Xenophobic violence

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SA High Commission in Lesotho cancels Freedom Day celebrations  

Billy Ntaote

Somali nationals demonstrate outside Parliament in Cape Town against recent xenophobic attacks, and call for the United Nations High Commission on refugees to take over the running of relief centres, June 2, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA)
Somali nationals demonstrate outside Parliament in Cape Town against recent xenophobic attacks, and call for the United Nations High Commission on refugees to take over the running of relief centres, June 2, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA)

The South African High Commission in Lesotho has cancelled tomorrow’s Freedom Day celebrations due to the xenophobic violence currently rocking South Africa.

Freedom Day is officially celebrated on 27 April to mark the date in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held in South Africa.

However, the Mission planned to hold the celebrations on Friday, but according to Acting High Commissioner Sello Jelle, the violence against foreign nationals currently gripping South Africa had made the commemoration impossible.

“South Africa will be celebrating Freedom Day on 27 April, but here at the Embassy, we had wanted to commemorate this occasion on 24 April. But because of attacks on foreign nationals in our country, we cannot go ahead with the celebrations.

“Given the anger and possibility of retaliation on South Africans in other countries, the Embassy felt it would not be ideal to hold the celebrations. However, given the South Africa-Lesotho relations, we know there cannot be any attacks on South Africans here, but in some places across Africa, our people now fear retaliation,” Mr Jelle said.

Mr Jelle condemned the attacks, which he said were largely the result of ignorance and acts of crime.

“What is worrying is that some of our people are born and bred here in Ladybrand for instance, but have never travelled to Lesotho, so they need to understand the value of travelling. So that is why President Jacob Zuma was saying this violence emanates from our past.

“We come from a very violent history. The context within which he was saying this was to show that South Africa never took the time to talk and reflect on the violence which took place during the apartheid era and also to teach our people that violence does not resolve problems.”

Some South Africans, he added, felt they did not have to share their country with others, which he said was also the result of not having travelled to other countries.

“You get to value other people sharing your space with you when you have travelled. We have not done much on that score of teaching our people about the value of having contact with other people from other cultures. Our tourism drive has been mainly on attracting Europeans and not internal tourism as a tool of nation-building. We need to work hard in that regard,” said the Acting High Commissioner.

Mr Jelle noted the hardship endured by regional nations during the apartheid era, hence the South African government’s regret of the xenophobia.

“The Frontline States endured so much hardship because of South Africans seeking refuge in their countries during the time of apartheid. This was a human gesture from people who felt they understood the plight of South Africans and nature was calling on them to help.

“Again, we need to put this in proper context. These is a criminal element in South Africa and some of these attacks have been acts of crime.

“But the government has shown its commitment to bring this violence to an end as well as justice to the victims. The president has cancelled his trip to Indonesia because of the violence and that one of the reasons why we felt Friday’s Freedom Day celebrations should be put on hold,” said Mr Jelle said.

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