This Wednesday, Deputy Minister Cyril Ramaphosa was in parliament to answer questions from members of the National Council of Provinces. A question or two was dedicated to the ongoing energy crisis and government’s plans to arrest the decline into a full blown crisis. But perhaps the most striking question was whether the recent spate of xenophobic attacks that swept through Soweto and parts of Cape Town would ‘cause any harm to government’s attempts at fostering social cohesion?’
Attacks a grave concern to the government
The deputy president stressed that this was still top on government’s list of priorities.“These attacks that are being inflicted against foreign nationals are obviously of grave concern to the Republic of South Africa and South African citizens who embrace the values of our Constitution,” he said.
“Our security services will continue to monitor areas that are affected and likely to be affected by these violent attacks,” Ramaphosa continued. The deputy president also stated that government would continue to ‘stabilise’ areas where incidents of xenophobia had occurred and promised that those responsible for the attacks would ‘meet the full might of the law’. However, he ended his answer by adding that the violence was only a symptom of our fractured society and that government was more concerned with tackling the root of the problem:
“To effectively deal with violence against foreign nationals we need to increase efforts to promote social cohesion and nation building. Communities… which value tolerance and respect for others are less likely to incite violence against foreign nationals.”
The Constitution vs the reality
Section 9 of our Constitution guarantees freedom of equality while also safeguarding all who live in South Africa against any forms of discrimination. “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit from the law,” it reads. But the reality is often divorced from the writing. During the height of the recent xenophobic attacks in Soweto, some foreign nationals reported that the police either refused to help them or were active participants in the looting. Unnerving, especially when you add that to the fact that when the violence first started rearing its head in January, Gauteng police commissioner Joel Mothiba said the incidents “were criminal not xenophobic”. Is it any surprise, then, that the police force fails to inspire any confidence from the victims of these attacks?
Where do we go from here?
Up. That’s generally the only direction to go once you’ve reached rock-bottom. And let’s make no mistake, the recent wave of xenophobia must register as a shameful low point in our country’s democracy. And, as vulgar as the violence was, it isn’t the worst of it. Neither is the alleged complicity of the police. No. What should inspire a deep sense of shame in each of us is that this year saw the rebirth of a monster that we thought we left in 2008. A monster that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place. Seven years ago, this happened. And its happened again. The looting, deaths and the promises that we would never let it happen again. But it has. And unless the problem is dealt with from the roots, we are merely suspending an injustice that is bound to happen again.
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