Realizing that xenophobic attacks are far from over in South Africa, Africa Unite Peer Educators and Intern decided to plan a community dialogue to address the recurring xenophobia. On 5 June 2013, a dialogue was held at the Old Methodist Trinity Church in Nyanga to discuss the realities of xenophobia and its consequences in our communities. Participating in the exchange were both South Africans and foreign nationals living in Nyanga and surrounding communities. The dialogue sought to define xenophobia and its causes, reach a common understanding, and propose possible solutions to stop violence and discrimination.
Before beginning, the Facilitator invited those that have experienced xenophobic violence to share their stories. These personal accounts served as proof of the effects of xenophobia on the lives of people which enforced the importance of our dialogue. One woman spoke of the loss of homes and property of foreigners and the dangers of using public transport. She explained that even children from migrant families were beaten up and attacked on their way to school. Another woman told a story of her own family, as they were forced to run away from the city at the height of xenophobic violence in 2008. She and her family had to camp out on an isolated beach for three days before feeling safe enough to return to populated areas. A South African raised the point that the violence extended even to native citizens that were kind to foreigners or spoke against xenophobia.
After these stories, everyone split into smaller groups to define what xenophobia actually means. Each group presented their definition and answered questions from the other groups. The definitions varied and emphasized very different aspects of xenophobia, but there were still some common themes. Each group agreed that xenophobia was discrimination resulting from cultural differences, and many agreed that language and behaviors were major factors. A more important similarity between the definitions was a focus on fear, and it was agreed that fear is a major cause of xenophobic violence. This portion of the dialogue ended with a further discussion of the causes of xenophobia. It was agreed upon that another significant cause is frustration on the part of South Africans when they witness foreigners able to fulfill basic needs, while they themselves must live without.
The dialogue continued, as everyone shared their ideas and reconciled conflicting opinions. The facilitator then explained the 4 roles of xenophobic violence, and urged everyone to consider which part they took during the 2008 attacks and now. These roles are perpetrator, bystander, victim, and healer. In order to better fill the role of healer, the dialogue concluded with a discussion of possible solutions against xenophobia. Many agreed that there needs to be more discussion in communities about the issue and more efforts to integrate and socialize with foreigners. One person addressed the role of community providers and non-profits, saying that they need to do more to advocate against xenophobia and help those disadvantaged by it. It was also suggested that greater awareness of other cultures would minimize discrimination, and that the media could play a role in providing a look into other African cultures.
The dialogue brought together many different people and ideas, achieved some better understanding, and generated valuable solutions and strategies. However, it is important that efforts against xenophobia are ongoing, and that everyone shares the experience with their communities. Africa Unite hopes to hold a follow up event to further discussion strategies and monitor the impact of this dialogue.