Africa Day: “We still fear being called kwerekwere and our shops being destroyed”

The South African government is using Africa Day, which commemorates the 25 May 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity, since renamed the Africa Union, as a platform to address xenophobia. But as the country celebrates what is meant to be a day of unity and solidarity, some foreigners still fear being captured and deported to their war-torn countries. WANDISWA NTENGENTO spoke to foreign nationals in East London to find out what they make of this campaign, given the recent xenophobic attacks.

Nigerian Dorothy Akuchwe moved from Cape Town to find a better life in the Eastern Cape, but hopes of finding peace were quickly shattered by fear of becoming a victim of xenophobic attacks. Akuchwe believes that Africa Day will do little to quell xenophobic tensions in the country.

“This day will not change anything because we still face many challenges living here. We still fear being called kwerekwere and our shops being destroyed,” said Akuchwe.

Several measures to stop xenophobic sentiments and attacks in the Eastern Cape were implemented following the killing of two Somali shop owners in Jeffreys Bay and East London in January 2008. The wave of xenophobic violence across South Africa in that year left at least 60 people dead.

In a bid to intensify its anti-xenophobia drive, the Eastern Cape legislature on Africa Day opened a dialogue themed “Xenophobic attacks and its effect to inter-relations among African countries”.

The provincial legislature spokesperson, Velisile Bukula, said the dialogue sought to create a platform for people of the Eastern Cape to engage in promoting unity in diversity.

“Africa Day presents an opportunity for South Africans to reconnect and recommit themselves in support of all government interventions to develop a better Africa and a better world,” said Bukula.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Eastern Cape manager, Aubrey Mdazana, said he had received no reports of attacks on migrants in the province. However, the SAHRC continues to be on the watch for any cases of human-rights violations in the Eastern Cape.

Even though the Eastern Cape Premier, Phumulo Masaulle rolled out a provincial campaign against xenophobia last month, foreign nationals living on the outskirts of East London’s centre have expressed concern over their security in the province.

Shoe-shop owner Lucky Motire, from Kenya, believes that xenophobic sentiments will only be changed in South Africa when citizens see each other as humans first.

“If people still see colour and nationality before being human then we will still have wars and xenophobia. As long as the situation is like this … our safety and security is at risk,” said Motire.

WandiswaWandiswa Ntengento is a freelance journalist based in East London with experience in broadcasting, online and print journalism. Wandiswa is a  2015 International Women’s Media Foundation fellow and will intern at the BBC in July. 
Featured image: By Wandiswa Ntengento.