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On Africa Day, Khulumani 'Speaks Out' against Violent Xenophobia Attacks

africaKhulumani Support Group deeply regrets the violent attacks of the past two weeks by some South Africans on vulnerable migrants forced to seek shelter within their communities. Sadly, these attacks have resulted in loss of life, rape, forced displacement, arson and the looting of hard-earned property, all human rights violations of which Khulumani members themselves were victims over the many years of apartheid-era political violence.

Khulumani members will take a stand to express outrage about this violence and will stand in solidarity with fellow Africans, in a range of public actions planned for Saturday, May 24 in various parts of the country, including a march from Marks Park to the Library Gardens in Johannesburg. For Khulumani, the attacks represent the antithesis of the vision of the African Union that honours May 25, the date of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1965, as Africa Day. Khulumani condemns the attacks and mourns the loss of life. These events will be remembered by Khulumani with shame.

But for Khulumani, the greater shame has been the failure of the South African government in the ten years since the closure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to respond to Khulumani's continuous requests for government to partner it in systematically redressing the consequences of the violations of the past and in building communities where everyone can be accommodated in line with the principles of the African Union.

Every effort made by Khulumani to present government with programmes of action, policy proposals, memoranda and other submissions since 1998, has fallen on deaf ears. The standard response of government to these requests and submissions, including the most recent engagement in Ekurhuleni on May 10, 2008 with officials representing the TRC Unit of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Missing Persons Task Team of the National Prosecuting Authority and the Special Pensions Office of the Government Employees' Pension Fund, were the statements that their “hands are tied” and that all they can offer as remedies to the issues affecting survivors are to promise to inform their “political principals”.

Just as government has failed to confront the reality that Khulumani members have been abandoned to contend with the lifelong consequences of gross human rights violations and their subsequent social distress, government has also failed to confront the realities of the thousands of migrants who have been forced to seek shelter and a minimum level of survival in South Africa. It has in fact been government officials who have attacked, harmed and harassed migrants in South Africa, criminalising them in the process.

Government's practices fall short of the provisions of our much-admired Constitution. While we have a democratic state, we have failed to build a democratic society that supports its citizens to effectively manage local challenges. Rather than being a critical partner to Khulumani networks within these vulnerable communities, government has been a major obstacle to the resolution of the problems on the ground. The frustration of citizen agency has reached the point of exploding in rage and frustration, with the situation being made worse by the public statements of members of the Cabinet. In their public utterances about their puzzlement and confusion, Cabinet Ministers have revealed their complete disconnection from the realities of the lives of ordinary South Africans. The attribution of the eruption of violence to “third force agents” represents a true failure of government to understand the fact that growing numbers of South Africans are themselves being forced to live in situations of extreme social distress within marginal communities which carry the additional burden of having to accommodate migrants fleeing political oppression and other desperate situations in their own countries.

The communities where violence has erupted, have effectively been abandoned by our government. This situation has been common to all post-liberation African countries. In South Africa, as elsewhere on the continent, government has failed to use the years since the political transition to build “inner links to the poor” and to systematically address the legacies of the past amongst those least equipped to deal with the challenges. (Ramphele, M. Laying Ghosts to Rest, 2008. Tafelberg)

The year leading up to a national election is an obvious year for citizens to intensify their efforts to draw government's attention to the urgency of the situation, facing poor communities across South Africa. Rather than engage with these vulnerable communities, government has focused its attention on continuing to support the interests of local and multinational corporations, while neglecting the interests of its own citizens. Khulumani calls on government to begin to work in genuine partnerships with these citizens.

From the perspective of Khulumani Support Group members, it is the South African state that is in fact xenophobic – it is xenophobic in the way it deals with migrants on a daily basis – allowing the harassment of persons deemed to be 'too dark' to be South African; it is xenophobic in its refusal to acknowledge oppression perpetrated by political elites in neighbouring countries; and it is xenophobic in its failure to extend the values underpinning the South African Constitution to everyone who finds themselves in South Africa.

As an organisation comprising members who find themselves amongst “the poorest of the poor” and having networks across many of the affected communities, Khulumani will continue to offer its social capital to mobilise and organise these communities towards enabling their members to achieve the self-reliance they so deeply aspire to and to be able to embrace and support those sheltering temporarily within their communites. Khulumani members call on government to realise the human rights of all victims and survivors of political violence. Khulumani requests government to get behind it to work within local communities to assist people to create a “space in the sun” for everyone presently living in this country. Government officials, sitting as they do at the top of the pyramid, insulated from the realities of the harsh lives of the poor, need to reach out to the networks of organisations like Khulumani in genuine partnerships that are effectively resourced, to end this shameful period in the construction of a nation of which we all want to be extremely proud.

Statement issued by Khulumani Support Group. For fiurther information, please contact:

Dr Marjorie Jobson, Acting National Director, Mobile: +27 82 268 0223 or Telephone: + 27 46 636 2715

Mr Tshepo Madlingozi, National Advocacy Coordinator, Mobile: + 27 82 496 9914

Ms NomaRussia Bonase, Khulumani Ekurhuleni Facilitator, Mobile: + 82 751 9903

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