Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO, Achmat Dangor, opens the seminar on dialogue for social change
September 15, 2010 – The Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted a two-day seminar to wrap up their two-year-long community conversation social cohesion pilot programme.
The seminar, which was held at the Protea Hotel Parktonian in Braamfontein, was an opportunity for the Foundation, community conversation facilitators, government, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss the outcomes and the lessons learnt from the pilot programme.
Established in 2008 following the outbreak of xenophobic violence, the pilot programme aimed to investigate and interrogate the reasons for the outbreak of violence in communities around South Africa and equip communities with tools to prevent it occurring again.
Through a consultative dialogue programme and the use of the Community Capacity Enhancement (CCE) methodology developed by the United Nations, the community conversations aimed to empower communities to find solutions to these problems and to address them by using organic and context appropriate solutions.
The event was opened by Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO, Achmat Dangor. He said: “Through the community conversations process we have learnt that we can’t bottle our problems inside. There are underlying causes of xenophobic attacks and we hope that our panellists will help us explore these.”
Proceedings then kicked off with an address by Deputy Minister for the Department of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba. He set the tone for the seminar with an address titled “Human Beings on the Move” and pointed to the fact that human migration is not a new phenomena and that human beings have a tendency to move around.
He mentioned that South Africa, much like other countries around the world, is a nation built on migrants, and diversity and the presence of various nationalities is not a new phenomenon. He noted that migration has intensified with globalisation, however, and that South Africa’s borders are more open following the end of apartheid.
He noted that South Africa failed to respond adequately to xenophobic violence in 2008, commenting that it is often the poor and unskilled labourers, who travel to South Africa through irregular routes and don’t have the necessary documentation, who are often exploited.
He compelled South Africa to acknowledge that these migrants have a lot to contribute to South African society and the development of the economy.
He said: “Migration offers many people a way out of poverty, and when people find that domestic conditions don’t satisfy their need for development and upward mobility, they move to an area that will provide those opportunities.”
He said that effectively managed migration could be an important instrument for development, and that using a “proactive migration policy instead of a reactive policy” will help South Africa reap the benefits of a diverse and multicultural society.
He then went on to say that border control and immigration control are very different things, and that South Africa needs to guarantee the human rights of immigrants, as enshrined in our constitution, and therefore regularise irregular migration and prevent the exploitation of vulnerable migrants.
This speech was followed by an address by Bernardo Mariano, regional representative for the International Organisation for Migration. He responded by acknowledging that migration, if managed effectively, should benefit all parties concerned.
But to this end, the integration of migrants at both a national and a community level is key, he said, insisting that if migrants are well integrated they become a positive force in society.
He said: “It is the community’s responsibility, the migrant’s responsibility and the government’s responsibility to integrate migrants and create good citizens. The point is [this]: What are we doing to make sure that migrants know the rules of the game for local communities?”
He pointed to the fact that as much as host communities must respect migrants and accept cultural and religious practices, migrants must also integrate by respecting local communities and habits of the host community.
Mariano agreed with Gigaba in saying that if migrants have the chance to work legally and use regular migration channels, their presence will be legitimised and integration will be more successful.
Sanda Kimbimbi, regional representative for United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, agreed with the two previous speakers by emphasising how integration is a two-way street.
He commended South Africa for the Refugees Act, but said that the real challenge lay in implementation.
He mentioned that, in the past, states were reluctant to acknowledge the problem. Through dialogue and discussion, he argued, space is created in which local communities can assist and support the migrants in their midst, leading to the resolution of these human security issues.
He said: “For settlement and integration we need to deal with questions of acceptance that result from othering.”
He closed by saying: “It is important to work on this issue relentlessly and promote the values of Nelson Mandela. Only in dialogue can we reach some understanding.”
The audience then had the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the panellists on the some of the issues raised in the discussion.
In the second session of the day, Bea Abrahams, a community conversation implementing partner, provided feedback on the community conversation programme and its achievements.
Abrahams said: “Dialogue is a participatory process that deals with complex social problems. It is a process and an approach. It is a process in the sense that it facilitates enquiry and discussion, it is also a process of listening and looking at underlying issues. The central part of dialogue is building relationships.”
