Saturday, 16 May 2015

South Africa: marching in solidarity.

Johannesburg, 15 May 2015 – Following the most recent attacks on foreign nationals in January and April, South Africans organised the People's March against Xenophobia in Johannesburg on 23 April 2015 to show solidarity with foreigners. In April alone, seven people – three South Africans and four foreigners – including a 14-year-old boy, died as a result of the attacks. Sporting t-shirts and carrying banners, Jesuit Refugee service (JRS) team members joined 20,000 other locals and foreigners in the march to condemn the attacks.

The attacks have received wide-spread condemnation from the government, most political parties, religious organisations, NGOs, academic institutions and many other groups in South Africa, all who came together in the march. Unfortunately, the recent attacks did not come as a surprise, especially to researchers, human rights activists and humanitarian organizations with an interest in migration. South Africa has been experiencing waves of xenophobic attacks for years, the most devastating in 2008, which led to the death of 62 people.

Marchers gathered early singing songs of tribulations, dancing and setting the mood for an energetic and colourful march. The march started at Pieter Roos Park in Parktown, an area full of students, residents and workers alike. The demonstrators then moved through the bustling neigbourhood of Hillbrow and the central business district, finally ending in the public Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown.

"We can move forward as long as we are united. We need the foreign nationals' skills to develop as a country," said Lekogtla Mosebi JRS South Africa Safety and Security Officer.

One marcher of note was activist and politician Winnie Madikizela Mandela, former wife of the iconic anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. She headed the African National Congress Women's League and is a member of the National Executive Committee. Also in attendance was David Makhura, the Premier of Gauteng, South Africa's largest most populous province and economic hub, as well as Parks Tau, the mayor of Johannesburg.

The march for solidarity was reminiscent of the 1976 Soweto Uprising during the Apartheid era, a student protest to reject the mandated use of the Afrikaans language as medium of instruction in black schools, Mosebi said. "Only this time, we are rejecting and condemning xenophobia in South Africa".

The march was organized by several organisations including the Consortium for Migrants and Refugees in South Africa, the African Diaspora Forum, the Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education and Awethu!, SECTION27, Corruption Watch, the South African Human Rights Commission,  Doctors Without Borders, and other faith-based organisations, major social movements and trade unions. Similar marches were held in Durban and Pretoria.

By Samson Ogunyemi.
(Advocacy Office)
More story at Jesuit Refugee Service South Africa.

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