Dear Madam, Open Letter to the Minister of Justice on xenophobic attacks against Somali and other Refugees Dear Minister, We are making this an open letter not to insult your powerful and respectable office; we are making it an open letter because we know that the content of this letter will benefit many Africans that come across it.
September 1, 2006 The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Republic of South Africa.
Dear Madam, Open Letter to the Minister of Justice on xenophobic attacks against Somali and other Refugees Dear Minister, We are making this an open letter not to insult your powerful and respectable office; we are making it an open letter because we know that the content of this letter will benefit many Africans that come across it. We therefore pledge our maximum loyalty to your office as we perform our historic duty as pan Africanists.
That the Republic of South Africa is a giant in our continent of Africa can easily be seen in the role South Africa has played in the continent.
Countries like Burundi, DRC, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Lesotho, Liberia and even Zimbabwe have benefited from the pan-Africanist tendency of the ANC led government of South Africa. Other countries like Nigeria have benefited from South Africa in areas like investments and skills transfer.
Since the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, many suffering Africans have seen South Africa as their only hope for survival. We are well aware that the average African on the continent has not escaped the “slave living standard” imposed by “senseless” wars, ethnic & religious conflicts, corruption and dictatorship.
Today, millions of African immigrants live happily in South Africa. That goes to show the magnanimity of South Africa and South Africans. South Africa has opened up opportunities for many of the immigrants, as there are many today that are doing very well in various professions. Today, many Africans are happily married to South Africans and contrary to popular “gossips” making the round, there are many of them living happily with their wives, husbands and children.
That South Africa has given hope to many hopeless Africans has already been noted by history and in decades to come, Africans yet unborn will read about how South Africa emerged from the turbulent miasma of apartheid to pilot Africa from the compass of retrogression to the canvass of progressive existence. South Africa through President Thabo Mbeki (Mbeki, Zuma, Mandela, Tambo, Steve Bantu Biko, Tutu, Shuttleworth and many more South African icons are widely loved and respected around Africa today) helped to transform the “ideologically diseased O.A.U” into a methodological and well-structured institution that we call the African Union (AU). We all know that President Thabo Mbeki is one of those that drafted the NEPAD document.
Madam Minister, democratic South Africa is the paragon of African democracy. Today, many Africans look at South Africa and how things are going and ask:, “why is my country not like this?” There is nothing wrong with an average African. Every human being seeks a good and happy life and the African is not different. Those that leave their countries leave, as they cannot continue to face danger from wars, tribal & religious conflicts, dictatorship and corruption. South Africa has been actively involved in building democratic institutions in the continent. A perfect example is the on-going elections in the DRC. Though violence has remained almost “prevalent” in the DRC, the first round of the elections was held in an atmosphere that was generally free and fair. South Africans themselves have taken part in many pro-democratic initiatives across the continent. Some of those we readily recall include:
- Swaziland - Efforts to democratize Swaziland has received sympathy from many progressive South Africans. COSATU and the SACP have consistently supported movements that agitate for democracy in Swaziland.
- Nigeria - In the dark days of the late Nigerian dictatator, Gen. Sanni Abacha, about 56 progressive movements in South Africa including the ANC, SACP, and other NGOs like Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Amnesty International, Lawyers for Human Rights, FGD, Earthlife Africa and SANGOCO among others collaborated with local Nigerian movements in agitating for sanctions against Nigeria. They established an organization called the South Africa Nigeria Democracy Support Group. Our Comrade, Hilary Ojukwu arrived in South Africa to work with that group.
- Burundi - Many South Africans have also worked with Burundian refugees based in South Africa. We know of a local NGO called, the Burundian Organisation for Peace and Reconciliation (BOPR) where South Africans from different backgrounds were made to interact with Burundian refugees to understand their problems and thus assist in helping them cope with the difficulties of living in a foreign country. Organisations like the Quaker Peace Center was actively involved in the BOPR programme.
- DRC - Congolese in South Africa have partnered with South Africans. One of the organizations used to make that interaction possible is the Congolese Organisation for Peace and Reconciliation.
- Zimbabwe - Since the inception of the quagmire the Zimbabwean economy has become, many South African Activists have been at the frontline of the struggle against the unpalatable conditions that allow poverty to rear its ugly head. Some like COSATU and the SACP have even taken the challenge to Zimbabwe themselves only to be arrested. Many other organizations and NGO across South Africa have been vocal on the Zimbabwean imbroglio.
