Cup gives rise to xenophobic worries

JOVIAL MOOD: Soccer fans enjoy the Brazil and Ivory Coast match at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 20/06/2010.  © Sowetan.
JOVIAL MOOD: Soccer fans enjoy the Brazil and Ivory Coast match at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 20/06/2010. © Sowetan.

AS VISITORS from around the globe arrived on our shores South Africa has experienced a microcosm of what travel is like for many people - exciting but filled with trepidation.

This has been reflected in the fears around the World Cup, with alarms going off about increases in human trafficking or a rise in xenophobia.

There has at times been, it appears, a knee-jerk reaction to the arrival of foreigners.

But if this tournament is to leave a legacy, we look forward to seeing South Africa's general population adopt a new outlook towards having foreigners, whether for a short visit or long stay as migrants within its borders, to better reap the benefits of migration!

The movement of people is an old phenomenon and for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) it forms the very basis of our existence.

The World Cup, like any major event, has brought a dimension of uncertainty to daily discourse in South Africa, but in our work throughout the world we believe in providing solutions to migration and turn challenges into opportunity for the benefit of all.

We recently undertook an initiative to use sports as a tool to bring people of diverse backgrounds together as an entry point for further dialogue.

The South African Township Challenge jointly organised by IOM, UNHCR and other partners just before the World Cup involved soccer teams from various Gauteng townships.

The eight teams that took part in the tournament comprised migrants from various African countries as well as South Africans.

The result of the games was camaraderie and healthy competition as the teams forgot their nationalities and battled it out on the football field for their township.

The young men, and the crowds watching them that day took a small but key step towards building social cohesion in their community.

The World Cup demands that we create more of these interactions to continue bringing the best out of the continent .

We are gratified at the approach taken by the South African government, noting the recent re-establishment by the cabinet of the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) to look into issues of xenophobia.

Tapping into the opportunities presented by the World Cup, and the economic and social potential carried within, requires a rapid shift in mindset and the continued need for the "sports for peace" initiative as well as the best use of the spotlight it currently enjoys to support development efforts as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

The South African government, humanitarian organisations, the donor community and public in general must continue to pursue a collaborative effort to integrate migrants and contribute to the socioeconomic development of South Africa.

I would further like to speak to the concerns around an increase in human trafficking at this time.

IOM was present at the time of the previous World Cup in Germany, as well as other supporting events, and through its global work on the issue, has not found an empirical link that depicts an increase in trafficking at the time of major sporting events.

Of course there is always the possibility of an increase at any time, but rather than sensationalise the issue IOM and its partners have sought to focus on strengthening protection and prevention mechanisms around the issue by providing grants to 16 NGOs that have great experience and understanding of human trafficking working on the ground.

As the slogan goes, "Ke nako" - it is time. It is not only time to cheer on our favourite teams, but to revolutionise our thinking around what diversity in the 21st century really means.

It is time to address the migration challenges in South Africa holistically to benefit all involved; the migrants, the government of South Africa and the local communities from the SADC region and beyond.

lThe writer is IOM Regional Representative, Southern Africa