The Roundtable Series is supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and aimed to bring together stakeholders from like-minded institutions, representatives of various foreign communities, members of the public at large and any other interested parties, to allow for the sharing of thoughts, opinions and solutions. This forms part of the CUD’s mandate to foster unity through diversity.

At the fourth Roundtable Discussion, the focus was on “Xenophobia and South Africa”. In light of the recurring waves of xenophobic violence in the country, the CUD invited experts to share their views on the South African government’s response to xenophobia and gaps in policing. Experts were also asked to share their views on finding solutions to effectively address the attitudes and  perceptions towards foreign nations who have made their livelihoods and homes in South Africa for various reasons.

The Roundtable Series was opened by Mr Christiaan Endres, the Project Manager of the Cape Town office of KAS. Mr Endres briefly shared with the audience the focus of KAS, a German political foundation centred on the Rule of Law and democracy. Mr Endres spoke about the international phenomena of xenophobia and introduced the three experts.

The first speaker was Ms Rebecca Sibanda, the Legal Officer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CFCR). Ms Sibanda spoke to the definition of xenophobia and its manifestation in South Africa, which includes instances of physical violence, displacement, property damage and verbal assaults. Ms Sibanda also remarked that in South Africa, xenophobia has a distinctive racial edge and is most often directed against black people from other African countries. Ms Sibanda emphasised the need to distinguish facts from perceptions, and to interrogate perceptions voiced by those in powerful positions about migration of foreigners that is not supported by facts. Ms Sibanda furthermore spoke about the danger of denialism and the urgency to acknowledge xenophobia so that it can be properly addressed in policies, prosecution and policing. She concluded by looking at the constitutional provisions, reminding the Government of its duty to protect everyone within its borders.

The second speaker was Mr Themba Masuku, a Consultant at the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). Mr Masuku’s speech focused on the urgent need to criminalise xenophobia. Mr Masuku emphasised that like racism, the extent of the problem of xenophobia in South Africa is unknown but indicators show that the problem is substantial. According to Mr Masuku, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) reported in 2008 that 62 people were killed in incidents linked to xenophobia and in 2019, 12 people were allegedly killed in incidents linked to xenophobia. Mr Masuku spoke about the Prevention and Combatting of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill and how it intends to criminalise xenophobia in the form of hate crimes. Mr Maseku, however, also emphasised that even if xenophobia is criminalised, there is an urgent need to address the underlying economic, social and power dynamics in the spaces foreigners and refugees occupy.

The last speaker, Ms Sufiya Bray, the Senior Advocacy Officer and Project Manager at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) shared her experience with working with migrants and refugees in communities. Ms Bray held that the root of violence was deeply inherited from apartheid, and that deep inequality in our society is a driving force for xenophobia. Ms Bray emphasised that much more needed to be done post-1994 to rebuild our communities and trust between each other. She furthermore emphasised that corruption had deeply impacted the State’s resources, which limits its ability to address xenophobia and related problems. Ms Bray recommended that the State should look at working with community leaders, develop early warning systems and in the long-term, work on better policies and enforce accountability.

The speeches were followed with an interactive question-and-answer session, where speakers were asked, among others, questions on the relocation of refugees, whether law reform could lead to social change and models used by other countries in addressing xenophobia.

Issued by the Centre for Unity in Diversity
18 November 2019

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