Xenophobic attacks hurt us all

Following two weeks of violent xenophobic attacks throughout South Africa, there was a small glimmer of hope yesterday from Masiphumelele, Cape Town, as hundreds of people started returning to their homes after spending the weekend in an emergency camp in nearby Soetwater. South African community leaders in Masiphumelele apologised for the attacks on non-South Africans, and have been helping police to track down the instigators of the violence last week. But while this is good news and some indication of how relations can begin to be repaired at a community level, the question of how South Africa can restore trust regionally remains unanswered. While the media has been making much of the possible damage to tourism that the violence may have caused, it is the consequences on relationships with its African neighbours that South Africa should be most concerned about. How is South Africa going to convince Malawians, Zimbabweans, Somalis, Congolese, and others that it is safe to travel to and do business in South Africa?

South Africa’s economic future depends on regional integration, and the government – and South Africans – are going to have to do a great deal to persuade our neighbours that these sorts of attacks would not happen again.

* The xenophobic attacks have occurred throughout South Africa in the last two weeks, but I’ve been following the Masiphumelele story most closely because it’s my home town. It’s also not the first time attacks on foreigners have taken place in the area. My posting on 6 October ’07 discusses attacks last year on Somali shopkeepers.

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