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Johannesburg - Violence and social exclusion, often based on xenophobic sentiments, have been happening for a long time, and it will take a lot more effort for any country grappling with such a “burden of history” to overcome the problem.
And the government’s interventions are not sustainable, while they seem to support the intentions of perpetrators.
These were among the issues that arose during the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) fourth annual international conference on crime reduction and criminal justice in Joburg on Thursday.
The two-day event, which was hosted by the ISS’s governance, crime and justice division, was attended by about 50 researchers and experts.
Some of the topics discussed included youth violence and crime prevention as well as violence against foreign nationals. Issues around xenophobia and related violence dominated discussions.
Wits Professor David Coplan explored how violence had always been part of South African history.
“Xenophobia is not a good term in the sense that it is inherent; social exclusion - South Africans don’t think more is merrier,” he said.
While it was easy for the government to encourage refugees to find their way into the country, it was not always easy for them to be integrated into local communities.
“Violence and social exclusion have been happening for a long time, and are hard to recover from. The burden of history is brutal and massive,” he said.
Jean Pierre Misago, of the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits, spoke on the critical responses to xenophobic violence in South Africa. He said it was essential to question the national policies and localised interventions already in place.
Misago said there was a tendency to regard xenophobia and xenophobic violence as the same thing.
“Xenophobia is a feeling, a negative attitude towards strangers and outsiders,” he said, adding that xenophobia was not unique to South Africa, as “many other countries, rich and poor, experience it”.
Misago said xenophobic violence was nothing more than acts of violence targeted at foreign nationals.
While commending the “positive actions” like task teams and engagements with communities, Misago said these were not enough or sustainable.
“The government’s response has been one of denialism, where xenophobia is seen as just a crime, meaning there would be no need to incorporate specific interventions.”
Misago said the interventions that were in place supported the intentions of the perpetrators in that there was a lack of accountability for them after committing these crimes.