The recent spate of xenophobic violence experienced in South Africa, particularly in Gauteng, came into sharp focus at the awarding of an honorary doctorate to former public protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday who said it signalled the “end of ubuntu”.
The ceremony, held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Westville campus, saw the university chancellor, constitutional court chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, confer on Madonsela the university’s highest honour in law, the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa, during the institution’s annual graduation ceremony.
Madonsela was awarded the honour for her “distinguished time in office as public protector, for her unwavering and steely determination to complete complex investigations with courage and conviction”.
Madonsela was praised for taking risks and putting her personal life in danger and for “creating an awareness both in South Africa and globally that corruption will not be tolerated”.
Mogoeng called her a “voice for the poor in South Africa, voice for women empowerment and voice for a transformed and just legal system”.
Accepting the award, Madonsela said education was the “most powerful weapon you can give someone”.
She said she would not be where she was if it was not for the sacrifices of her parents, neighbours and “total strangers”, who all contributed to her education.
However, Madonsela said while her life was the product of ubuntu, the country’s gender-based violence, attacks on foreign-owned shops and calls for foreigners to leave were, at their core, “the end of ubuntu”.
“What has gone wrong? It is my considered view that the violence we experience today and the deficit of ubuntu is part of the complex and ugly shadow of our past. In that degradation of humanity, a part of us was destroyed, and that part needs to be rebuilt.
“That is why our Constitution talks about interlaying the foundation for healing the divisions of the past, and creating a new society founded on democratic values and the achievement of equality, among other things,” said Madonsela.
Before she took to the stage, Mogoeng denied that the violence was related to xenophobia or Afrophobia, instead saying that the attacks in 2008 and this year were the products of a weak economy.
“South Africans are not xenophobic. It is not denialist. If we were xenophobic, we would be attacking the vice-chancellor right now and you would be all over me. Why is it that in 2008 the largest African-against- African attack happened, and why is it that a large-scale attack is happening again in 2019? Is there something that correlates with these years as to where the problems lies? I think so,” said Mogoeng.
In 2008 the world entered a global economic crisis, while this year South Africa’s economy is under huge pressure with rising national debt levels and job shedding.
Mogoeng called for critical thinking into the violence, and a focus on contributing factors such as illicit money outflows from Africa to tax havens.
“I appeal to you researchers who are to do PhDs and Masters, and those of you who are still to write articles and post-doctorate programmes - let’s zero into the problems of Africa. Why is it that a continent so rich in minerals, water and fertile soil, is counted among the beggars? It is nonsensical.”