Speech notes: Matter of public importance: xenophobia

By Athol Trollip (MPL) Leader in the provincial legislature:

During a sitting today the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature held a debate on xenophobia.  My speech was interrupted throughout by members of the ANC who were trying to contextualise statements and actions that led to xenophobic bloodshed. 

I was appalled by this response as I had expected to hear a united clarion call of NO TO XENOPHOBIA AND NOT IN OUT NAME.  The ANC’s behaviour in today’s debate was deplorable.

Greek “Xenos” – foreign “Fobos” – Fear
Fear of foreigner
Holocaust – destruction or less of life on a massive scale
Greek “Holo” “Whole” – Kaiein” – to burn
Hatred – intense dislike
Ethnicity – Belonging to a human group with racial, religious and linguistic characteristics in common
Ethnocentric – Relates to the belief that one’s own nation culture or group is intrinsically superior
Ethnic cleansing – The practise of a dominant ethnic group in an area, of removing other ethnic groups by expulsion or extermination
Genocide – Deliberate killing of a people or nation

These are merely words coupled to explanations of what they mean, extracted from the New English dictionary.

Of course as words they are harmless inanimate language constructs, but these words in practise have caused devastation of such proportion across the globe that anything that resembles a mere proximity to these words must be countered without any ambiguity. What makes these words and the import of their meaning so calamitous is that they are so easily ignited and so difficult to stop once inflamed.

This is why it is so important for us as leaders to be constantly aware of societal tensions and avoid making irresponsible and inflammatory statements.

In Rwanda we saw nearly 1 million Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus being killed by a crazed Hutu ethnic group that called the ethnic minority Tutsi’s “cockroaches” and incited their extermination.

We saw this happen in Bosnia where the SERBS killed thousands of BOSNIAN Muslims and expelled almost 30 000 from the town of Srebrenica. This happened in a very short space of time as in Rwanda which illustrates how inflammable ethnicity and xenophobia are.

We therefore should have no tolerance for the utterance of any kind of incendiary statements from anyone, least of all from people who have enormous influence.

We saw how quickly the latest outbreaks of Xenophobia engulfed a number of communities in KZN. This outbreak of xenophobic violence was precipitated by certain utterances attributed to King Goodwill Zwelithini “umlomo ongakhulumi manga” the “mouth that tells no lies”.

The king’s utterances and sentiments were subsequently endorsed and repeated by the President’s son, Edward Zuma.

The killing of Mr Sithole a Mozambican immigrant might have been construed as lawlessness by some, but I have no doubt that the bystanders who stood and watched the senseless and savage killing would have intervened if he was not an immigrant and regarded as expendable.

What really makes all of this so sad is that it took more than a week for the king to do anything to retrieve or try to extinguish the volatile and inflamed situation precipitated by him. Even then when he convened the Imbizo he sought to contextualize what he said and to transfer the blame to a third force. The President and government have yet to denounce any of these utterances.

The HRC, under Lawrence Mushwana , a notorious foot dragger when it comes to holding the line on anything is still tiptoeing around King Goodwill Zwelithini in their so called effort to investigate the matter. This is the kind of environment that ethnicity and xenophobia thrives in.

I purposefully didn’t seek to define the word “Afro phobia” because I believe that it has been used euphemistically in this case. Africans don’t fear each other, they love each other that’s where UBUNTU comes from.

There is a direct link between the amount of immigrants in South Africa and xenophobia

Currently there are 12.5 million internally displaced people in Africa most of whom leave their countries to seek refugee status in neighbouring countries.

Migration refers to the movement of people from one place to another. The reasons for migration are varied, and include, firstly, wars, political or ethnic persecution, climate change, and lack of job opportunities or simple poverty. Secondly, migrants may opt to move to a different country simply because they want to enjoy a better standard of living. In this case the hundreds of thousands if not millions of Zimbabweans that live in South Africa have come here because Robert Mugabe has destroyed their country and its economy.

