The Jewish Report Editorial

Transcending the anger and injustice

  • Vanessa
Whether the brutal looting and violence that has accompanied the xenophobic attacks on the streets of Johannesburg and Durban this past week will do anything to improve the economic frustrations of the perpetrators is a worthwhile question.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Apr 22, 2015

A similar question could be asked of the consequences of vandalising statues of Cecil John Rhodes, King George, Mahatma Ghandi, or Paul Kruger. Will the removal of symbols of colonialism, apartheid and other painful history, spark the process of transformation that South African students and Economic Freedom Front activists demand?

The immediate consequences of both forms of protest, viewed by many as barbaric, seem to have led to the desired outcomes. As the looters had hoped, thousands of foreign nationals will return to their African countries with their lives and hard-earned gains in tatters.

So too, Cecil John Rhodes has lost his perch on the slopes of a mountain he once owned and Chumani Maxwele and his band of Rhodes Must Fall campaigners have succeeded in unleashing a wave of statue vandalism around the country.

While the power of resistance cannot be dismissed, it is unlikely that the real issues of job creation, poverty and access to opportunities for the aggrieved will be addressed in either instances of violent lashing out. Attacking the past does not necessarily build a path to a better future.


Jews have had ample experience in being persecuted for who we are and being forced to flee the countries we made home. Last week’s Yom Hashoah was a strong reminder of what can happen.

Our ability to relate is why Jewish leadership is taking a strong stand against xenophobia and why the Board and other groups are playing a role, collecting supplies for victims and joining protest marches against racism.

The students who defaced statues, in a rather abhorrent way, were asking Jewry to be sensitive to deified reproductions of oppressive leaders when they put up images of swastikas and Hitler at UCT in the earliest days of their Rhodes Must Fall campaign. They were probably appealing to sympathies of their Jewish vice-chancellor, Max Price, in the hope that he and fellow management could understand what it was like to be reminded every day of the legacy of injustice.

And although we are shocked, we can still empathise with the plight of the violators. Students throwing paint at statues and the much more horrific violence against South African immigrants and their properties are carried out by citizens who feel powerless and inadequate and who have been promised a lot by their leaders, but sadly, the reality of their lives continues.

When the South African Jewish community feels threatened, we stand up and fight for our right to be free and prosper in a country protected by a sophisticated democratic constitution.

And globally, we have been quite effective at getting remunerated for past injustices. We have ensured that Swiss banks have paid back families of survivors and some of the valuable pieces of art looted by the Nazis have been returned to their rightful owners.

But what Jews have really focused on with the greatest vigour of all, is when we are beaten down or oppressed or forced to flee, we rebuild our lives as best we can. We work hard and we focus on education.

If our fellow South Africans will listen, we have more than supplies and sympathy to offer, we also have lessons to share: We have absorbed and remembered our painful histories and then, instead of blaming them on marble statues or on hardworking immigrants from neighbouring countries, we have used them to propel ourselves into the best possible futures.



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