WHEN xenophobia flared into brutal killings in Gauteng in 2008, I was vocal in speaking out against violence and the undercurrent of hatred and discrimination.
I can vividly recall SAfm playing my input on a discussion the station had as a jingle almost every day to conscientise South Africans about the dangers of xenophobia.
I also stated that this outburst was predicted, yet nothing was done to prevent it. Then violence quickly spread to the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State. Before long, our country was caught up in a whirlwind of debate over the rights of foreign nationals in South Africa, the porosity of our borders, the extra burden on our social services and how we could live out the vision of being brothers and sisters of our Africa soil, when so much stood between us.
The violence has flared up again after the shooting of a young and upcoming bright star, Lunje Ntongana, by a Somali shopkeeper on Saturday afternoon in Avenue A Street in New Brighton.
I knew Lunje personally and his family who live in Block 6 (White Location) in New Brighton.
Painfully, as I was to hear the tragic loss of someone who had dreams of being a designer one day and myself being in bereavement due to the loss of my younger sister, I could not find time to pay my sympathy to the Ntongana family. But sadly his tragic death sparked anger but also invited criminals to exploit the situation.
Moreover there seems to be a need among our people for a scapegoat, for someone on whom to focus all the frustration, despair, anger and fear that has built up over the years of having too little.
Poverty and youth unemployment are driving xenophobia. Until we heal that wound in our country, other wounds will keep opening. Many African countries – some of whose people now seek refuge here – gave sanctuary to our political exiles during apartheid.
To my mind, we owe them an apology for what is being done on South African soil. I often think of the words of Euripides, the last of the Greek tragedians, who said: "There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native land."
The decision to leave one's own country, whether made by deliberate and reasoned choice, or in fear for one's life, is never an easy one. It is not made lightly. I wish that people here in Nelson Mandela Bay could see things through the eyes of foreign nationals who have sought refuge in this country, whether it is economic or political refuge.
But I also wish that our political leaders could see things through the eyes of struggling South Africans (in particular the youth) who face hardship every single day. We could all do with a change in perspective and a better understanding of each other's suffering.
There is still a long road to walk towards the vision I had for South Africa in 1994. But I'm determined to keep walking it. I will keep working to see poverty, unemployment and hardship overcome in our country because as we heal this wound, we will create an environment in which xenophobia and violence are rejected for the evils they truly are.
Let us not fold our arms when criminals roam the streets claiming to be looting the Somali-owned shops in anger over the killing of Lunje – some who never even knew him. But also parents who joined the looting, you are an embarrassment and let me warn you – your sons will come for you.
They will rob you because they saw that our communities folded arms when they were on the rampage. Let us stand up against this criminality and fight xenophobia.
Gift Ngqondi, Port Elizabeth