I look around this beautiful nation bemused and horrified at all the recent events. As much as load shedding, crime and corruption has upset me, nothing prepared me for the trauma of the xenophobic sentiments that have resulted in brutal murders and displacement of innocent people.
As always in the midst of horror the compassionate and courageous face of humanity also shines through. Thank God for the many people who are trying to do something to stop the madness and care for the victims.
Having worked in Alexandra during the riots in the early eighties and managed a shelter for abused women and their children in Midrand, I have always been caught by surprise at mankind’s ability for cruelty. My geographical travels have taken me through Pol Pot’s regime in the Killing Fields of Cambodia and seeing the results of the sex trade in Thailand from the Hill Tribes in Chiang Rai to Bangkok’s sleazy brothels. My literary travels have included Nazi Germany and the Vietnam War, to name but a few, and I am dismayed at our barbaric potential as humans.
I consider myself to be a pretty average individual, no more courageous or wicked than the next person. Yet in my very worst moments, I could not harm another creature intentionally. Perhaps I would succumb in the case of self defence or protecting my family. So what causes masses to wilfully and violently harm others as in the examples above? No matter how different a person is to me or no matter how much I may dislike them, I couldn’t bring myself to hurt them.
Or could I? Would I become violent when whipped to a frenzy in a crowd? Would I follow the crowd? Do we know how we will react in certain situations?
All I know is that we have to do something to stop the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Hats off to groups like Gift of the Givers, Bedfordview Methodist Church, IAMAFRICA and many others who are giving us a means of helping in practical ways. It restores a little faith in humanity after all. Apart from funding, marching or volunteering, how can I make a difference in everyday life?
Remember Mother Teresa’s famous quote, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” The same applies in this situation. For every one of us who change our attitude towards people different from ourselves, there may be another influenced to follow suit.
It starts with me. How do I view others who are culturally different to me? What do I say about others? How will I say No to Xenophobia?
I will fight against labelling you and looking at our differences and rather focus on our similarities. I choose not to fear you but to try and understand you through engaging with you. Rather than look for who to blame, I will look within. I will fight all temptation to surrender to discrimination in all of it’s different forms. Please help me and join me in changing self. Say No to Xenophobia.