Cape Times , 17 June 2008

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All South Africans have been "humiliated and shamed" by members of the country's youth who recently led "cowardly" xenophobic attacks, President Thabo Mbeki said as he called on the youth to protect fellow Africans. Mbeki yesterday addressed Youth Day celebrations at the University of the Western Cape. "One of your immediate and principal responsibilities is to protect our fellow Africans who live in our country from the cowardly attacks by criminals which we have seen here in Cape Town and other parts of our country in the last few weeks," Mbeki told over 3 000 youths gathered from around the Western Cape for the event, which was organised by the National Youth Commission. "We must admit that all of us have been humiliated and shamed by the small number of young people who recently took it upon themselves to lead the criminal attacks against fellow Africans who live among us, and participated in looting their property," said the president, who was inaugurated 10 years ago on June 16, 1998. His words had an ominous echo to the message he brought to the Mother City less than two months ago on Freedom Day, April 27, where he called on South Africans "to unite in action" to confront the "savagery of racism" and xenophobia. This was just a fortnight before the spate of xenophobic attacks broke out across the country, costing the lives of 65. At the time, the president warned: "Indeed, we cannot claim to be truly free when insidious and blatant racism still exists in our society; we cannot claim to be truly free when racism still rears its ugly head in our institutions of higher learning, in the media, in the private sector, in the boardrooms and with the xenophobic occurrences that we observed in some communities in recent weeks." Yesterday, Mbeki stressed that the "Young Lions" of 2008 should be proudly African and always at the ready "to defend the rights of all Africans wherever they are". He was referring to the events in 1976 when pupils in Soweto, later called the Young Lions, clashed with the apartheid police in demanding their rights, a crucial step towards democracy. Reminding the audience that many young people were serving as peacekeepers in "brutal conflicts" on the continent, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Burundi and Sudan, today's youth had a responsibility "to educate all our youth to stop attacks against our foreign guests, choosing rather to act as the first defenders of both our communities and our guests". Mbeki also urged the youth to work in partnership with the government to tackle their many challenges and recognised that many were among "the most vulnerable members of our society". This meant that the government would continue to put their empowerment at the centre of job creation and education programmes. Mbeki's anti-xenophobia message was echoed by National Youth Commission chairperson Nomi Nkondlo and Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Leonard Ramatlakane, who opened the event on behalf of Premier Ebrahim Rasool, who was in bed with flu. Ramatlakane said the Western Cape should be "a home for all", and called on the youth to be agents for change, isolating those behind the attacks. Nkondlo said the National Youth Commission believed the government "should act with speed" to introduce civic education programmes to teach the youth about issues like human rights and African history.