 lives.

"There's absolutely no excuse for it," Moosa said. "Like sexism, racism and other pathologies, there's no way of justifying xenophobia - not even talk about poverty, unemployment or a poor home affairs system, identified by most speakers as among the causes of the attacks, can do that."

The main job before us is to build human solidarity, Moosa said, and this does not only mean among the races making up the rainbow nation, but beyond.

"In this endeavour," said the former high school mathematics teacher who, like Tokyo Sexwale, has jumped the political ship for the lure of big business, "we have not done enough."

Moosa was speaking on Tuesday night at a public debate organised by The Star newspaper on xenophobia, its underlying causes and solutions.

The debate was held in the Wits Great Hall.

Among the panelists at the fruitful session, chaired by Moeletsi Mbeki, was Barney Pityana, Wilmot James, Ebrahim Rasool and Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen.

"We are lucky, though," said Moosa about the madness that sprang from Alexandra last month. But others contend that the attacks already began in Mamelodi, Pretoria, a year ago.

Moosa said he had been in an ANC NEC meeting, the entire agenda of hich was dropped in favour of deploying individual members to the "hot spots".

Among those in the NEC, where Moosa has been serving since 1991, who were dispatched to the troubled areas, was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who, on the night, was seated in the front row, lapping up the adulation.

On this alone, said the chair, the other Mbeki man, he'd have voted for The Mother of the Nation "if we ran our electoral system along the lines of the US presidential elections".

"What we've done is unforgivable," Moosa said, "because we've established our Constitution on the principle of respect for human dignity."

Among those in the audience were renowned struggle lawyer George Bizos, child of the struggle Tselane Tambo and Robert McBride who, on his first day out of his contentious leave, was accused of stirring up trouble in the volatile Ramaphosa informal settlement with his gung-ho style of policing.

Another speaker, whom Mbeki introduced as "very well known for his analysis of the ANC president", went to the podium. And when Nyameko Barney Pityana, principal and vice-chancellor of Unisa, spoke, he didn't leave out Jacob Zuma's name.

"Ours is a violent society," said Pityana, "where people wantonly take the law into their own hands."

He referred to the regrettable statement by ANC Youth League president Julius Malema that they "were prepared to kill and die for Zuma" as the height of lawlessness.

"This represents a leadership crisis," said Pityana who, like Moosa, quoted from Nelson Mandela.

Pityana reminded the gathering that it was the then president (Mandela) who implored warring factions in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands "to take your pangas and throw them in the sea".

Having grown up in the townships, Pityana said, he was always surrounded by foreign nationals who were a large part of the communities, "sometimes even inter-marrying".

The varsity boss lamented the huge numbers of young people who leave school early to join the pool of the unemployed.

Earlier reports had linked many idle young people to the perpetrators' side of the xenophobic violence.

Western Cape Premier Ibrahim Rasool got the loudest cheer for putting it simple: All acts of intolerance belong to one family.

"How do we deal with a brother evil and leave out the sister evil?" he asked in a metaphor that made a lot of sense.

"We can never hope to triumph over xenophobia, which happens out in the public, when we leave sexism in the privacy of our homes to fester.

"These are all demons. If we remain quiet about one evil, we open the door for one sister, like xenophobia, to come in. The point I'm making is that we must be consistent in the way we fight this whole family of intolerance. We can't pick and choose our battles, otherwise one will explode on to the scene and shatter our smugness that we are Simunye, the rainbow nation."

"What next after the 1300 arrests and the humanitarian relief?" Rasool asked. "We must all take responsibility. We must oppose any kind of intolerance, - gender-based or religious - and preach acceptance."

But for Tshepo Mamatu, doctoral student at Wits, Rasool's is mere political rhetoric.

"What is at the root of the whole xenophobia thing is the resistance by the government to accept that they have failed the people at grass-roots level.

"For a long time the government refused to accept what was happening by giving it other names. Their lack of leadership is at the core of these attacks."

But many agree with the theme of the debate that "Never Again" will this be allowed to happen.

Not one life more.