Xenophobia today, genocide tomorrow?

Xenophobia in South Africa
South Africa

The condemnations and demonstrations sound similar to those of 2008. So what ought to change? asks Tokyo Sexwale.

Durban – The dust is settling after the xenophobic fallout over the past weeks in South Africa. This sad episode competed for global headlines with, inter alia, clashes in the US, Chile’s volcano eruption, the Nepalese earthquake and African migrant’s misery in Europe.

As South Africans, we must avoid the comfort zone of hiding our shame behind negative headlines elsewhere.


We need to pose the right questions; how did we end here again? What happened to experiences from the xenophobia of 2008, which captured headlines through the horror of a Mozambican being burnt alive?

Today’s narrative – the condemnations and demonstrations, though positive – sound similar to those of 2008. So what ought to change? Are we doing the correct analyses and implementing the appropriate solutions?


Xenophobia was central at last year’s Johannesburg summit of Global Watch – Say No To Racism-Discrimination In All Sport.

The summit was addressed by among others, President Jacob Zuma and former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.


It was endorsed by several Nobel Laureates and distinguished luminaries like Fifa’s Sepp Blatter, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and others.

Although Global Watch is focused on eradication of prejudices from sport, the summit concluded that these are essentially societal evils. The high calibre of attendees was the world’s reaffirmation of South Africa as the torchbearer against intolerance, as apartheid was defeated here.


The Summit Global Charter, states: “Global Watch is concerned about the unsettling and rising trend of social evils… undermining our common humanity.

“These negatives take the form of inter alia – racial bigotry, cultural divisions, gender discrimination, religious intolerance, ethnic strife, nationalistic hatred and xenophobia.”


Thus in dealing with the current situation, a leaf may be taken from the proposed three sets of measures adopted at the summit. These are Education-Awareness-Advocacy; Monitoring-Analysing-Prevention; Cautions-Sanctions-Legal Action.

Today many are posing the same question: What is wrong in South Africa? They also recall that the world had in 2001 assembled here for the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” which produced the UN Durban Declaration.


Thus the world is, indeed, justified in expressing grave concern about the turn of events.

However, we can state, unequivocally, that constitutionally and institutionally South Africa still remains very much opposed to racism and all prejudices.

Unlike the apartheid crime which was government driven, the government is opposed to xenophobia.

The few criminal elements who take advantage of the misery of the poor in South Africa, including economic immigrants, have no place in our society.


The communities, civil society and government, as recently seen, showed a united front against xenophobia.

Law enforcement agencies are acting against perpetrators.

The concern is that of low numbers of convictions by the justice system. This ought to change drastically.


Notwithstanding, the following issue arises: Despite South Africa being signatory to international protocols protecting refugees, is the policy of border controls and management being appropriately implemented? Concerning the possible increased inflow of desperate migrants, like in Europe, what plans are there to address the potential refugee crisis to prevent future xenophobic incidents?

Regarding the thorny issue of the “rampaging-rhino-in-the-room,” three questions arise: First, hasn’t the time arrived, in all sincerity, to cast the searchlight upon the man-made inhumane conditions prevalent in the countries from where people are fleeing into South Africa; and also into Europe from the African continent?


Second, is it not about time to similarly focus the spotlight upon those responsible for creating such conditions?

Third, should perpetrators continue to enjoy the limelight despite numerous condemnatory resolutions of international organisations, such as the UN and the AU?

Indeed, South Africa owes its development to many nationalities from across the world.


Some arrived as colonialists, others as economic migrants and others as refugees. However, it has mainly been developed upon the cheap labour of its own people and of fellow Africans.

On achieving independence, African states, like others elsewhere, also provided support to South Africans who fled from the apartheid regime.

This history must never be forgotten. The ignorant need to be educated. Hence the call for African solidarity and unity.


Today xenophobia targets those from outside national borders.

Next, those outside provincial ones.

Someday those outside tribal boundaries. It knows no borders…

The grim lessons of Rwanda still haunt us. The xenophobia of today is the genocide of tomorrow. Those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its terrible mistakes.

The powerful words of Nelson Mandela should be heeded.


“Never, never, never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world! Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. God bless Africa.”

* Tokyo Sexwale is president of Global Watch.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Daily News