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Xenophobia: Was Mandela just a blip on the screen?

This country has been a ship without a rudder for a long time. The xenophobic mayhem sweeping it, shaming us all, is one symptom. The great leaders who steered us during those heady days from apartheid to democracy two decades ago, are gone. Mandela, Sisulu, Slovo and the others.



Letters/Discussion Forums

Geoff Sifrin


They have been largely replaced by midgets. Perhaps the turmoil we’re experiencing now is the natural progression after any “revolution”, before a new generation of real leaders steps in to chart a fresh course.

We hear bold statements by our current bevvy of politicians: “This violence against foreigners is un-South African, un-African, inhumane, etc.” But it’s not convincing. Nobody seems to have the gravitas to stop the thugs running around with machetes and knives and filling their bags with looted goods from foreigners’ shops after the owners have fled terrified into the darkness.

Remember those wonderful phrases at the time of the 1994 democratic elections? The rainbow nation. Ubuntu. We touted ourselves as an example to the world: “South Africa has taught every nation a lesson in dialogue and reconciliation.”  

Tough questions have to be asked. Was Mandela’s magic just a momentary – in historical terms – thing? Is the pot of gold at the end of our rainbow nation actually a pit of vipers?

It is painful to think that maybe we are not the tolerant society of ubuntu we imagine ourselves to be. We lived through more than four decades of apartheid – we even gave the world the term for this “crime against humanity”, as the UN defined it.

The separate ethnic pieces this country was divided into, are still there. And the foreigners float among them, sometimes tolerated, sometimes hated as the “Other”.

The Jewish community did what most white groups did during apartheid. In the main, it went along with the racist system – or at least didn’t protest very loudly, except for a few heroes: The Joe Slovos and others of his ilk who went into exile and fought from there, and some gutsy Jews who opposed apartheid from within, often at great cost to themselves. Jews and other white communities did the same act of lying low and keeping out of trouble.

Apartheid did not arise from nowhere, but out of our chequered history of colonialism, tribal wars, and ethnic clashes. Then Mandela came and convinced us that we could fashion from this fraught mixture a compassionate, tolerant society. Could it be that he was just a blip on a screen who lifted us high on his shoulders, then left us to come down to ground level again?

Hard to imagine. Yet why is it that we put up with such second-rate, visionless leaders like President Jacob Zuma and his cohorts today, and the corruption and incompetence that come with them?

The abomination of xenophobia is a test: How we meet it will show who we really are. When Mandela died, a huge crowd gathered outside his house in Houghton, bringing flowers, candles and messages, and singing together.

They were from all races, classes, ages, religions and countries. He made us believe we were something special as a nation. We betray him if we don’t throw the thugs who are killing foreigners into the jails where they belong.

Jews know what it is to be newcomers to a country. Our forebears came here – from Lithuania mostly – about 100 years ago, generally penniless and often discriminated against by the locals.

They did then what the small shopkeepers from Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are doing today – eked out a living, but with an eye on the future, gradually building themselves up to stand on their own feet.

Today, Jews stand firmly on their feet, and are powerful in the economy and elsewhere. They have the capacity to help today’s terrified foreigners with moral and material support. They should do that loudly and clearly.

Would it be too much to hope that out of this disgrace will come a leader to take the rudder again, to give this beautiful country a vision and dream again?


Geoff Sifrin is former editor of the SAJR. He writes this column in his personal capacity.


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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. June Levy

    Apr 26, 2015 at 8:32 am

    ‘Mr. Sifrin,

    Thank you for your article on S.African xenophobia..  Having re-located from Israel which was our home for 30 or so years, and having been fed so well there by insightful understandings of current events, I was about to give up on our Jewish mindfulness amongst all the hype and nonsense written in local newspapers.

    Everything you have said rings true to me.

    Sad about the state today of this special country. It will take time for things to come right.

    Regards and keep wrting,

    Mrs. June Levy, Waterfall Hills Retirement

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Disparaging image contributes to stigma about weight



The article by Mirah Langer, “How COVID-19 lockdown turned eating upside down”, SA Jewish Report, 29 April, was well written, highlighting how people are struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food and their bodies since the lockdown.

Unfortunately, the original online and print versions were accompanied by an awful image – one that perpetuates weight bias and weight stigma. I was relieved to see that the online image had already been changed by Friday, 30 April, however, the awful image made it to print.

I’m therefore writing this letter to educate those working in media and healthcare about the dangers of using images that depict people in larger bodies in a disparaging way as it contributes to weight bias and stigma. Weight bias is defined as negative, prejudiced attitudes about weight, with overt manifestations of weight stigma and discrimination.

Unfortunately, weight bias and stigma have a psychological and physical impact on health, contributing directly to anxiety, depression, disordered eating behaviours, high blood pressure, high cortisol levels, and systemic inflammation. To the person responsible for changing the image online so quickly, thank you for a job well done! – Gayle Landau, Registered non-diet dietician and certified intuitive eating counsellor, and member of Non-Diet South Africa for healthcare professionals

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Looking for descendants of Lithuanian great-grandfather



I would be grateful for any information a reader may have as I search for descendants of my great-grandfather, Eliahu Zvi Bloch, a Kohen who lived in Anassisic/Anusshishok, Lithuania, near the Latvian border, from roughly 1820 to 1900.

My grandfather, Elchanon, the son of Eliahu Zvi and his third wife, Sarah Oralowich, who grew up in an orphanage, is the only one of the family who emigrated to the United States. I recall hearing that some of Elchanon’s siblings or half-siblings emigrated to South Africa in the first half of the last century.

I know very little else. I believe the family migrated to Lithuania from Germany around 1750 or 1800, that Eliahu Zvi’s father lived to be 100, and that Eliahu Zvi was 66 years old when my grandfather was born. It’s possible that some family members migrated to Israel, either prior to statehood or after living in South Africa. I would welcome any information, even if marginally related to my family, such as knowledge of life in Anassisic/Anusshishok. I live in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and can be reached at

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Only those on the frontline should be vaccinated



I read in dismay of doctors, often in private practice who never see a COVID-19-positive patient, who are rushing off with their wives and administration clerks to get to the front of the queue to be vaccinated. I see psychologists and other allied professionals flaunting the fact that they have been vaccinated or elbowing their way to the vaccine table.

While this happens, nearly a million health workers in the public sector who are actually dealing with COVID-19-positive patients in surgery, anaesthetics, intensive-care units, and emergency departments, treating patients with hands-on care, haven’t yet received their vaccinations. These are the frontline workers who are at risk. These are the doctors, nurses, and allied professionals who are dying. They aren’t there for the glory or the large salary but because they are committed to making a difference, to healing, and to contributing to a better world. I urge all of you who aren’t dealing directly with patients who breathe, cough, or spit at you, who can treat patients while maintaining a social distance and wearing masks, not to rush to the front of the queue. Leave the limited supply of vaccines for the real frontline workers. Everyone will get a vaccine. You may have to wait a few more months, but in the meantime, you can take precautions and be safe.

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