Nelson Mandela Foundation

Today the Nelson Mandela Foundation used two platforms to address the challenge of xenophobia confronting South Africa: a day-long dialogue forum and the launch of the exhibition, On the Frontline.

The forum, co-convened with the Ahmed Kathrada and Hanns Seidel Foundations, comprised four sessions, with a general discussion and three theme-based ones – business, the political terrain, and the media. Speakers from the state, civil society and the private sector represented the Presidency; the Gauteng Premier; the Universities of South Africa and the Witwatersrand; Section 27; the Helen Suzman Foundation; Sanef; the Foreign Correspondents’ Association; Media Monitoring Africa; Cosatu; the Progressive Professionals Forum; the Black Business Council; and Business Unity South Africa.

The dialogue underscored a number of key insights:

  • We must not think that the crisis is over simply because the violence has been brought under control; we are in crisis, and will remain so for the foreseeable future
  • The time for pointing fingers is past; we must understand that we are all complicit in the development of cultures of "othering". Government interventions can only be part of a medley of interventions to address the deep-rooted structural and attitudinal dimensions that underlie the challenge. Gauteng Premier David Makhura described xenophobia as but one layer of "othering" in South African society and called on everyone to take responsibility for addressing the challenge
  • Fundamentally South Africa has to find a way of unravelling the terrible societal knot created by inequality, poverty and systemic corruption
  • We should avoid the temptation to view xenophobic violence as exceptional; it is merely one expression of a broader phenomenon of violence in our society

Violence against those perceived to be foreigners is a terrible failure of memory. International solidarity played a vital role in ending apartheid, and South Africa’s neighbouring countries all paid a great price for supporting the liberation movements. The exhibition On the Frontline documents that price and salutes these countries. Curated by Zimmedia, it is open to viewing by the public at the Foundation’s Centre of Memory. 

Speakers at the launch included former Speaker of Parliament, Max Sisulu; Foundation Board Chairman Prof. Njabulo Ndebele; the Zimmedia curators; and Mrs Graça Machel. In her keynote speech, Mrs Machel indicated that she had accepted the invitation to speak months ago with a sense of joy, but that recent events had turned the evening into one of sober reflection for her. She said: “The people killing one another have been pushed to the limit. They have lost the dream. Let us all take responsibility now for re-inventing it.”