A clarion call to act against the wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa was made to government at yesterday’s Mail and Guardian African Truth panel discussion.
“Xenophobia is entrenched in state institutions and the response from officials is clearly xenophobic,” said chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum Marc Gbaffou, one of the panellists at the discussion.
Gbaffou called on the government to respond immediately to the impending threat of xenophobic violence saying “we don’t know where it started but we know where it’s headed.”
The discussion intended to offer a platform for discourse on the wave of xenophobic attacks in Soweto, where shops owned by non-South Africans citizens where looted earlier this year. Researcher Jean-Pierre Misago suggested that there were no “concrete interventions” that dealt with the 2008 xenophobic attacks, which is why it happened again.
Misago blames the government’s ‘denialism’ on the issue as contributing to recent wave saying the attempts at intervention have not been fully effective. He further went on to explain that characteristics of xenophobia are not unique to South Africa saying “xenophobia manifests itself in different ways and violence is one is one of them.”
Nigerian ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke suggested that South Africa’s apartheid past has contributed to the onslaught of xenophobic violence, suggesting that “poor white South Africans find themselves in the same basket as poor migrants.”
Ajulu-Okeke added that South African society is still segmented “You have shed apartheid but you are still segmented. You live in segments, in pockets. You need vibrancy.”
Journalist and moderator Xolani Gwala suggested that the attempts governments and leaders in creating an ‘African Renaissance’ under a political framework are “high-brow things that do not include society.”
After the floor opened for a Q&A session audience members commented on the lack diversity of the panelists, with one saying that there is a problem with having a panel where the South African government is not invited to engage in dialogue “but a foreign government is given a platform to pontificate.”
Misago however made a call to the audience saying,“if violence against outsiders makes sense, we are all in trouble because we are all outsiders in one way or another.”