As with many things, I’ve discovered that each day I am here and the more I learn, the less I actually know. Today we were hit with a blitzkreig of info from a political analyst, a UN representative, S. African journalists, officers from the Department of Home Affairs and a university professor. To try and catch up with the issues and problems of a country that seems to be having a difficult time catching up with itself is daunting, to say the least.
This evening we all attended a roundtable discussion here at the university that involved educators, newspaper editors, and government officials that was moderated by Moeletsi Mbeki, who is the brother of S. African President Thabo Mbeki. The panel was invited to speak in response to the xenophobic attacks that have taken place here. If you haven’t heard stories, seen photos or watched video about the attacks, they were unexplainably brutal. In one well documented instance, mobs were photographed laughing in the streets as a Mozambican was “necklaced“, where the man was beaten with bricks, wood, stones, etc. and then had a tire placed around his neck, was doused with gasoling and “set a light”.
The consensus among the panelists and many of those in attendance was a feeling of shame and failure that such attacks were executed in the country Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the “Rainbow Nation”.
The manner in which the discussion was conducted was interesting and quite different from what you’d see in the U.S. For example, during the Q&A portion of the roundtable, there were very few questions. Many commented, some challenging the panel and others called for stronger government leadership and response. Others in the audience completely veered from the topic and used the time for a soapbox rant against the large mining corporations and the government and corporate pandering to foreign investors. Commentors were cut off (which was definitely necessary). Audience members interrupted, cheered and scoffed during and after comments, which made it fairly exciting.