Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 5 September 2019

We, the people, must act now to halt this shameful violence

There is a collective urgency for us to look deeply at our nationhood. To consider what it means to be a South African, and to use that shame, disgust and despair to craft a new alternative.

The waves of violence, rooted in Afrophobia and xenophobia, across South Africa are not accidental. It is not accidental either that far too many stand silent on the sidelines while violence, vitriolic sentiment, rhetoric, and criminality are meted out against Africans who have taken the difficult decision to make another country their home. The question plaguing many is: how did we get here? Critically, the issue remains: how is this again happening?

South Africa has for a long time been unable to unite over crucial issues. The fractures in our society have become more entrenched and systemic since 2008, due in large part to the failures of our elected governments (at all three spheres). South Africa is being failed by its government and the inability of its people to call out Afrophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic hatred that is far too often targeted against black and brown bodies.

Our fellow Africans are being targeted by thugs, xenophobic and Afrophobic South Africans and criminals, but also by elected officials, who often use the words “foreign national” to drive a wedge for gain.

Where were our efforts to mobilise when the mayor of Johannesburg used the framing of “foreign nationals” for political gain? Political gain that can at best be framed as being out of touch with the values of our Constitution, and at worst is mirrored in the language of the alt-right (demonstrated by rising nationalism across the world). This is the South Africa that we have allowed to take root. Womxn are targeted in our society, which is fundamentally broken but layered with patriarchy, toxic masculinity and brutality.

There is a collective urgency for us to look deeply at our nationhood. To consider what it means to be a South African, and to use that shame, disgust and despair to craft a new alternative. South Africa, through the support of many African countries, was able to sustain the struggle for freedom at a time when no one thought it possible. South Africa’s liberation was enabled through the support Africa gave to the freedom movement. Africa is rooted in our heritage. Africa and its people are us, and this is something more South Africans must claim.

Civil society has continued to play an important role by providing immediate interventions and honesty around South Africa’s inability to deal with xenophobic and particularly Afrophobic elements and sentiments. However, online platforms and talk radio are often consumed by vile and Afrophobic commentary – the “othering” that takes place reveals a lack of consciousness. A consciousness rooted in our unique African culture, our role on the continent, and our commitment to freedom for all, regardless of their nationality or place of birth. This is a commitment that we as South Africans, particularly those with a voice and agency, must exercise. We have an immense capacity to shape the narrative – a narrative that is inclusive and rooted in the values of struggle and our Constitution.

We cannot, 25 years into our democracy, continue to fail in this way. That failure is exacerbated by the rhetoric peddled by politicians and public figures. This rhetoric must be rooted out and countered. We each have a duty to confront our prejudices, and to question why our government has been unable to counter the anger that is rooted in the systemic failures and fractures of our society.

All Africans have a crucial role to play in South Africa’s future, as they did during our struggle for freedom, and we should be inviting dialogue and action instead of simply watching the continued vitriolic Afrophobic chatter and violence that is targeted at residents and citizens of our country.

South Africa, and particularly its leadership, has a duty and responsibility to introduce programmes that can confront these fractures. Fractures that are reflective in the violence against womxn’s bodies and ideas, the continued gender-based violence, the Afrophobic nature of the framed, normalised narrative, and the triple threat of staggering unemployment, poverty and inequality.

South Africa must deal with these issues. This starts with individual South Africans framing the issue firmly, and by government commencing with programmatic interventions, one of which would be to introduce civic education as a cornerstone of the education system. A curriculum that speaks to the heritage and rich history of our African identity, the responsibilities and rights of citizens, and indeed all residents, as well as the custodial and delivery responsibilities of government.

It is not enough to simply condemn these Afrophobic attacks. South Africans must act. We must act against those within our circles. We must act against those in positions of power or influence. We must ensure our government – elected by us – serves the interest of all people in South Africa, and that it accounts for what is wrong in our society.

This is not the time to simply seek to deploy additional force. We must use public power in an effort to correct the wrong, and to frame a new approach and chapter for South Africa and how its people relate to our continent. The work will not be served only by our elected officials, but will require the collective effort of religious leaders, civic leaders, business leaders, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, who are all motivated to frame South Africa differently so that we can say “never again” – and mean it. DM

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