Organisers of a ‘Unity’ football match between Highlanders of Zimbabwe and Jomo Cosmos of South Africa say the event is an important step in the fight against Xenophobia in South Africa.
About 18,000 fans attended the game at Johannesburg Stadium on 25th July, which was jointly organised by a coalition of NGOs, including the South African Players Union (SAPFU) and the Southern Africa Women’s Institute for Migration Affairs (SAWIMA).
The event followed a spate of xenophobic attacks on Somalis, Zimbabweans, Malawians and Mozambicans – many of whom had found temporary work during the World Cup.
‘All Africans are equal’
Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, General Secretary of SAPFU said:
“As footballers we stand behind the idea of One Africa. Xenophobia is wrong and must be tackled.
“SA clubs provide opportunities for Africans of many backgrounds to contribute to our sport. Many of those players are the best in the country and we are very proud to have them as members. The time has come to educate and encourage dialogue on the social challenges facing the nation, not head into violence.”
Fans at the game said the friendly had led to a new level of unity between locals and foreign nationals.
“Let us all live in harmony and peace,” said one man, while another stated,
“All Africans are equal.”
Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church said:
“The match was way beyond expectation. It's a real slap in the face for xenophobia, and I am pleased that both South Africans and Zimbabweans witnessed the match together,”
FARE message of support
As well as the match, fans also celebrated their cultural richness, diversity, and embraced their culture through drama, poetry music and traditional dances.
Messages of support were read out by organisers before the game, including one from FARE Executive Director Piara Powar, who said:
“The continent of Africa has already shown the world this winter how it is possible to overcome negative stereotypes, to be seen as one people, and to succeed. As we saw during the World Cup, football can bring people together to stand united behind the common cause of humanity.”
Clubs with heritage in football
The game took place in the shadow of World Cup venue Ellis Park between two teams who wear similar black and white kits and have a long history in Southern African football.
Highlanders are former Premier Soccer League (PSL) Champions in Zimbabwe, while Jomo Cosmos, founded by SA legend Jomo Sono, have a large following. They have produced well known players such as SA captain Aaron Mokoena, Mark Fish and Bruce Grobbelaar.
In 2008, about 62 people, mainly foreigners, were killed in the violent xenophobic attacks while more than 200,000 others were displaced.
Samora Machel, an area of informal and low-cost houses in the Philippi suburb of Cape Town has been one of the flashpoints. Many refugees and migrants who fled the area in 2008 refuse to return.
In Northern Johannesburg another informal settlement, Kya Sands, has seen the army and police move in to protect people from attack.
The ruling ANC party held a rally against xenophobia in Johannesburg last weekend and most ministers are at pains to stress that perpetrators of attacks will be tackled, not least because although poverty is endemic in the country many foreigners bring skills that are in short supply in a growing economy.
Some researchers, such as the South African Migration Project, say that intolerance is an unintended effect of the SA democratic model. In a research report in 2004 they said:
“The ANC – in its attempts to overcome the divides of the past and build new forms of social cohesion… embarked on an aggressive and inclusive nation-building project. One unanticipated by-product of this project has been a growth in intolerance towards outsiders… Violence against foreign citizens and African refugees has become increasingly common and communities are divided by hostility and suspicion.”