The International
Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21st
March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a
peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid pass
laws. Proclaiming the day in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called
on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms
of racial discrimination.
In South Africa,
the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is also
observed as the Human Rights Day which is a public holiday celebrated on the
same day each year. This day commemorates the lives that have been lost to
fight for democracy and equal human rights in South Africa during the Apartheid
regime. The Sharpeville Massacre during Apartheid on 21st March 1960 is the
particular reference day for this public holiday. The theme for 2017 is
“Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of
(Source: Day for the elimination of racial discrimination)
Regrettably, the
rainbow nation’s unpleasant history continues to haunt her in more ways than
one, the country has been a hotspot for racial violence and discriminatory
attacks in recent times and thousands of foreign nationals have either been
attacked, injured, killed, or maimed in pockets of racial violence specifically
inspired by xenophobia and racism unfortunately directed at fellow Africans.
in South Africa
South Africa is
experiencing a rise in what is being described as “xenophobic”
violence, Locals are accusing migrants of stealing their jobs and blaming them
for a high crime rate. About two million foreigners live in South Africa and a
majority of them were born in other African countries, including Zimbabwe,
Nigeria and Somalia.
In recent weeks,
South Africa witnessed a resurgence of xenophobic violence in parts of
Johannesburg and Pretoria, the country’s capital city and the reality is that
this type of violence is a daily occurrence in the country, although it does
not always get media attention. It has, in fact, become a long-standing feature
in post-apartheid South Africa. Since 1994, tens of thousands of people have
been harassed, attacked or killed because of their status as outsiders or
foreign nationals.
As the current
incidents illustrate, hostility towards foreign nationals is still pervasive in
the country and continues to result in more cases of murder, injuries, and
threats of mob violence, looting and the destruction of residential property
and businesses, as well as mass displacement. Obviously, the violence is
xenophobic because it is – as the scholar Belinda Dodson reminds us – “an
explicit targeting of foreign nationals or outsiders for violent attacks
despite other material, political, cultural or social forces that might be at
play”. It is a hate crime whose logic goes beyond the often accompanying
and misleading criminal opportunism. The real motive of the violence, as
unambiguously expressed by the perpetrators themselves, is to drive foreign
populations out of communities.
Causes of Xenophobic Attacks
v Political
Scapegoating – Regrettably, Political leaders and officials of the national,
provincial and local government often blame foreign nationals for their systemic
failures to deliver on the political promises and satisfy the citizenry’s
growing expectations. Due to political scapegoating, many South African
citizens perceive foreign nationals as a serious threat that needs to be
eliminated by any means necessary. This perception is stronger among the
majority of citizens living in poor townships and informal settlements where
they meet and fiercely compete with equally poor African immigrants for scarce
resources and opportunities. The result is that local residents in these areas
have become increasingly convinced that foreign nationals are to blame for all
their socio-economic ills and hardships including poverty, unemployment, poor
service delivery, lack of business space and opportunities; crime; prostitution;
drug and alcohol abuse; and deadly diseases. It is common knowledge that the
official South African government’s response to xenophobia and related violence
has been characterized by “denialism”. Such denialism is rooted in a
discourse which labels all xenophobic violence as “just crime and not
xenophobia”, a categorization that demands few specific and sustained
interventions or policy changes.
v Weak
Judicial System – The government’s unwillingness to recognize xenophobia
coupled with a general weak judicial system has also led to an alarming culture
of impunity and lack of accountability for perpetrators and mandated
institutions: foreign nationals have been repeatedly attacked in South Africa
since 1994 but few perpetrators have been charged, even fewer convicted. In
some instances, state agents have actively protected those accused of
anti-foreigner violence.
there have been no efforts to hold mandated institutions such as the police and
the intelligence community accountable for their failure to prevent and stop
violence despite visible warning signs. Instances abound, government promises
to set up special courts to enable quick prosecutions after the 2008 and 2015
violence never materialized. Instigators and perpetrators of xenophobic violence
are well known in their respective communities, but the de facto impunity they
enjoy only means that they are likely – as they have in many cases – to strike
(Source: An online
publication by Jean Pierre Misago on titled “Xenophobia Due To
Lack of Leadership”)
*    Massive
Re-orientation – Jean Pierre Misago – the author of “Xenophobia Due To
Lack of Leadership” confirmed that xenophobia and xenophobic attacks can
be blamed on faulty leadership and I share a similar sentiment, government at
all levels needs to re-double its efforts and ensure an all-inclusive growth
and development of the African country. A massive re-orientation of the masses
on the need to shun violence and embrace peace is of utmost and urgent
importance. South Africans needs to be reminded that no country is
self-sufficient and the greatest test of humanity is in our ability to embrace
others and co-exist with them in peace, tranquility and harmony.
*    The
Mass Media – Peggy Hicks – Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special
Procedures and Right to Development Division at the UN Human Rights Office,
pointed out that racism builds on the fear of the ‘other’. “Some
politicians and media manipulate that fear to incite hatred against that
‘other’, denying the enormous amount humanity shares, and focusing on the
little that makes us different”. She noted.
we will continue to get it wrong when we continue to believe that the
government can do it alone. The importance of the media in the fight against xenophobia
and xenophobic attacks can never be over-emphasized. The media needs to play an
active role in the fight against racism and racial violence in other to
complement government’s efforts. I believe a good way to start is to ensure
that these inhumane attacks are given prioritized media coverage because one of
the reasons they continue to thrive is because they are hardly reported as
stated in the fifth paragraph.
history, many of the horrible things that people have done to each other have
occurred because one group of people felt superior to another. They learned to
see differences in others — such as race, color, gender, age, disability,
religious belief or sexual orientation — as a reason for thinking that people
with that characteristic were not worthy of the same rights as they were. This
prejudice justified their decision to discriminate against the other group –
the other group is humiliated, excluded, restricted or marginalized because of
these perceived differences.
March 21st is a
perfect opportunity to help us celebrate human unity and the diversity of the
human race rather than allow our differences to become an excuse for racial
separation. It’s a chance to recognize prejudice, stereotypes and
discrimination in our society, and how each of us may have our own prejudices
and may be making people feel excluded without our even realizing it. It’s a
chance to reaffirm our commitment to eliminate all forms of discrimination and
help create communities and societies where all residents (either nationals or
migrants) can live in dignity, equality and peace.
In a world of
diversity, understanding and respect of others constitute the only possible
path. Building walls to keep other people out often means keeping ourselves shut
in. Our diversity is a strength: let us learn how to draw on it for the
resources of inventiveness, creativity and peace. The more we respect others,
the more we respect ourselves.


Oluwole Olusanya
Oluwole Olusanya
Oluwole Olusanya is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the fastest-growing lifestyle and entertainment website in the country. He is a banker, writer, blogger, public affairs analyst and a tax consultant. He anchors Trending Topics on SHEFFA where he shares his thoughts and opinions on trending issues. He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the University of South Wales, Wales, United Kingdom. He has diplomas in Banking and Finance, Investigative Journalism, Creative Writing, and Linguistics from Lagos State Polytechnic, Isolo, Lagos, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland and The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom.