South Africans, like many people in the United States right now, and many in Colombia and the United Kingdom, have been thinking deeply about who we are, where we came from, and where we are heading as a country. In 2016, South Africans also woke up, one morning, to a changing shift in the political landscape—a view we had become accustomed to. What seemed unlikely once was now before our eyes. Local government elections saw major cities across the country, including Pretoria, the seat of government, now in the hands of the opposition. Where once race divided our votes, now the need for an accountable, honest, and committed government has begun to unite us.
“In conversation, we were all able to see and understand circumstances beyond our own..."
In 2011, when I was 13 years old, my family and I traveled to South Africa. My dad was born and raised in Cape Town. In 1976, the Soweto Uprising and corrupt Apartheid government prompted his parents to move their family to Toronto, Canada. During our trip, I spent time in Khayelitsha, Langa, and Gugulethu, black townships near Cape Town, with children close to my age who shared many of my interests. I was struck by their harsh living conditions and bleak educational futures relative to my own. The connections I made inspired my desire to make a positive difference. But, at the time, I was in middle school and I had no clue how.
Over the last few weeks, South Africa has been rocked by xenophobic violence.
According to The New York Times, approximately five million immigrants have settled in South Africa since the end of the apartheid in 1994. Many are refugees, or are pursuing economic opportunities in the country, which has become a relatively stable multiracial democracy. Many native South Africans are greeting these newcomers with prejudice, hatred, and violence—destroying local businesses and in some cases committing murder. Today, South Africa’s immigrant population lives in fear.
Unfortunately, the trend is not new. In 2007, a year before xenophobic attacks would break out nationwide, violence erupted in the small township of Zwelethemba, about two hours from Cape Town.
A Facing History teacher at the local high school recognized that his community was in crisis.