Africa Week focus for xenophobia

xenopobia_protestJOHANNESBURG - In March, the South African Human Rights Commission put South Africa on xenophobia alert, warning that hatred against non-South Africans might worsen in the run-up to next year's local government elections.

The African Diaspora Forum will next month launch Africa Week to commemorate the 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa, in which 62 people including Zimbabweans were killed. The Africa Week will be an opportunity for individuals and organisations to arrange and engage in activities which will highlight the challenges of xenophobia as well as promote and celebrate diversity, tolerance and social cohesion, Maurice Smithers, a spokesperson for the forum, said in an exclusive interview.

This comes in the wake of renewed attacks on about 2 700 Zimbabwe migrant farm workers and asylum seekers at De Doorns near Cape Town in February, as local residents accused them of stealing jobs, and tore down their shack dwellings, forcing them to flee to safety camps.

Africa Week begins in the evening of 19 May with a commemorative event, driven by the ADF in partnership with Wits University. It will then continue from 20 May to 28 May, with a range of Africa Day-related activities, including exhibitions, symposia, debates, music, poetry and dancing, a soccer tournament, and the opening of an art exhibition, at venues yet to be announced all over Johannesburg.

Smithers said the ADF sought to encourage a range of activities that will stimulate people and encourage them to look openly and honestly at the issue of intolerance, and hopefully change their future attitudes and social behaviour towards each other.

He said it would be crucial to have such an event in South Africa because xenophobia didnt begin on 19 May 2008 and has not yet ended. He said Xenophobia is a critical social problem which must be addressed if ongoing conflict in communities across the country and the African continent were to be prevented in future.

Having a series of events that remind us of the dangers of xenophobic and other forms of social intolerance, while at the same time celebrating the diversity cultural and otherwise that we enjoy in South Africa today, will go a long way towards changing the way people see themselves and each other, he added.

In a bid to raise awareness about Africa Week and around xenophobia and social cohesion, the City of Johannesburg has undertaken to produce a comprehensive booklet which will detail all Africa Day-related activities, aimed at the general public, Smithers said.

The final event of the week will be an Africa Week Festival which will take place in Yeoville suburb. A carnival has been planned to parade through the streets of Yeoville and then for the rest of the day to be a pan-African cultural festival in the main street of the area.

United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, last year deplored attacks on foreign migrants in South Africa as “gravely alarming” and urged the South African government to implement laws that would avert the resurgence of xenophobic violence in future. He urged it to endorse the United Nations convention on the protection of migrants and their families.

In March this year, the South African Human Rights Commission put South Africa on xenophobia alert , warning that hatred against non-South Africans might worsen in the run-up to next year’s local government elections.

The commission also took a swipe at the countrys security establishments for their failure to detect sporadic violent incidents against foreign nationals across communities and develop effective early warning systems meant to stem fresh deadly hostilities on foreign nationals in the country.

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