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Listen to Gode Migerano's whole interview with South Africa’s High Commissioner to Australia H.E Sibusiso Ndebele:
The 21st birthday is a significant milestone in ones life. In South Africa’s case, this was an opportunity to highlight major achievements as a mature democracy.
Instead, South Africans and invited guests at the High Commissioners residence were reflecting on the past days of xenophobic attacks in Durban, and other parts of South Africa.
Many were still shocked as to how black Africans, who had sought refuge in South Africa, were singled out and brutally attacked. Those who were unlucky met their deaths in the cruelest ways imaginable, as this guest who spoke on condition of being anonymous explained:
“I was saddened and for another African to behave in such a way was a shameful act, and being a migrant myself here in Australia I have never felt or threatened in that way. But you would think that if you are in another African nation, you’d think you were safer, so it is an embarrassment to Africa.”
Young South Africans living in Australia were equally shocked and felt let down by their compatriots:
“It’s very sad to see especially in this day and age you, especially because you’d think it would get to a stage where you’ve come a certain distance, and for that to appear in today’s society is kind of disappointing but we hold encouragement in the fact that our government has responded well to these attacks.”
With anger mounting among African youths in Australia towards fellow youths from South Africa, members of the South African youth delegates had the following message for their peers:
“We just want to tell them it’s just part of the minority, it’s not the majority. The attacks that have happened they are not actually a reflection of South African society at all, the majority of South Africans they say welcome. We don’t actually do the things that have been done. Unity in My opinion is not a destination, it’s a process that we all need to take part in to sort of work towards it. Of course it won’t be achieved overnight so, it’s about all of us taking part. The little effort people might put in they might take that for granted, but those little steps will lead to big achievements in the near future.”
South Africa’s High Commissioner to Australia H.E Sibusiso Ndebele, once again conveyed his and his government’s regret following these incidences.
He also outlined to the foreign diplomatic corps, and Australian government representatives who’d attended the ceremony, how his government was addressing the matter:
“It is with a deep sense of pain and regret that we as the South African government humble ourselves, and express our heartfelt apologies to the African Continent and indeed the international community at large for these unacceptable developments. I assure you, that the government is taking the matter very seriously, and we are encouraged that over 307 people have been arrested in connection with the violence and looting. There will be no impunity for the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes.”
The High Commissioner further highlighted how his government was addressing the xenophobic attacks beyond taking punitive measures against the perpetrators of the violence:
“The government is working closely with UNICEF and UNHCR, in efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to all those affected.”
Many of the foreign nationals who were under attack, had built successful businesses in South Africa, but they were forced to abandon them to save life and limb.
Thus the High Commissioners statement hit the right notes among some of the African delegates, who were present at the function as this Zimbabwean delegate explains:
“It’s reassuring to know what he has said about the rule of law and making sure that it’s actually enforced and observed by everybody and that the government is doing everything it can, to reassure everybody who is in South Africa, who is staying in South Africa that it is for everybody. So I think it is a very positive step that they are not only using the law agencies but they are also cooperating with the international community to make sure that justice is actually done.”
The governments of Malawi, Somalia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe responded to the xenophobic attacks and threats of further attacks on black foreign nationals in South Africa by offering to repatriate their nationals.
Meanwhile the attacks have driven many foreign nationals, into makeshift refugee camps in Isipingo, KwaZulu Natal and in other parts of the country, where authorities provided emergency shelter for foreign nationals.
When asked if the Ethiopian government should consider repatriating its nationals from South Africa the Ethiopian delegate stated:
“In the first place people move to South Africa from my country, my only family even to seek a better life and deporting people or repatriating people back to Ethiopia I don’t think that’s the solution. But it is beyond my thinking, but there should be a different way of resolving this, because this is just a one time, um like a few time incidences, so I would not expect that repatriating nationals is the only solution. There should be some fundamental change in South Africa; the community should change their attitude as they changed their attitude towards apartheid.”
In the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks, South African nationals working in neighboring countries including Mozambique had to be repatriated, as tensions among workers and locals threatened to boil over.
There have been calls around Africa and in the diaspora for the boycott of South Africa, and South African goods in response to the attacks.
However South Africa’s High Commissioner to Australia, has a different proposal:
“The first step towards correcting something is to admit it and South Africa has admitted it from the highest level, and then take steps to address that problem. My country is taking steps to address it, and here in Australia what we are doing and what we are receiving is not only criticism. We are getting a lot of very constructive suggestions from our colleagues who have also experienced similar things on the continent. We will deal with that problem by embracing our sisters and brothers from the continent, we are one people. And there isn’t a way of dodging that we are one people, and we must build that continent South Africa, SADC brick by brick all of us together.
Despite these assurances, South Africa has been forced to close its embassy in Nigeria due to ongoing protest, and fears for the safety of its staff. Nigeria has in turn recalled its ambassador to South Africa.
There are also growing fears in the business sector about the possible expulsion of South African telecommunication giants MTN and other companies from Nigeria, which commands Africa’s biggest economy.
Nelson Mandela once said; “for to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.
Just as many South Africans sang in the anti-apartheid protest song Senzenina; black foreigners in South Africa too are asking; “What have we done, is our sin the fact that we are black?
The South African government continues to implement measures, to keep the peace between foreign nationals and South Africans. Many in the once proud rainbow nation are hoping history never gets to repeat itself again.