We are all related. #notoxenophobia

BEHIND THE FACES is deeply saddened and shocked with the recent explosion of xenophobic violence in South Africa.  We urge and support all South Africans to demonstrate, through public action, that South Africa is part of Africa and we are all connected.

We are a pan-African Women’s Storytelling Movement.  We connect women from different parts of Africa, building connections and creating awareness of women’s contributions, breaking barriers and celebrating the diversity and similarity amongst African women. Through this we facilitate healing.

Yesterday, BEHIND THE FACES spent time with Lezerine Mashaba who chaired a meeting to assist in planning a national flashmob and campaign against xenophobic violence.

(Lezerine belongs to ACTIVATE! www.activateleadership.co.za a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.)

The campaign will be kickstarted with a flashmob on Saturday 25th  April at 11am to add voices in condemning the current wave of xenophobic violence.  The campaign aims to stand in solidarity with the majority of South Africans who reject xenophobia and violence. The campaign invites all who live by our Constitution “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”.  Details of the campaign can be followed on #weareAfrican or contact Lezerine Mashaba on 087 820 4873.

We asked Lezerine some questions.

Q: South African-perpetuated violence against African foreign nationals has come under intense scrutiny lately. As a young South African woman, how do you feel about this?

A: I think the underlying issue of the xenophobic attacks comes with lack of knowledge around how other African countries have contributed to our economic growth as a country. The people causing this kind of violence see no relation between us and the continent in general.

Q: Africa, and indeed the global community, is formulating a picture of South Africa as a hostile, violent place where its people think nothing of physically attacking nationals from neighbouring and other African countries. What would you like the world to know about South Africans (like yourself)?

A: South Africa has a lot of young people who have the potential to influence change especially around social issues. The principle of ubuntu is understood by many and practiced by few because of our diverse cultures and beliefs. We are passionate about transformation and change; and the reason this is not visible is because we have different challenges and issues we are working on at the same time. Implementation only becomes known and seen when people have one common issue they are dealing with. Young people in this country are powerful when united and are capable of making things happen for themselves and society.

Q: Are all South Africans like the ones we’ve seen in the media lately – hostile, violent, racist and angry?

A: Not all South Africans are angry, violent and racist. Its only a few individuals who live under radically hard conditions and who are less privileged then others who blame their struggle on other people; hence they see the need to attack and discriminate.

Q: How does the South African mindset need to change?

A: We need to learn about and build on our relationships with other African countries.  The concept of ubuntu needs to be emphasized from the primary school level as a principle guide to change.  It’s important for South Africans to understand they are part of a continent, not isolated.  We need to start working with people beyond our borders.

Q: The South African government has started using the term ‘Afrophobia’ to describe xenophobia, ‘the unreasoned fear of that which is foreign or strange.’ The criticism is that this has been done to water down the issue in the eyes of the world. What do you think about it?

A: I think the government needs to focus on the issue and not the concept. South Africans still make these attacks because they still believe themselves to be different from the other Africans especially the East, West and Central Africans. This is an issue which needs national intervention.  Government and citizens need to get to the underlying cause of the violence.  What are the root causes?  We need to put them on the table and discuss them and not try and hide them.  The violence needs to stop.  What is the government doing to halt the violence?  The most important thing for us to focus on is peace and development.  Saying, “Stop The Violence” is not enough.  We are running this campaign to share our views with other South Africans and the world, and to highlight what the people on the ground are saying.  Africa is our home. This violence and killing and looting must never happen again.

Q: How have the xenophobic attacks made you feel?

A: Sad, ashamed, embarrassed and disappointed. Nelson Mandela said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite”.

Q: Coming from drought, war and famine, foreign nationals seek better lives in South Africa, yet what they find here is often far worse. How do you think South Africans could come to understand this better?

A: South Africans need to see foreign nationals as people, human beings who strive for similar values, safety and livelihoods.

Q: Xenophobia stems from an inability to recognise the shared humanity between us. What do you think we as Africans share?

A: We share ubuntu, the land, our diverse cultures. Our beautiful history. Our ancestors married across cultures, across nations. Some of the tribes were born in Africa combining different nationalities. Our languages are indigenous and all related.

Q: As he steered the Rainbow Nation into existence, Nelson Mandela stood for values of respect, tolerance, understanding and forgiveness. How or why do you think we have since lost our moral compass? How can we again find our way?

A: UBUNTU! and compassion – it is a strong concept which is completely lost.

Q: What would you like to see more of in our nation? How can we as individuals make a change in the current situation?

 A: We need to see each other as people first. We need to learn about each other’s culture, and to realize that we are all related, and foreigners, in this continent. We need to regain our African pride and humanity.


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