As I write this, the army is on the streets just down the road in the township of Alexandra.
It is a sign of desperate times and desperate measures, the government of South Africa is reluctant to put its army onto its streets because of the suffering it inflicted on the people by doing so in the dark days of apartheid.
In the mid-1980s, during South Africa’s state of emergency, the army occupied Alexandra for several days. It is a supreme irony that, exactly 30 years later, the troops are back on the streets of Alexandra.
It must be uncomfortable for the government, albeit the troops are there, not to oppress South Africans as they did in the 1980s, but to stop them from oppressing others merely because they were born elsewhere.
This was one of the bitter harvests of the ugly spate of xenophobia in South Africa over the last couple of weeks. Days of hatred and violence on the streets of the country that should shame anyone who lives in this continent, a people who spent years under the yoke of institutionalised discrimination, inflicting the same discrimination on others.
At times like these, I get very depressed and melancholic. I start thinking about the world and its ills and how we have to live with them. I often think of the story of Pandora – the woman who opened the forbidden box full of the troubles of the world. I remember that, along with greed, envy and hate, the last thing to float out of Pandora’s Box was the sylphlike image of hope. That is what keeps me going and that is what helps me live with the dark before the dawn.
So it was with heart-warming satisfaction that I read this week of the massive March through Johannesburg by 25,000 people against xenophobic attacks. On the same day, hundreds of people formed a human chain at Johannesburg Zoo to make their point.
“If you attack foreign nationals, it is an attack on us,” came the clear message from the marchers.
This is another circle that leads back to the mid-1980s.
The same selfless decency that led to the protests for human rights in South Africa, the courage to stand up for what is right and to protect the weak from the bullies. In short, people at their finest. It makes your heart swell.
Even at football matches, people were holding up placards against xenophobia and for the brotherhood of Africans. Encouraging as it was, people must remember that placards and marches are fantastic, but they must be backed up by action.
Also, the leaders of Africa must understand that one of the causes of this violence and tensions is the tough economic times people are facing.
Our leaders must make sure they improve the lot of their poorest people to avoid this damaging scapegoating. The future of Africa – which rests on peace and stability – depends upon it.