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Op-eds

The xenophobia crisis 10 years on

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
A number of events have been organised to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2008 xenophobia attacks, in which scores of foreign nationals were killed, hundreds injured and tens of thousands left homeless and destitute.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | May 31, 2018

In addition to commemorating the victims of the violence, these events are aimed at bringing to wider notice the ongoing problem of xenophobia in our society.

This Thursday, Afrika Awake will host the screening of a documentary and the opening of an exhibition on the attacks. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has assisted in organising and publicising the event, details of which can be found on our Facebook page.

All acts of mob violence are abhorrent, but when people are targeted solely on account of their nationality – or, for that matter, their race, religion or ethnicity – it adds an especially harrowing dimension to those attacks.

What foreign nationals experienced back then were out-and-out pogroms, essentially no different to the deadly anti-Jewish riots that our forebears were subjected to over so many centuries.

During the 2008 xenophobia crisis, the SAJBD took the lead in co-ordinating the Jewish community’s relief efforts, ultimately heading up a multifaceted assistance programme on behalf of the victims.

We were very proud of how our communities in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban came forward to assist with the unfolding humanitarian disaster, including donating foodstuffs and clothing, volunteering at refugee centres and, at a later stage, enabling many of those affected to start rebuilding their lives by providing for them such income-generating projects as carpentry, knitting and weaving.

Throughout this period, the Board worked closely with its affiliate organisations, including the Union of Jewish Women, Habonim Dror, Bnei Akiva, the SA Union of Jewish Students, the Jewish schools and the SA Union of Progressive Judaism.

Further afield, we participated on civil society and religious bodies, which were set up to assist xenophobia victims. Later, we were among those organisations that came together to establish the Hate Crimes Working Group to monitor and campaign against various forms of racism.

While xenophobic attacks have never reached the same levels experienced in 2008, there have been further periodic outbreaks, most notably in the Durban area in 2015. On that occasion, the Board’s KwaZulu-Natal Council, with the support of the national office, was again very involved in assisting victims of the attacks.

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since South Africans committed themselves to creating a free and just society which guarantees the fundamental right to dignity and equality of all its members.

While we have in place the necessary laws and institutions to uphold these rights, we all have a duty in our own private and professional lives to distance ourselves from hatred and bigotry, and oppose it in whatever ways that we can.

The primary mandate of the SAJBD is to ensure the safety and civil liberties of SA Jewry, but we are also, in the words of our mission statement, “committed to a South Africa where everyone will enjoy freedom from the evils of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination”.

We will continue to find ways to lead our community in contributing towards that goal.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00 to 13:00.

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