- Western Sahara - Today, thanks to South Africa and others, Western Sahara that is seeking independence from Morocco is a signatory to the Constitutive Act of the African Union and is recognized as a sovereign entity.
- Palestine - South Africans have also been involved in struggles for freedom beyond the continent of Africa. The case of Palestine is indeed outstanding. We have seen South Africans march in their millions for freedom in Palestine and peace in the Middle East. Organisations like the Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG), Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), ANC, COSATU, SACP, WIVL, and Anti-War Coalition among others.
Attack on Somalia Migrants Madam Minister, it is against the backdrop of the above and the fact of the historic role that has been thrusted upon South Africa in the revival of Africa that we condemn the alleged gruesome attack on refugees, especially Somalians by some aggrieved South Africans who blame the Somalians for their woes and conditions. We believe the sordid details of those reports have since reached the Minister and we will not engage to recall them.
It is indeed unbelievable that despite the rich history of activism and progressivism that South Africa has, the perpetrators of “xenophobic embarrassment” continue to operate with impunity. We still see racists that are proud to be racists and we have xenophobes that are proud xenophobes.
There are many Africans that came to South Africa to learn how things are done, but today, many South Africans treat them with suspicion. Madam Minister, you would agree with us that there is a problem if Africans do not build trust and unity to overcome our common problem of poverty.
Madam Minister, South Africans need to be made aware of the problems and calamities the refugees have encountered in their lives before arriving in South Africa. Some of them have languished in jails because of their political beliefs; many have lost loved ones to assassinations, murders and tortures. Others have been raped and simonized and left to die. We need to teach our people here in South Africa that the refugees are being chased and harassed in their own lands and have come to South Africa for survival and safety. As good Africans that we are, and in the spirit of “Ubuntu”, we need to help lessen their burden. Just as we assist them, we also pick up new skills from them and new ways of doing things and solving problems. It is a truism that every human being has a value and the society can only be blamed for some valueless persons as it is only the society that determines how far a man can reach in realizing his or her potential. Great societies make great men and Bad societies make bad men.
Some of the reasons why Xenophobia persist
- Xenophobia persists when refugees are made to look different from the citizens of the host country. Refugees can be made to look different if the method used to identify them is different from the one used to identify the citizens as the citizens see the difference and may begin to think that refugees are people that should be treated differently.
- Xenophobia persists when financial institutions like banks turn refugees away when they go to open bank accounts. The people see that and begin to think that refugees are people that should be treated differently.
- Xenophobia persists when the police always has to stop non violent and orderly people to ask for permits (like they used to do in the days of apartheid) only because they are foreigners or look like foreigners. It is clear the citizens see the difference and may begin to think that refugees are people that should be treated differently.
- Xenophobia persists when the refugees themselves do not get involved in community work. If there is a community crisis where help is needed, they look away as this is not their country. Many refugees do not care about what is going on in the country due to the same mentality of saying, “This is not my country”. The refugees must work with South Africans. They must not cling to themselves, but must open their minds and embrace South Africanness. If they continue to alienate themselves from South Africans, Xenophobia will surely rise.
- There are companies that do not employ refugees if when they are qualified. In many countries in the world, the government takes it as their responsibility to ensure that every refugee that has qualification is gainfully employed. When companies do not employ refugees, they are sending out “dangerous” signal to the citizens that “refugees are undesirables”.
- Xenophobia persists if people openly poke jokes at refugees on the street by calling them funny names (all Africans are guilty of this) or by openly laughing at them.
Madam Minister, we will therefore use this medium to proffer long and short-term solutions.
- Set up Refugee protection centers at places where incidents of xenophobic attacks are high. The centers will be responsible with informing the communities about the plights of the refugees and the need for everyone to participate in assisting them. The centers will also encourage refugees to participate in community projects where they can interact with the local people.
- The police should set up refugee protection unit (if they do not have)
that serve to protect refugees that are in any kind of danger. The refugee protection unit has to be located close to hotspots for quick response.
- Make refugee-work compulsory for NGOs and CBOs seeking registration with the registrar.
- Provide incentives to companies to employ refugees.
- Financial institutions that discourage refugees should be discouraged.
- Give recognition to outstanding refugees that are helping to develop their communities.