SA URGED TO TACKLE XENOPHOBIA 'SHAME'

Cape Argus, 23 May 2007

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South Africans are embarrassed and ashamed of the "xenophobia phenomenon", but no one is willing to tackle the problem, says University of Western Cape sociology professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah. "The government has to deal with the problem swiftly and clearly," said Prah, who also heads the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society. Addressing councillors at a seminar on xenophobia, he said that "no one was proactively coming out to deal with the problem". The seminar, at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town, was organised by the city's development and capacity building branch to debate ideas and discuss responsibilities concerning refugees, which will later inform a policy on the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into the city. Other speakers included the National Assembly home affairs portfolio committee chairman Peter Chauke, city council official Kemal Omar, who is involved with devising the city's policy initiative on refugees, and Sylvanus Dixon of the Scalabrini Centre. "At a time where we are talking about unity, it is most embarrassing that we send signals that in South Africa we treat other Africans very badly," said Prah. He described xenophobia as "backward behaviour" which was learnt and fed into the social psychology of people, and sometimes took the form of racial profiling or tribalism. Dixon said authorities such as police and immigration officers were perpetuating xenophobia, and urged those at the seminar to educate authorities on the rights of refugees. Omar explained that the policy would include rights and integration of refugees, tackling xenophobia, equal access to the city's services, fair and accessible policing, and partnerships between the public and private sectors, and NGOs.