She explained that community conversations enabled migrant communities in South Africa a chance to help create a culture of tolerance, respect for human dignity and social justice.
She said: “We may not have succeeded everywhere with the CCE methodology but we did create a process where people can speak the truth and get rid of pretences.” Through dialogue, communities are able to revisit memories and create a space for more positive interactions, she said.
Vincent Williams, from the South African Migration Programme, then responded by acknowledging the significance of dialogue programmes in assisting with healing and encouraging behaviour change: “Dialogue is about talking to people and achieving outcomes. It is an ongoing process of action, reflection and discussion.”
He closed by saying: “In the end, whatever we do, the end result of that dialogue must be change, justice and better lives of those involved in the dialogue.”
In the third session, Ken Mutuma, a community conversation implementing partner, provided some feedback from the programme.
He pointed to issues of socio-economic inequalities, the erosion of trust in legitimate structures, a lack of safe spaces for discussion, and a history of using violence to voice dissatisfaction in South Africa.
Using practical examples, he showed how these issues played out in local communities in South Africa.
Mutuma said: “In all the communities that we went to, we realised that leadership was a problem. There was a lack of trust [between] community members [and] their councillors, so community members were uncomfortable talking.” Because of this communication breakdown, he argued, and in the absence of mutual understanding, violence would break out.
He said: “Social and cultural issues dominate this field, [and] the issue of othering, of insiders and outsiders and the language which is used to demarcate who is in and who is out, is key.”
Mutuma drew the audience’s attention to the psycho-social experience in each location, saying that apartheid had a significant impact on communities and that this continues to shape interactions with migrants. Migrants come with lots of emotional and psychological baggage, in turn, he argued, and the confluence of these issues causes tension between the two groups.
He said: “There is a lot of anger, not with migrants, but anger at the lost opportunities.”
The fourth session of the day, on myth, memory and migration, looked at the use of language as a tool for furthering social cohesion.
Linguist and representative of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council, Lucas Ngoetshana, started the session by saying that language is a culture and cosmology, and that our view of the world is shaped by the language we speak: “Language is the bearer of culture, tradition, customs, norms and idioms of the people.
“Language has the capacity to exclude people from conversations. The moment people switch from the language that everyone understands to their own, they exclude [someone] and this divides people.”
He explained that language can be a tool for integration or disintegration, depending on how it is used.
He elaborated: “Language has helped to perpetuate the notion that migrants are false and lack sophistication ... [Language] can be a tool of order or disorder. [It] can be used to spread rumours, cause suspicion and in turn incite violence.”
His presentation highlighted that, if used incorrectly, language can be divisive, but that the solution lies in building relationships in other ways. He said: “Let’s get talking in languages that we can all understand. Let’s dance together, eat and laugh together.”
Amisi Baruti, from the KwaZulu-Natal Refugee Council, listed root causes and triggers of xenophobic violence in South Africa, such as lack of service delivery and a leadership vacuum on a community level. He did highlight some success stories, however, in particular the community conversations run by the Foundation.
He said: “There are lots of structures on the ground to bring migrants and South Africans together. The community conversations have laid a foundation to build on.”
Jean Pierre Misago, from the Forced Migration Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, gave a presentation entitled “Responding to Violence Against Foreign Nationals in South Africa”, reflecting on current responses to past actions and asking what has changed since then.
Violence exposes deep social and political tensions in communities and weakens the country’s ability to protect its citizens, he argued. Referring to research into the causes of xenophobic attacks, Misago cited competition for business in informal settlements and a lack of leadership as key triggers.
Misago did go on to say that positive changes have been observed, however, highlighting a shift in public perceptions, sustained engagement and consultation with NGOs, a new level of openness and an increased desire to find effective preventative measures.
To build on this positive change, Misago advocated key interventions to promote accountability. Civil society must find ways of engaging on matters of national interest, he argued in closing, and mainstream social cohesion must be prioritised in local government planning and programming.
Day one of the seminar offered guests an insightful look into the main causes of the xenophobic violence that broke out in 2008. Given the diversity of experts and voices, debate on how best to address questions of migration, and what opportunities exist for responding positively to the issue of xenophobia in the future, was robust.