In terms of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

South Africa is currently party to the 1951 UN Convention and is bound by international law and standards to provide assistance to refugees that enter our borders.

It is the primary responsibility of the state to protect its citizens. But when a government is unwilling or unable to protect the rights of its citizens, an individual may be left with no other choice but to leave the borders of his or her country in order to seek safety. Our constitution makes provision for the protection and safety of everyone in our country legally or illegally that is why it is so disgraceful that we as South Africans can watch people being killed, burnt, raped and pillaged without doing anything to stop it.

Migration is a currently a global issue especially in Africa where recently many people displaced by war and conflict are attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea at great risk in the hopes of finding a better life in Europe.  Similarly many people see South Africa as a place of opportunity hence the current influx of migrants that South Africa has experienced over the past few years. Despite massive joblessness in South Africa and a faltering economy there is still opportunity for people with an entrepreneurial spirit and who are prepared to work hard, so it is into this vacuum that immigrant move.

In this regard we must consider how it is that such entrepreneurs and productive foreigners arrive in our midst. I recall former President Mbeki saying the following about our porous borders.

“We will do everything necessary to ensure that as Africans, regardless of our geographic origins, we will once more live together as Africans, at peace with one another, refusing to impose on ourselves a new apartheid order;”

We will work expeditiously to achieve the reintegration of all the displaced Africans within the communities from which they were forced to flee because of murderous criminal activities; (We haven’t)

As we work to improve our social and national cohesion, we will also address the challenge to entrench the understanding that this includes full acceptance within all our communities of new residents from other countries, as well as the understanding among the latter that we welcome them as good neighbours and citizens;

We will work to mobilize all our communities to isolate and defeat the evil elements in our midst who target vulnerable African migrants, subjecting them to violent attacks for criminal purposes and personal gain;

We will take all necessary and possible measures to sustain respect for the law and our Constitutional order by all who live in our country, and the safety and security of all these, whether native-born or immigrant”.

Then contrast this with what President  Zuma said at his Freedom Day address to take a firm stance on xenophobic violence that has gripped the country, lashing out at governments who “criticize the South African government but their citizens are in our country”. Yet we support and tip toe around these countries political excesses.

He said: “As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries and are in South Africa?” he asked.

We must ask ourselves about this contradiction and why it is so easy for foreign nationals to get South African identity and citizenship from our own Home Affairs offices and officers. Why is it so easy for people from all over the world to enter our borders illegally and live here, yet we make it almost impossible for those who seek to come and live and trade here legally.  Has comradely countenance and cadre deployment not also delivered this to our nation??

Xenophobic attacks may arise due to the resentment felt by the local population in being forced to share scarce resources with the refugees; the local population may blame the refugees for their troubles (e.g. poverty, bad service, low employment rates etc.). The problem of xenophobia is especially relevant in the South African context, given the recent spate of attacks on foreigners by the local population.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides a frame of reference for the determination of refugee status in compliance with international human rights, the Refugees Act therefore serves as the central feature of refugee protection in South Africa within the broad field of human rights.

Ubuntu is a firm basis for the protection of refugees in South Africa and can be defined as a humanistic experience of treating all people with respect, granting them their human dignity, encompassing universal values of brotherhood for Africans, sharing, treating and respecting refugees as human beings.

Why then do we treat the self-same African brothers that sheltered so many of us during the liberation struggle with such little UBUNTU or not at all??

Why do we take offence when offended countries such as Nigeria recall their diplomats? I would suggest it is because this situation is one of our own making and the current government doesn’t know how to deal with it.

I would like to conclude by paying tribute to all the civil society groups, the religious fraternity, the universities and schools and all the other institutions including ours that have held various anti xenophobia activities and debates. We must condemn any form of xenophobia and racial intolerance because of where we come from. We should all say NOT IN MY NAME. NOT IN MY NAME.