The socio-economic inequalities inherited from the Apartheid are some of the root causes of the current segregated societies where people from different racial backgrounds do not have enough time and space for interactions, healing and building ties. Experience has shown that those citizens, who have had opportunities to interact with diverse groups in a meaningful way, are less likely to be racist or xenophobic. These processes of interaction, however, will only succeed if they are specifically constructed to allow for dialogue and meaningful interaction. By implication, this means that such interaction cannot just be coincidental, but needs to be organized and facilitated.
To celebrate human rights month, Africa Unite brought 65 young people from different backgrounds and areas of Cape Town (Khayelitsha, Bellville, Goodwood, Woodstock, Bo Kaap, Bishop Lavis, Mowbray, Delft, Sea Point, Hanover Park etc) who gathered at Constantia Nek Route early in the morning to take upon the challenge of hiking Table Mountain together.
The purpose of the hike was to create a platform for young people to know each other and create new friendships to strengthen their ties and break the existing social barriers. Besides the beautiful mountains surrounding Cape Town which attract so many tourists and hikers, many young people from previously disadvantaged communities have less opportunities to hike.
Before hiking the youth were given brief information on the route and Table Mountain in general by one of the rangers from Table Mountain National Park. The rangers also followed the group during the course of the hike. During the hike, we saw that participants developed a strong team spirit and rapidly built solidarity in an effort to reach the top of the mountain. Half way through the hike some of the youth participants could not continue anymore as they were exhausted especially those who had never hiked before in their lives. Despite the other youth being motivated to reach the top, some of them offered to remain behind and assist those who were legging behind. Surprisingly the much-awaited rains in Cape Town started pouring – although everyone was happy with the rains they were mixed reactions amongst the youth as others were determined to continue and others felt it was better to go back down.
Eventually the group decided to go back to the office to have more discussions. The purpose of the discussion was to stimulate young people to think about some burning issues related to social cohesion in South Africa, and come up with innovative solutions to solve these challenges. Therefore, young people were split the into 3 groups and each group was given a question to discuss on. The questions were are as follows:
- Why is it difficult to have people from different communities to do activities together?
- What can we do as young people to create more spaces for interaction between people from different backgrounds?
- Is xenophobia the sign of the failure of nation building in South Africa?
Outcomes of the discussions
Why is it difficult to have people from different communities to organize activities together?
This debate started with a consensus: a lot of organisations in South Africa are struggling in gathering all the communities for an event. Indeed, black, coloured and white communities in Cape Town are living in different areas. The diversity of the languages is also sometimes a challenge as each group tends to speak in its language to prevent the others to understand.
Moreover, some people mentioned that the state plays a role in highlighting the differences already existing amongst South Africans instead of looking for a ground of cohesion and unity. In some official documents people still need to mention their race or nationality: black, white, coloured and Indian.
Furthermore, the youth stressed out that the events that happened in the past created a ground for fear and suspicion notably amongst black and White people in South Africa. For instance, they mentioned that a lot of white South Africans feel rejected and not legitimate in South Africa despite being born here. For that reason, some avoid meeting with other communities because of the fear of being blamed and identified as perpetrators.
In addition, the group also noted that majority of Black South Africans feel that since the attainment of freedom, white people and former settlers never gave back this country to the indigenous black populations and therefore we still see a lot of economic disparities. This makes it difficult for people from different racial groups to meet because of these unresolved sensitive issues.
What can we do as young people to create more spaces for interaction between people from different backgrounds?
In this group, they all agreed on the fact that sport is a good way to gather people from different backgrounds and communities.
Besides, they argued that the ability to mobilize people depends on the topic of the meeting. The more the meeting will be political the less people will come to discuss sensitive issues.
Therefore, the youth suggested that there should be more spaces for young people to interact and express themselves through creative art and sports. This can lead to more informal discussions between the youth. They also mentioned that workshops are also efficient in leading people towards reflection and debate to improve social cohesion. The bottom line is that the youth must find activities common interests which can bring them together.
Is xenophobia the sign of the failure of nation building?
In this group, the youth said that xenophobia is mainly explained by poverty and the lack of opportunities for black people since the end of the apartheid. They said that officially apartheid ended but nowadays there is still discrimination and an unequal access to economic opportunities because of the huge differences of incomes and that is a failure of the nation building.
During the conversation, it was discussed that sometimes South Africans coming from communities where there are many socio-economic challenges, feel inferior when they see foreigners opening businesses in their communities. Therefore, this feeling of inferiority creates jealousy and leads to violence.
Very respectfully, a woman asked the facilitators: “Do you think that as a stranger you are more able to work than us?”. Continuing, another said that “Ethiopians are taking our businesses and then we have to work for the strangers”.
The group observed that the real problem that causes xenophobia is that nation building in South Africa is not achieved. In fact, there are still many social and economic inequalities that exclude some people from the economic opportunities. They gave the example of Cape Town, which is a vibrant city, with a nice culture, but they wondered themselves “who is enjoying all of this?”. It is an island of wealth in an ocean of poverty for a lot of black people and coloured people and the government is responsible for solving this issue.
Going back to xenophobia, a woman said people come to South Africa because they also face challenges in their countries of origin. So, even if the struggles are not the same, we must understand that they are looking for better and higher living standards and we should learn from each other and develop a pan Africanist spirit.
The group also asked themselves if the pan Africanist spirit is a utopia in South Africa? A young girl responded that our education system is failing us because it does not reflect what is happening in other African countries. We must research more beyond our own curriculum to understand what is happening in Africa.
Follow up and conclusion
After a long tiresome day, the group developed the following recommendations how to enhance social cohesion and improve inter-racial relations as follows:
- Organise such kind of events on quarterly basis to strengthen the new ties
- Create more spaces for promoting creativity and talents amongst young people
- Create more formal spaces to educate South Africans on what is happening in the rest of other African countries.
- Create more platforms for celebrating cultural diversity.
- Government must find alternatives to addressing youth unemployment
- Create platforms where migrants and refugees can share some of their skills with the host communities to promote the idea that migrants and refugees can also contribute to the skills and economic development of the country.
- Organise more social cohesion workshops in various communities
- Create more platforms where young white South Africans can participate and realise how they also play a role in nation building
After the discussions the group was invited to have a friendly meal together to strengthen the newly established friendships.
Africa Unite would like to thank all the youth from different backgrounds who dedicated their time to join this hike and partner organisation International Youth Peace Group (IPYG) for assisting with the logistics. We would like also to give a special thanks to Mergence Investment Managers (Cape Town) for their generosity in covering all the costs of the day. Without their support this event could not happen.
To view the video click here
Below are a few comments made by some of the participants:
Abongile Mancasa, Khayelitsha
“It was quite surprising for me to see strangers and especially white people encouraging me while I was struggling during the hike. Ubuntu isn’t something from a specific community but can come from anybody with a will to help others and create a sense of community”
Youth from Bishop Lavis
“It was the first time in my life that I met white people asking me how I was”
“ I understood that this hike was not a race and it is the same thing in life. There will be people that are going faster than others but what matters it to keep going forward”
Eben Strydon from Goodwood
“I didn’t know there could be such spaces where white people could also play a role in a friendly way”