Written by Ellen Rosenberg; Photos by Nicky Newman
As most of you have undoubtedly heard, violent attacks, primarily on African refugees living in South African townships, have made international news in the past few months. While CHOSA is not a news agency, we felt it necessary to address this issue to our growing family across the world. It is intrinsic to understand that the mood and actions of the few should not be perceived as that of the whole. While I don’t hold South African citizenship, I feel very much a part of the society in which I spent the last three years. On a personal level, I am shocked, disappointed, angry and ashamed of the actions of my “fellow” South Africans. On May 21, Abahlali baseMjondolo, a Durban-based shack-dweller’s movement, posted a message to all on their website, “An action can be illegal. A person cannot be illegal. A person is a person where ever they may find themselves.” (Abahlali baseMjondolo)
News coverage has highlighted the brutal and inhumane treatment of Mozambicans, Congolese, Burundians, Malawians, Zimbabweans, Somalis and refugees from many other countries living in the shanty towns throughout South Africa. However, the painful truth is that the attacks were not isolated to these groups. Attacks on groups of fellow South Africans, such as Pedis and Shaangans, have been reported on many local news websites. By May 28, CNN reported that more than 56 had been killed and 50,000 people had been displaced as a direct result of the recent attacks. Today’s casualties are reported to be much higher than this.
The Mail and Guardian, a widely distributed news-source in South Africa, argues that “Although the ferocity and scale of these attacks are new, the sensibilities driving them are familiar and somewhat vintage”. In fact, foreigners living in South Africa have routinely been victimized by their South African counterparts and, even more frightening, are systematically unable to access the protection and services they require from the state. I can only imagine what it would be like to flee your home country in search of safety, only to find yourself and your family under attack once you’ve settled in another place.
The reasoning behind the anger and brutality of the attacks has been explained to be coming from the frustration of South African citizens at the slow (and sometimes absent) delivery of basic services including electricity, toilets,
housing, running water and trash removal. While there is absolutely no excuse or rationale to condone the climate of hostility, nonetheless, it is important to understand the complaints and explanations.
We, as members of the CHOSA community, must continue to support the citizens who are peacefully advocating and working to better their own circumstances. Abahlali discusses many of the preconceived notions about foreigners, detailing and refuting accusations one-by-one. “People also say that people born in other countries are willing to work for very little money bringing everyone’s wages down. But we know that people are desperate and struggling to survive everywhere. Fight for strong unions that cover all sectors, even informal work. Don’t turn your suffering neighbors into enemies.” (Abahlali baseMjondolo) It is a detriment to all to promote a culture of exclusivity and hatred of our neighbors. Let us hope for progress and promotion of a culture of inclusion, cooperation and mutual understanding.
If you have comments or questions, please join CHOSA’s online community where we can engage in discussions on this and other topics pertinent to CHOSA’s work in South Africa.