Yesterday, December 16, was the day of reconciliation in South Africa. And given the country's apartheid past, its wide diversity in culture and its teenage democracy, it was only befitting and benefiting that we had a day to reflect on the reconciliation process of blacks and whites in the country and reintegration of the xenophobic victims back into the communities which they are now afraid of going back to.
Instead, caretaker President Kgalema Motlanthe looked to the future. His boss, ANC President Jacob Zuma, lived in the past. Their new rival Congress Of The People (COPE) leader Mosiuoa Patrick Lekota basked in the moment. It was a day our leaders gave no way forward nor a detailed plan on reconciliation particularly in terms of xenophobia and how the xenophobic victims will be re-integrated back to society.
In May 2008, xenophobic violence broke out in the country's main townships, like Alexandra in Johannesburg and Ilanga in Cape Town. South African residents there felt that immigrants -- particularly Zimbabweans and Mozambicans -- were taking their jobs, government houses, and even their women. There is one popular myth that when immigrants come to the country, the first thing they do is join the ANC, which then makes it easier for them to get SA citizenship/work permits, thus jobs and houses, that is why when they complained to the government about this trend, nothing was done.
Xenophobia is still rife in this country. This issue needs to be given governmental attention especially since more and more Zimbabweans are flocking to South Africa because of the economic meltdown, cholera epidemic and poor living conditions in the neighbouring state, led by the stubborn Robert Mugabe. Although they are aware of the violence that broke out and that immigrants are still subject to intimidation and torture, they have nowhere else to turn to.
President Kgalema Motlanthe:
The interim President was the key speaker at the inaugural celebration in Freedom Park, Union Buildings, Pretoria, and notably present was his ousted predecessor Thabo Mbeki poor thing looking fragile and out of place. Like him before, Motlanthe expressed the hope of all South Africans to promote reconciliation in the country:
"Let all of us South Africans resolve to work for our common destiny as a nation, so that the values we have sown continue to inspire us to achieve our goals of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous nation,"
The jubilant ANC President blessed those in Bloemfontein with his presence, at a rally that was organized to pay homage and tribute to the party's military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) cadres like Chris Hani who died fighting for the democracy of the country. The bulk of his speech was a history narrative of how and why the MK cadres were left with no choice by the apartheid regime, but to take up arms as an alternative to the peaceful solution for a democratic South Africa the were seeking.
He did, however remind South Africans that, it was the very same brothers and sisters who were subject to the xenophobic attacks, who assisted and supported the cadres in the battle for freedom of this country, and urged:
"All people in South Africa, black and white, should enjoy the fruits of freedom... We all went through suffering. Without forgetting the past we must move into the future together as one nation... We will continue spreading a message of hope for a better life. Only the ANC can deliver true unity and prosperity in this country"
Given that there is a high probability he will be the next President of the country in 2009, he gave no detailed plan on how he or his government are going to tackle the xenophobia issue and the reintegration process.
Mosiuoa Patrick Lekota:
Freshly voted as the President of the new party COPE, which officially launched yesterday, Lekota continued to enjoy the spotlight and seemingly completely forgot that yesterday was Reconciliation Day. He continued to lash out at the ANC and did not even mention how his party is going to deal with reconciliation process that every leader is brushing under the carpet.
Those who were victims of the xenophobic violence in May 2008 are still living in fear, and some are still based in camps set-up for those who were displaced. I found it very disappointing that none of our leaders who were making addresses yesterday did not emphasize the importance of engagement and participation amongst South Africans on reconciliation. They were not bothered that South Africans would rather spend yesterday on last-minute Christmas shopping than reflect on a contentious issue that has the potential to break this country.