DURBAN 20-04-2015 King Goodwill Zwelithini at Moses Mabhida Stadium to talk about Xhenophobia Atteck. Picture by: S'bonelo Ngcobo

King’s imbizo was a success

By Nkosikhulule Nyembezi Apr 21, 2015

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Nkosikhulule Nyembezi joined the crowd at King Goodwill Zwelithini’s anti-xenophobia peace imbizo.

Durban - On Monday, I also heeded His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini’s call to an anti-xenophobia peace imbizo at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Like others present, I attended because I identify myself as part of the collective summoned. Izimbizo – as in ancient times – are of great national significance to many in this part of the country, and hence this one engaged the serious consideration of many families.

But this imbizo was evidently symbolic. The meaning was easily discerned from far and wide, and, from its being held at such short notice against the challenge of packed diaries of those expected to participate, it was a success. The message from his majesty was widely considered a defining intervention.

While some have downplayed the effectiveness of this imbizo, those of us at the coalface of emergency response and strategic interventions to the mayhem unleashed by renewed attacks by locals against foreigners from other African countries were looking forward to it.

Many of us in the civil society formations – who have been working around the clock providing emergency relief, attending to the needs of those confined in refugee shelters, preaching messages of peace from the pulpit and shepherding flocks of parishioners volunteering their time – looked to the king to speak to us, his loyal subjects.

Our collective hope was that at the centre of the gathering would be a concrete, compassionate and inspiring interaction by concerned human beings whose interests are anchored by a resolve to protect, promote and defend human rights – including the right to human dignity and equality.

The culture of providing hospitality to bereft strangers seeking a fresh and secure life for themselves is not new in our country.

Historically, strangers, being isolated from their kin and thus defenceless, were particularly under the protection of the traditional leader and were accorded special privileges. This treatment was guided by the value system of ubuntu.

Inside the stadium, I mingled with the crowd as the king and other speakers addressed the gathering.

Those people interacted with were quick to stress that their presence at the gathering was not because it was the members of the Zulu nation who were behind the attacks on foreign nationals, but because as citizens in KwaZulu-Natal, they cared and were committed to playing a positive role to put an end to xenophobic attacks and other intolerances.

This sentiment was affirmed by the king. The importance of it is far-reaching in dealing with prejudices surrounding xenophobia, as before the recent violence outbreak that necessitated this imbizo, most people agreed that the rights we enjoy under our constitution are rooted in our social practices, our ways of living together. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is a group of people living in South Africa that remains markedly less equal – refugees and migrants from other parts of the African continent.

The king reminded us that our constitution was the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It provides for the rights of all people living in our country.

It was wise for the king and others who addressed the gathering to highlight the many challenges we are confronted with on the continent in demanding accountability for violation of human rights, and in being afforded security by governments against rebel groups and other actors on the continent.

Regrettably, human rights violations are the main cause for the influx of refugees in South Africa today. The far-reaching implications demonstrate the need for all stakeholders to implement preventive and remedial action to the situation. For example, as far back as 2010 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees revealed that South Africa had emerged as one of the largest asylum destinations in the world.

Last year there were more than 300 000 new applications for asylum. For that reason, South Africa’s policies on immigration need to be aligned with international protocols and should take cognisance of our particular location in Africa, as well as the trend towards regional intergration. As the father of the Zulu nation, knowing the respect accorded to him, King Zwelithini did not disappoint when he said: “Enough is enough, these attacks must stop.”

The response when he commissioned all his subjects to go out and protect foreign nationals that live in our communities carried a unique reassurance. Some members of the diplomatic corps stood up and applauded him.

Another welcome announcement is the opening of communication channels between institutions of traditional leadership and diplomatic missions in the country.

The king has also welcomed the proposed inquiry by the South African Human Rights Commission into what is alleged as his utterances that were widely repeated in the media as the spark of the recent attacks against foreign nationals, and added that the inquiry be extended to the role of the media reporting of xenophobic violence.

 

We must stand up against xenophobia by confronting ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with generosity.

Ubuntu abande ebantwini (let humanity spread among the people).

* Nkosikhulule Nyembezi is a researcher, policy analyst and human rights activist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Mercury

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