Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fighting Foreigners as new weapon to Address Poor Services Delivery and Economic Challenges in South Africa

This year’s World Refugee Day commemoration was much special for and in the South Africa due to the recent xenophobic attacks on foreigners. Last year when we organized the Refugee Stand up and Speak out against Xenophobia Event; we have campaigned and raised awareness of our people and local authorities to the challenges of fighting all kind of xenophobic behaviours. The purpose was to develop a sense of peaceful ‘co-habitation’, harmony and partnership between South Africans and No-Nationals or foreigners living in the country.

In fact, many analyses and researches were/are highly claiming that South African xenophobia was/is in reality about anti-black foreign sentiments, and it is not about the fear of foreigners, but mainly about intense dislike, which is often expressed in terms of verbal and physical abuse. Additionally, in South Africa this subjective fear and absolute dislike seems to have translated itself into intense tension and violence by South Africans towards foreigners. This is to signify not only attitudes of dislike and fear, but also violent actions against foreigners in South Africa. This was effective when xenophobic attacks on No-Nationals started at Alexander location and quickly spreads throughout Gauteng Province and other provinces.

However, during the commemoration of the World Refugee Day last year, the minister of the Department of Home Affairs during her speech recognised the challenges they are facing in the department on one hand and in the country in the other hand. She has called her fellow countrymen and women to develop two core values – tolerance and acceptance - for a peaceful co-habitation with foreigners in general and asylum seekers and refugees in particular. She believed that “violence cannot be solution to our problems”. Was her address heard or not? Was it a deliberated and planned action? What were the core motivations of these attacks?

To these interrogations many and different views come from sociologist, anthropologist, politics and so on. However, it is really disturbing to experience what happened in South Africa recently. Consequently, South Africa’s government was forced to put ‘Temporary Shelters’ if not ‘refugee camps’ for the victims, despite its reputation of having an urban-based refugee population mostly based in the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. This has hampered the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into South African society. Foreigners have experienced discrimination from various service providers and the public as consequence of high levels of xenophobia.

A refugee however has the right to safe asylum, and should receive the same rights and basic services as any other foreigner who is a legal resident, including freedom of thought, of movement and freedom from torture and degrading treatment. Economic and social rights are equally applicable. Refugees should be given access to medical care, education and the right to work.

It is more than important to work towards the protection of the vulnerable communities more particularly asylum seekers and refugees. Despite civil society organisations and government authorities’ condemnation of the recent barbaric attacks on foreigners, it is still crucial and challenging for them to educate our people on Refugee’s conventions and protocols that South Africa is one of signatories. Because of its current leading role in and for the continent in pushing the African Union, New Partnership for Africa Development and Other regional organisations’ agenda. It is our responsibility to educate and remind our people to develop the spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ and of ‘Pan-African’. Since our division will not favour our strength; our unity will empower and help us to fight together the challenges of development and others in the continent.