SAIIA strongly condemns xenophobic attacks, calls for leaders to ‘step up to the plate’

Image: Getty, John Moore

South Africans like to repeat a saying that is supposed to encompass the country’s philosophy and behaviour: ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’, or a person is a person through other people.

It speaks to the idea of community being one of the building blocks of society. It’s the idea of all of us being one, all part of a common humanity. South Africa has also declared ubuntu as defining its international relations. The concept of ubuntu diplomacy was central to the white paper on foreign policy in 2011. Our foreign policy also has Africa at the heart of its agenda. Our constitution elevates inclusiveness and non-discrimination as core values.

Yet time and again, we fail – as a state, as society and as individuals.

The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) is appalled at the violence, vandalism and mayhem that has played out in recent days across parts of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, largely against people from the rest of the African continent.

All South Africans have a responsibility to stand up against these violent actions and say #NotInMyName. But there is a bigger responsibility on the country’s political leadership to desist from statements that single out the ‘other’ and that place blame for South Africa’s many socio-economic challenges at the doorstep of others.

Xenophobia must be called by its true name ‘hate of others’, which is unacceptable to any society that seeks to embrace diversity, recognise its common humanity and learn from the mistakes of its past.

Many migrants have contributed to job creation, innovation, social delivery and welfare. They have cleaned houses, educated our children, contributed to knowledge generation, and successfully managed small and large businesses. Unfortunately, migrants are easy scapegoats.

Our politicians must step up to the plate. Criminals must be prosecuted, order must be restored, and starting now, we need civic education built on a common humanity, not on exclusion and discrimination.

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