A different approach to xenophobia

6 Jul

A surprising tale from the Daily Sun

I had to pick up a copy of the Daily Sun when I saw the headline “Leave our Somalis Alone!” in the June 29 issue. The story describes the ordeal of a few Somali shopkeepers who were harassed by a group of teenagers in the community of Makhaza in the Western Cape. The community has decided to take a stand against xenophobia and after a meeting, ordered the boys to apologise for their poor behaviour and to leave the shopkeepers alone.

The Daily Sun is South Africa’s largest daily newspaper and is aimed at the black working class. A tabloid that sells for R2,30 ($0.30), around 300 000 copies are circulated amongst 2-million readers every day. The paper highlights sensational stories in local communities: Grandmothers argue over boyfriend! Sangoma ordered to return tortoises! Some of the stories are quite bizarre, but they are also interspersed with short stories on missing children, local charities and the efforts – or controversies – of community leaders and politicians.

The story describes the xenophobic attacks as "disappointing"

I found this story particularly interesting because it’s not at all what I would’ve expected from the Daily Sun – and the last time I picked up a copy was in June 2008, so I’m a bit out of date. It highlights a small community’s decidedly anti-xenophobic stance on Page 1, at a time of renewed fear that xenophobic attacks might spike after the World Cup ends. In 2008, violent attacks against foreigners reached a frenetic high when a number of riots, apparently motivated by xenophobia, left 62 people dead. It did appear that some of the attacks were opportunistic, as 21 of those killed were South African citizens.

In 2008, the Daily Sun was criticised for irresponsible reporting during the violence, and for failing to provide neutral coverage of the attacks. The Media Monitoring Project laid a complaint against the paper for its use of the word  “aliens” to describe foreigners. Towards the end of 2008, the Daily Sun published a statement saying it would desist from using the word “aliens” but it did not apologise for the reporting.

The concern is that after the World Cup ends and the number of labour and construction jobs decrease, unemployed South Africans who are desperate for jobs and resources will once again target their frustration at foreigners who are more than willing to take on jobs that are at or below the minimum wage. South Africans fought so hard for the end of apartheid, for the chance to have access to the formal economy and to jobs with fair pay and benefits, that their anger is really at an ineffectual government that has failed to deliver substantially on jobs, housing and basic resources.

Other stories from the day's paper

Having the Daily Sun report on stories that discourage xenophobia is a great thing and will hopefully have an impact on readers. As for the next few months, hopefully we have moved forward since 2008 and will prove fears of attacks to be unfounded, as we have with so many reports of excessive crime and disaster over the last six weeks!

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