By Lutz van Dijk (an edited version was published in the Cape Times of 7 July 2010)
You can feel it – it is not here yet, but in the making: A frightening new round of xenophobia in the townships of South Africa. Scheduled for after the beautiful game, just when all tourists have left happily, still full of positive emotions about the kindness of this rainbow nation.
In some places the exact dates for a new “outbreak” of violence against African refugees are set already. Depending on different areas, either the 14, 15 or 16 of July. No time to waste.
I wish I could ignore it as most of our visiting friends from overseas are full of praise for this excellently organized World Cup and as most of my white South African friends finally enjoy walking safely in our inner city streets again and happily make use of a well running public transport system.
Sadly, I can’t. Working at a children’s home in Masiphumelele, a smaller township community south of Cape Town with an estimated 30.000 residents, the signs are too visible to ignore, although they are somehow still kept under the carpet, at least to the wider public. And Masiphumelele is not a notorious violent place. Not at all. The community was even honoured with an award for reconciliation after it was one of the first communities in 2008 which had leaders and residents who apologized after the attacks and escorted some of the still fearful families back.
But here we are, just a few days ahead of the final game – and this is what already is brewing:
* One of our neighbours next to the children’s home, a young Zimbabwean, approaches me after dark: “They told me to pack up this Sunday, the day after the final.” And if not ? “They will burn our shack. They said: You take our jobs and houses. You know we can do it. Better, you pack up on Sunday !”
* Another Zimbabwean resident adds: “He is in trouble. He hasn’t learnt Xhosa yet. I can speak Xhosa now, they don’t know where I am from. Most of my friends speak only Xhosa with others. Those who came late or still speak Shona only or English for another reason, will be in trouble. As will be the Somalians.”
* A Zimbabwean young mother walks home crying, her small child on her arm: “In the bus from work, some guys from Masi threatened me by shouting: After the World Cup, we get you ! You and your baby girl ! I camly asked: What have we done? You take our jobs. All of you. And he pushed me roughly. Then the busdriver was shouting something to him in Xhosa, they all laughed, but left us alone. I am so frightened.”
* The leader of one of our youth groups, Simphiwe Nkomombini, a most reliable and peaceful man, who has been running this group for years, teaching about the prevention of HIV/Aids, reports most worried after a meeting last week: “Out of the 18 members present only 8 said they would respect the foreigners. The others said: Masi is overcrowded and we need more houses and jobs, and as the government is not meeting the needs of our people we must do something ourselves. Only one girl opted for a solution which she thought is peaceful: They must leave now without violence, and the government must just put them somewhere. Not in our communities, where there is trouble enough.” The youth leader ends his report by saying: “I was so shocked about their readiness to damage… and I will do all in my power to make them think otherwise.”
Yes, there are leaders like this young man and certainly the vast majority of residents in our township community are peaceful and decent people. But not all of them. And it needs only a determined minority of violent people who can easily incite others. It has happened, it can happen again. It needs to be applauded that some church leaders in Masiphumelele and our local councillors have called already for urgent meetings to be this time more preventive to any kind of violence.
It can happen again also because not much has changed since May 2008, despite some moral statements. Most of the protests about poor service delivery are not answered with tangible solutions, but just put on halt – for the “beauty of the game”. After having shown to the world that South Africa can deliver to those who pay, it is time to show that it can also deliver to those who can’t. They are human beings who deserve the same respect as those who can leave in planes.
After working for almost a decade in this township community, mainly on “hot” issues like HIV/Aids and housing, I am convinced that it is not money in the first place which allows development or not. In the first place it is cooperation among those mostly affected and who are often so much better at fighting each other about the always too few resources than at working together and allowing reliable planning. In the second place it is education about the structures of policymaking, the history of certain problems and how to develop a common strategy to succeed. Only then – third place ! – a certain amount of funding can work. If point one and two are ignored, most funding will lead to more fights and after a while, almost unavoidably, to corruption.
What we need now, before the Games end:
Please, Mr President Zuma and Mr President Blatter, praise the people not only for what they have done the past weeks, but be firm and clear that you expect all South Africans to show the same kindness to those foreigners who can’t leave the country after 11 July. They might need our hospitality even more !
Please, teachers and parents, tell your friends and especially your children, about the history of the new South Africa and the end of Apartheid which could have never happened without those African neighbours having welcomed and supported our freedom fighters as refugees when they needed it most.
Please, police and law enforcement, be as efficient towards any start of violence against poor foreigners as you have been wonderful when the more wealthy ones were here. Be firm with those who incite violence. Don’t stand by, don’t look away, don’t wait for instructions from higher levels. Protect everybody in need without fear or favour ! We have seen what you can do !
It is true that there are not enough jobs. But not because of any foreigner, but because our educational system has failed most of our learners so far badly. THIS must change radically ! And nevertheless, each learner must study hard, each parent must support his or her child and all parents must unite for better schools which allow a majority of young people to be skilled and – only then – will get decent jobs.
It is true that there are not enough houses. But not because any poor African refugee is occupying an overpaid small shack, but because many rural parts of this beautiful country need to be urgently developed to avoid the disastrous influx of too many South Africans (not foreigners!) to the cities. And people need to learn to cooperate with government on housing. To sit and wait for a complete brickhouse is only acceptable for the old and sick ones. With the limited resources available people who can work and private businesses need to assist government in this mammoth effort. It can be done, as some housing projects have proven. But it can also fail, as those which are political battlefields have shown.
Every morning during school holidays we have our indaba with all kids at the children’s home. One of them is chairing and all points can be raised. Last Saturday, one topic was violence against foreigners. The older ones remembered well what had happened in May 2008. Then one of our childcare workers, Sinazo Khanyile, a lady from KwaZulu-Natal, told them how she had experienced the violence between Zulu and Xhosa people when she was young. She said: “At one night, some came and shouted against our families. They said: We burn your shacks. You Zulus don’t speak our language. And they wanted to kill a mother in front of our eyes. My father could protect this women in the last minute. I was so small and I was crying. Do you want this to happen to any of our neighbours in Masi ?”
All kids shook their heads. And after a moment of silence they clapped their hands to show their “special Mom” how much they love her and that they would never allow such cruelty. It is in all our hands what these children will say and do in a few years from now.
About the author
Dr Lutz van Dijk is a writer and a co-founder of HOKISA (www.hokisa.co.za), an NGO caring for children affected by HIV/Aids. His novel “Themba” is premiered as an international movie in South Africa on 15 July (Maponya Mall, Johannesburg) and his new novel “Romeo and Jabulile” (about xenophobia in 2008) is released at the Cape Town International Book Fair (29/7- 2/8/2010).
For more about Dr van Dijk’s and his colleagues’ work at HOKISA follow our article