Thursday, 16 April 2015

XENOPHOBIA: We Cannot Allow Our Humanity to Slip Away by Mmusi Maimane MP Parliamentary Leader of the DA

16 April 2015
Release: Immediate

Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered by the DA Parliamentary Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, during a National Assembly debate on the recent spate of xenophobic attacks.

Madam Speaker

Honourable Members

Over the past two weeks, South Africa has once again witnessed a wave of xenophobic attacks across our country, with our media being dominated by heart-breaking images of fellow Africans being subjected to the cruellest treatment.

I recall an image I saw this week that really touched me as a husband and parent. The image was of a mother and father, fleeing an angry mob, carrying their children to safety.

My heart goes out to those foreign nationals. Growing up in Soweto, I have seen the capability of humans to inflict violence on one another.

I have seen people being beaten and necklaced, and their property destroyed. These are images I will never forget, and I pray my children will never have to witness first-hand.

Our humanity is slipping away from us, and we cannot allow that. We cannot stand by as fellow human beings are tortured and murdered.

I understand the frustration being felt by South Africans, especially unemployed youth, who struggle to access opportunities to improve their lives.

Jobs are scarce. Our economy continues to exclude millions of South Africans.

But to focus this anger and frustration on a small group of foreign nationals who have become unfairly vilified and victimised does not address the cause of that frustration.

We must not turn xenophobia into a political football. We must not shy away from the root causes of the problem either.

The root of this problem lies in our inability to bring about economic growth and decrease the inequality that plagues our nation.

Unemployment currently stands at 36.1%. Two out of every three unemployed people are young people.

Many of these young people come from communities that were disadvantaged under Apartheid and grew up without access to quality education.

In every community I visit I meet with young men and women who share the same story of economic exclusion.

It is the hopelessness that results from unemployment that drives drug use and criminality in these communities, and underlies xenophobic attacks.

But while these factors may help to explain the situation, they cannot be used as an excuse for resorting to violence and criminality. There can be no justification for human beings inflicting pain and suffering on other human beings.

Instead of acknowledging these socio-economic root causes of the tension in our communities, there are people in powerful positions attempting to shift the blame and even condone criminality and xenophobia.

We must never forget that during the dark days of Apartheid, African nations opened their borders to South Africans involved in the struggle for freedom. Yet now we vilify those who flee persecution and oppression and make them the scapegoats for the rage we feel from economic exclusion.

We need an immigration policy that recognises the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers based on our commitment to the "International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families". And we need to make sure that our borders are protected so that those who seek to make a life in our country do so through the correct processes and procedures.

But, if we want to solve the root causes of xenophobia, we need to address the issue of unemployment. We need to support the growth of small businesses and create jobs.

Small businesses owners are key to growing our economy, but we need to make sure that they are given the support to do so. We need to make it easier for those with good ideas and ambition to get their enterprises off the ground.

In order to succeed, small businesses require capital to allow them to get off the ground, and the skills needed to manage a small business.

That is why the DA has advocated for the establishment of a National Venture Capital Fund to provide initial funding for start-ups and early-stage businesses. This will enable people to get access to capital to fund start-up enterprises.

We need to empower entrepreneurs. We can begin by teaching business skills in our schools. We must equip the young with basic knowledge of maths, accounting and economics, and educate them on how to maximise the power of collective buying.

And there needs to be a greater rollout of small business incubators where entrepreneurs can access and share resources in a supportive environment, and empower them through assisting with the cost of training and advisory services.

I understand the frustration of people on the ground. But regardless of the problems we face, we cannot allow people to brutalise others. Business owners are not the enemy.

The real enemy is a culture of corruption that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. A culture that reserves opportunites for the elite and excludes everybody else.

Speaker, if we work together to root out this culture, we stand a chance of ending xenophobia and restoring humanity in our society.

In 1994 President Mandela made a commitment that "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."

Let us honour his memory by honouring that dream.

Let us not forget our common humanity.

I thank you.

Sandy Bigara

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