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New website to blow the whistle on xenophobia

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Nozipho Mpanza
August11/ 2016

Technology and research have come together to decrease the rate of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. See how.

Xenophobic violence in South Africa can now be monitored and possibly prevented and it’s all thanks to a new web system designed to detect incidences of xenophobic crimes.

On Wednesday, the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), iAfrikan, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees launched Xenowatch, a plaftform to monitor xenophobic threats and violence across the country.

The system will run on a website which will collect information on incidences of violence, send an alert and map the location of the incidences. Victims will be able to send tip offs to a free sms line or drop an email on the website.

After verification, Xenowatch will automatically notify the police and international organisations of any related danger. Once communication has been verified, Xenowatch will work to address the matter through enforcement or rescue, depending on the scale thereof.  The maps will aid in locating the nearest help centre to the incidence and action will be taken thereafter.

“It doesn’t help to build an app, we’re likely to deal with people of a lower LSM (living standards measure),” said Tefo Mohapi, founder of iAfrikan, the builders of the website. People living in the lower LSM group are those living beneath certain economic thresholds and can be considered as poor in relation to the standard of living of others.

Mohapi explained that the interface will deal with different types of users including the victims, media and authorities. The SMS line will ensure that after verification, all tip offs are sent to the necessary parties.

“Early warning systems are useless if there is no response,” said Jean Pierre Misango of ACMS, at the launch at Wits University.

Additionally, the platform will track the rate of response to threats and attacks by officials. It serves to warn the public about possible danger and address the need for action to be taken against these incidences.

“Obviously this is a project we regret to have to launch but we’re excited for the opportunity,” said Prof Loren Landau of Wits at the launch.

Xenowatch comes in response to the reality of 150 000 people that have been killed, injured or displaced in xenophobia-related incidents in South Africa over the past 10 years. The call to implement the initiative came in April 2015 following the xenophobic attacks on foreign national-owned businesses.

Misango emphasised the importance of everyone taking responsibility for the cause. “When certain groups of people decide who can live in a place or not, we’re all in danger. Anybody can be a foreigner at any time,” he said.

The success of the web system will rely on the participation of the public in reporting incidents of xenophobia and mobilising allies.

Since there is no government institution that collects information on xenophobic violence in South Africa, Xenowatch aims to be the primary base of such data and ultimately end “government denialism” of xenophobic violence.

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Nozipho Mpanza