HUMAN RIGHTS & AFRICA DAY
Protesters demand action against xenophobia in picket at Joburg SAHRC offices
Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia held a picket at the South African Human Rights Commission offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Wednesday — Africa Day.
Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia said it held a picket at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) offices in Braamfontein on Wednesday because of growing xenophobic sentiment in the country.
Kopanang said the SAHRC “is failing to adequately play its role as a Chapter 9 institution to guard our democracy”.
“The SAHRC is failing to use its legitimacy, power and mandate to halt the current trajectory towards intolerance and violence towards fellow Africans.”
The protest was made up of learners from Katlehong secondary schools including Mpontsheng, Eketsang and Ponego which, according to the organisation, are among communities affected by xenophobia.
Showing solidarity with the picket were civil society organisations such as Lawyers for Human Rights, Keep Left, Fighting Inequality Alliance and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA).
Kopanang spokesperson General Moyo told Maverick Citizen that the learners had received permission from their schools to attend the picket and that Africa Day presented an opportunity for them to be educated about the destructive nature of xenophobia.
“In school and in class, the learners do not see any difference amongst themselves… This penetration in communities by the likes of Operation Dudula is misleading and confusing the youngsters, and we know that in the township, the vulnerable ones are the young ones,” said Moyo.
“In school, there are learners that come from other countries… It doesn’t mean that they do not deserve the education that we are getting, so we must make sure that they get equal rights,” said 16-year-old Grade 10 pupil from Mpontsheng Secondary School, Thandekile Dlamini.
“Let us all proudly call ourselves African with unity — we cannot be Africans without unity… it is the key to a better country.”
Grade 10 learner, 17-year-old Thando Nkambule from Polego Secondary School, said: “Africa is our motherland and we all have a right to freedom from slavery, torture and all have a right to education… we have to be united.”
Pledging her solidarity, Ulrika Pais from Keep Left, said, “As children and as kids of foreign nationals, it is unfair for our fathers to be called foreign nationals in Africa.
“We need to stand up against Operation Dudula and stop them from ripping our families apart and stop tearing apart the poor people’s economy, because that is all they’re breaking down — the working-class communities.”
Handing over the memorandum from Kopanang was CoRMSA director Thifulufheli Sinthumule, who shared his experiences of xenophobia.
“I get stopped and asked, ‘are you a South African?’ because of my colour, my body structure and then my name, of course…
“We have seen silence from the law enforcement agencies, from the human rights protection authorities and all the relevant government authorities that should be protecting the human rights of all who live in South Africa.”
The memorandum states, “It is over 10 years since the release of its [the SAHRC] report following xenophobic violence in 2008. Yet xenophobic violence continues to plague our country.
“We are aware that many complaints have been lodged, providing evidence and information of political leaders who brazenly act in defiance of recommendations as set out in the report that was published in 2009.
“We are also concerned that the SAHRC conducted hearings into xenophobia in our country in 2018 — with representatives from government reporting to the commission under oath — and to date, those hearings and recommendations are yet to be published and are yet to be enforced.”
Some of the key recommendations in the Kopanang memorandum include:
- The Human Rights Commission should revisit and review its 2009 Rule of Law report on the 2008 xenophobic violence as a matter of urgency, and use its legal powers to engage all role players and to encourage and enforce the implementation of those very valuable recommendations. This would include taking legal steps where necessary and appropriate. The relevant government departments should be requested to make written submissions indicating the level of compliance with those recommendations.
- Take steps to prevent Operation Dudula members from threatening, harassing, searching, demanding documents or entering properties of foreign traders, regardless of whether they are documented or not.
- Public Order Policing should be made aware by the SAHRC of its obligations to protect foreign nationals and their property, and when they do not do so, should be held accountable by the commission.
- Where possible, non-punitive, dialogue-based, restorative justice options should be used with the aims of healing the hurt, restoring harm, holding offenders accountable, righting wrongs and preventing re-offending.
- The State should be encouraged to implement its own programmes or to fund NGOs working in this area, and ensure that healing can properly happen in communities affected by xenophobia.
Receiving the memorandum was advocate Tseliso Thipanyane, head of the SAHRC. Addressing the picketers, he said:
“I want to admit as the CEO of the Human Rights Commission that we could have done much better.”
He conceded that the report on the 2018 hearings had not yet been made public, but that the commission had met last week to discuss its release soon.
“We have proposed to our principals that there must be an urgent national summit to discuss the challenges around non-nationals in our country because we are quite concerned as to the implications for our country and for our democracy and for us as Africans.
“We are quite clear that human rights are for all people, regardless of who you are, where you come from and what you do.
“It is quite unfortunate what is happening today, and seeing that the targeting of so-called non-nationals is largely by black people, this shows a worrying development of self-hatred in our country,” said Thipanyane. DM/MC